Written by Kelly Bowden, National Campaign Manager
If you ask political parties or the media, this election is about the middle class. If you ask me, it’s about people living in poverty. Those 1.2 billion people globally or 4.8 million women and men in Canada who live on much less than they need. While parties and pundits aren’t saying this is an election about poverty, the policies you’ll be hearing about over the next months will dramatically affect poor people’s lives.
Here’s a short list of what to look for in tonight’s debate:
1) Women’s political participation
Gender is a main predictor for who will be poor and who will have power – so that makes an election about poverty an election about women and their rights. When women are involved in social, economic and political life – gender inequality is reduced. Through our AMAL program Oxfam supported Tunisian women in their campaign to reach 50% female representation in all electoral lists. Currently, Canada’s parliament is 25% women, far behind leaders like Sweden with 43% and South Africa with 41%. How do we do better? By parties actively recruiting and fielding more women candidates.
Women spend nearly double the time men do looking after the household and taking care of children and other family members. Accessible child care can ease this burden on women, which means more time for women to participate in the workforce and political life. Oxfam’s research on the G20 and gender equality shows that child care programs make economic sense too. Talking about childcare can also start a deeper conversation about the need for shared care responsibilities between women and men.
3) Jobs and income
Precarious work is the new norm: The majority of Toronto’s workforce toggles between temporary, part-time or contract jobs. Women are definitely over-represented in this group. Of women under the age of 25 who are employed, only 45% hold full-time jobs, compared to 60% of men. When girls drop out of school, the disadvantage deepens: women with less than a Grade 9 education earn about $20,000, only half of what men with the same education earn. Oxfam supported a program which featured a guaranteed minimum income in India. Participants saw improvements in child nutrition, health, schooling attendance/performance, sanitation, economic activity and earned income. It also improved the socio-economic status of women, the elderly and the disabled and even made it easier for people to start their own businesses. Maybe we should try that here!
The debate is to raise them or cut them. How about we just start by collecting them all? Put simply, inequality rises when tax rules are unfair. When corporations pay less tax, their profits increase, and these profits end up overwhelmingly in the pockets of the richest people. At the same time, when companies don’t pay their taxes, it is left to us, citizens and small businesses to fill the gaps. Corporate taxes are part of the solution to inequality. Governments could raise revenues and invest them in services, such as health and education, which are vital to empowering women, reducing inequality and fighting poverty.
5) Violence Against Women
This is a topic to watch for… because you’ll have to look hard to find it. Despite the fact that 8000 women and girls still seek housing in shelters each day in Canada and that one in three women on the planet will experience violence in her lifetime, this isn’t yet on the election radar. Oxfam supported women’s rights organizations in Nigeria who campaigned for national legislation to end violence against women – and won. We should be talking about a comprehensive National Action Plan to end violence against women here too. We may hear about an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women – and hopefully what we hear is a commitment to action.
Canada’s international aid contribution has been in decline, and remains far from our globally agreed upon commitment to 0.7% of GNI. Our overseas spending on programs where gender equality is the primary goal has only been 1 – 2% of total program funding over the last five years, while spending in programs where gender equality is one among several goals has risen from 53 – 73% over the same period. We need to contribute more aid, and we need more of it focused on women’s rights and gender equality — invested directly in women’s rights organizations.
Oxfam is working for a more equal country, and a more equal planet, where we shrink the gap between the rich and the rest and end the inequalities that exist between women and men.
Want to make sure these issues are front and centre?
Tweet them tonight, and tell all parties they should join a debate focused on women and girls.