Happy Mothers Day womens work matters

Lana Payne
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Womens work matters. It matters to our economy, to womens personal economic independence and to the kind of world we want.

In fact, the current debate around finding ways to keep workers working longer misses a few very key points, but thats likely because the opinion shapers and decision makers have not consulted women. But then, what else is new?

What theyd find if they did, generally speaking, is that womens work is not only undervalued, but women are not getting a chance to reach their potential to the detriment of the economy.

Thats because for too many women, the barriers to the labour market, to obtaining good jobs and breaking the glass ceiling are still plentiful. The fact that there are few supports child care, for example to support women in employment is another contributing factor.

Women could be contributing a lot more to the countrys bottom line to the nations gross national product (GDP) if only they had the opportunity.

We still have about 20 per cent of women who work part-time because of family and child-care responsibilities. In other words, too many women still have no access to affordable, high-quality child care or other caregiving supports.

Another 23 per cent, according to a recent study by Statistics Canada, worked part-time in 2006 because they couldnt get full-time work, and yet every day we are inundated with complaints from employers that they cant find workers, and so we need to keep people working longer or the economy will collapse.

Not only are many women underemployed, but they comprise a fair number of the more than one million unemployed Canadians who are looking for work.

Women at work

Maybe the answer is not just finding opportunities to keep older workers working, but finding ways to encourage more women to work.

And it seems Quebec has found a solution. Since implementing its virtually universal, not-for-profit $7-per-day child-care program, Quebec women have been entering the workforce in droves.

Some might argue that will mean women in that province are having fewer babies. But that has not been the case. Instead, the Quebec birth rate increased by eight per cent in 2006, at the same time that more and more Quebec women were working creating wealth and income for themselves, their families and their province.

For example, in 2005 the labourforce participation rate by Quebec women with young children had risen to 76 per cent, compared to the national average of 71.8 per cent, according to an article for the Canadian Economic Observer by Francine Roy.

Quebec has the best child-care program in the country perhaps one of the best in the world. Alberta has one of the worst, and as a result has one of the lowest labourforce participation rates by mothers, at 64.9 per cent. Youd think Alberta, with all its labour market challenges, would try to do something to increase the participation of women. But, alas, that might involve some enlightened thinking.

Our prime minister might spend more than a few minutes contemplating this problem as well that is, if he really is concerned with future economic growth. I make these economic arguments because I have lost faith in him ever understanding that accessible and affordable child care and early learning programs are fundamental to womens equality, and that womens equality is something he should be concerned about.

So even if he doesnt believe in womens equality, youd think Stephen Harper would consider the economic consequences of lost opportunities for women and, for that matter, others who have been for too long locked out of the labour market including immigrants and people with disabilities.

Unfortunately, he is so far behind the times and so ideologically entrenched that hes missing the economic boat, too. This is usually a sign of dangerous times for a prime minister when they cant even get the economics right.

The message here is, womens work matters and in order for women to work and contribute to the economy, they and their families need employment supports. Its time for employers to realize this and its long past time for the federal Conservatives to realize it. The fact that Canadas kids get great early learning programs is, of course, also a big benefit.

But dont take my word for it. Have a look at a recent article (April 19, 2007) in The Economist magazine entitled, Womenomics revisited.

The article argues that a higher rate of participation by women in the paid workforce could help decrease the problems associated with an aging society. Indeed, the article quotes a number of recent studies which conclude that if more women were in paid employment, the world would be better off. Of course, so would women.

The bottom line is, governments should be supporting programs that ensure mothers can work if they so wish. It makes good economic sense. Happy Mothers Day.

Lana Payne is a former journalist who is active in the labour movement.

Her column returns June 10.

Organizations: Statistics Canada, The Economist magazine

Geographic location: Quebec, Alberta

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