Budget 2018 takes strong steps on gender equality, with some victories for women at home and abroad

February 28, 2018

The federal government released Budget 2018 today, with a focus on advancing gender equality. Oxfam Canada and Oxfam-Québec applaud the government for listening to women, demonstrating a clear determination to level the playing field and end gender-based violence – a key impediment to women’s economic empowerment.

Over the past year, the government has made good progress on its gender budgeting approach, consulting female leaders and women’s organizations about how revenues and expenditures affect men and women differently.  Budget 2018 takes this process to the next level, with gender-based analysis for all policy priorities, legislation to ensure this continues in future budgets, and a framework to track progress.

“Women’s voice and leadership is at the heart of gender budgeting. The government’s ears and doors have been open, and more women have been included in the budget process. Over the next year, we want to see more diverse perspectives brought to the table to ensure that women at the bottom of the economic ladder get a say in the important economic decisions that directly impact their lives,” said Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s Policy Manager.

A key obstacle for women’s organizations to participate in policy-making is a lack of resources. Budget 2018 makes Status of Women Canada an official department, formalizing its important role in strengthening Canada’s women’s movement.  Funding for the women’s program will be doubled to $40 million a year.

“Evidence shows that feminist activism is a powerful driver of policy change. The government took an important step today to support the work of Canada’s women’s organizations. Funding shortages have greatly reduced their ability to engage in policy-making, especially when it comes to the federal budget,” says Sarosi.

A key goal of Budget 2018 is to support Canada’s economic growth through an increase in female labour force participation. This is a smart move. There are several measures in the budget that can increase opportunities for women to enter the workforce – including skills training programs, more flexibility in parental care and investments to support female entrepreneurship. However, investment in child care – a key impediment for women to work full time – is missing. If the government really wants to see a significant increase in women workers, it must move towards universal child care and meet the OECD spending benchmark of one per cent of GDP.

“Extra leave for two-parent families will help mothers by shifting care responsibilities within the household, but it may not encourage more women to enter the workforce. Women need affordable, quality child care to be able to go back to work, and Budget 2018 does not deliver fully on that need,” says Sarosi. 

It is encouraging to see the government allocate $3 million over five years for pay transparency in the federal sector, and restate its commitment to adopting proactive pay equity legislation. Women need quality jobs with decent wages, job security and safe working conditions. Their work must be as valued as male-dominated professions.

However, with women making up 60 per cent of minimum wage workers, the government needs to do more to support those stuck in poverty while juggling several jobs. Budget 2018 missed an opportunity to tackle women’s economic insecurity by failing to increase the federal minimum wage or make Employment Insurance more accessible to women.

Women’s economic rights also requires that they are free from violence in the home and at work. The additional funding to Canada’s Strategy to Address Gender-Based Violence will go some way to addressing structural barriers that are preventing women and girls from being able to meaningfully engage in the Canadian economy.

Budget 2018 also outlines the government’s ambition to support gender equality abroad. To strengthen the impact of the Feminist International Assistance Policy, an additional $2 billion has been allocated over five years to the International Assistance Envelope. This is a welcome move to help the government fulfil its promise to tackle the twin struggles of economic and gender inequality. However, considering Canada’s record low levels of foreign aid, more investment is needed to bring this country closer to the international benchmark of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

“Several other countries have been able to meet and sustain their commitments to meet international standards. Now is the time for Canada to meet its peers on foreign aid commitments. The women of the world are counting on us,” said Anne Duhamel, Oxfam-Québec’s Policy Director.


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