Hello. I would like to thank you for this opportunity to make a presentation to this important committee, which has always played a role in ensuring that women's rights are respected and promoted in Canada. I truly appreciate it.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada is the largest federal public sector union. We represent more than 180,000 people from coast to coast to coast. While the majority of PSAC members work for the federal government and its agencies, PSAC also represents workers in the private sector.
I have prepared some written notes. Unfortunately, the translation was not ready, but I would invite the clerk of the committee to share the notes with you as soon as they are available. I will be presenting a summary of those notes today.
The theme that this committee is looking at today is truly an important theme. The need to improve the economic prospects for girls is a response to the fact that girls still remain confronted with the reality of discrimination and oppression in their early years.
Incest and sexual abuse is often perpetrated within the family. We know that two-thirds of sexual abuse occurs in a private home, and most victims of sexual assault are assaulted before the age of 25.
Racism, Islamophobia, discrimination against aboriginal peoples, homophobia, and discrimination against young girls with disabilities remain endemic. At least one in 10 girls lives in poverty. I'm not advocating child labour here, but when girls or young women work, they often work for minimum wages, part-time, and in jobs without benefits and that are dead-end.
Young girls living in rural regions—about 20% of the population—often do not have access to public transportation. There is little, if any, child care, and important services are sometimes not offered. I'm thinking, for example, of abortion services in regions. Young lesbians and queer girls are often isolated and even more marginalized in rural regions.
The proposed changes to the immigration and refugee law being discussed in this budget will further marginalize and disadvantage young girls. Thousands of people now receiving medication under the interim federal health program will no longer, as of June 30, 2012, be able to access that program. This will surely have a very harsh impact on young immigrant and refugee girls.
It goes without saying that there is much to be done to improve the economic status of girls. All in all, the measures that must be taken to improve their condition are similar to those that need to be taken to improve the situation of women. We are talking about political and social reforms that seek to transform the systemic nature of violence and discrimination against women, including economic discrimination.
What needs to be done to attack this problem? We will provide some suggestions, which of course do not make up an exhaustive list.
One of the first things we would consider and find important is improving health care for girl children on reserve. We know there is a very high birth rate among aboriginal girls, yet it's very difficult having a baby on a remote reserve, and in fact it's dangerous. We know, for example, that first nations women in Manitoba are twice as likely to watch their babies die as non-aboriginal women. Also, about 20% of babies in some Manitoban communities end up back in the hospital with respiratory tract disease. Fewer than one third of the babies born between 2003 and 2005 in Hollow Water and Sagkeeng, Manitoba, received routine vaccinations.
The federal government has a really important role to play here because it's the federal government that is responsible for health care on reserves. Funding is urgently needed, and safe water is urgently needed. We know that there are over 100 aboriginal communities under boil water advisories right now. Yet the federal government is about to pass Bill S-8, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, which will shift responsibility to reserves but does not provide the funding necessary for this change.
Another program that is essential to the well-being of young girls is adequate funding for early childhood education. Canada is one of the richest countries in the world, and yet we rank at the low end of the international scale in terms of the quality of our childcare and our access to such services. In Canada, over 70% of mothers with children under the age of five are currently working outside the home. Yet, only 20% of children have access to regulated child care spaces. Quebec is one of the only provinces that has really invested public funds in daycares, with its famous $7 a day daycare. A recent study showed that the government brings in more money than it spends by subsidizing public child care networks.
Nevertheless, despite this evidence, in 2006, the federal government did away with the federal-provincial-territorial agreements regarding funding for child care services and replaced them with a benefit that costs a lot of money and, when it comes right down to it, offers parents very few choices.
Education of young girls on reserve is another key component of a successful strategy for economic prosperity. We know that the income gap disappears between aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people when university degrees are attained. However, only 8% of aboriginal people, compared to 22%, actually have university degrees at this time. So federal funding is urgently needed to ensure a better education on reserve.
With regard to employment equity policies, even today, seven out of 10 women still work in traditional fields: office work, education, social services and so on. The federal government's economic action plan and the Plan Nord in Quebec both contain two large projects that give very little to women because women are still excluded from the construction industry and major projects.
Employment equity policies need to be improved. In the budget that was tabled a few weeks ago, we once again see a step backward in terms of employment equity because the measures the federal government just announced will seriously weaken employment equity obligations for federal contractors.
Effective measures to protect young girls against workplace discrimination and harassment must be developed. They must be given information and help in exercising their rights. They must be given legal assistance and mechanisms for accessing justice. Once again, what do we see at the federal level? The federal government is attacking access to justice mechanisms. It eliminated the regional offices of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and abolished the court challenges program and the Law Reform Commission of Canada. That is not the path we should be following.
Pay equity is also needed. We know that, 30 years after the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed, women are still experiencing discrimination in the labour market and earn, on average, 70% less than men when they work full time year-round. In 2004, the federal government's pay equity task force recommended that a federal pay equity law be passed. Nevertheless, as soon as this government was elected, it announced that it had no intention of following those recommendations. We believe that this is an essential measure.
We recently won a pay equity case for our Canada Post members at the Supreme Court level. The women had to fight in court for almost 30 years for this. Clearly, the current system is not working and is ineffective.
We must protect public sector jobs. Jobs in the federal public service are a good source of employment for girls and women, and the cuts—