OPINION: Canadians need to champion the valuable work of women in the care economy


NDP MP for Port Moody-Coquitlam

CANADA Theme for International Women’s Day 2023 Every woman matters. But the reality is that for too many women in Canada today, this is still just a hope. Too many women remain marginalized by low pay, multiple jobs and a lack of choice – in childcare, education and even employment.

Canada’s care economy – which includes the healthcare system – is in crisis. But the care economy is the backbone of Canada’s economy, employing 1 in 5 Canadians. The care economy encompasses the physical, psychological and emotional care of people. Society simply cannot function without them.

Women are overrepresented in the care economy. According to Statistics Canada, women make up 80 percent of health workers, 68 percent of teaching positions and professorships, and more than 95 percent of childcare workers. All are generally paid less than men in the same roles.

Alongside gender discrimination, racism is intertwined with the systems of the care economy. Immigration policies targeting caregivers are designed to control access to status or citizenship. At the same time, newcomers, undocumented women and women on low incomes are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and precarious working conditions. Black and Filipino women are over-represented in the care economy and are among the most exploited in care work. The collective prejudice against nursing has led to a ‘healthy’ understanding, or shared belief, that nursing work is unskilled work and can therefore receive little remuneration. That’s wrong.

Now is the time for the federal government to step up and end this discrimination. It’s time they did the work needed to improve the working conditions of nurses and other care workers across the country.

We trust our care safety net in Canada, but it hasn’t received the recognition, support, or respect it deserves in a very long time. Whether a Canadian is seeking health care, long-term care, childcare, education, dental care, or needs a personal caregiver, they expect quality care to be available, along with the staff, institutions, and systems that provide the care.

Our society depends on the emotional and physical labor of people in the care economy: we must recognize and value this essential work and treat fairly those who care for us. Key policy actions to bring equity to the care economy include better and faster recognition of qualifications for studies completed outside of Canada; increasing the hourly wages of nurses; paid sick leave guarantee; and supporting access to affordable childcare, mental health support, dental care and pharmacare.

At no other time in history have the consequences of prejudice and nurturing approaches been as visible as they are today. Over the past three years, many have made the choice (or been forced) to change the way they work, and this has exposed the injustices faced by both paid and unpaid caregivers. We can build a better future by nurturing the care economy, recognizing its importance in government budgets, and rewarding the people behind it appropriately – those who devote their lives to caring for us and our families.

On this International Women’s Day, I call on Canadians from coast to coast to stand up for the valuable work of women in the care economy by demanding better wages and working conditions. When we achieve that, Canadians will know Every woman matters.

OPINION: Canadians need to champion the valuable work of women in the care economy

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