The feminization of poverty puts women, children, and gender-diverse people at risk. At West Coast LEAF, we know that the aims of gender equality and justice are incomplete without economic security.
Our goals include ensuring that everyone has access to a standard of living for themselves and their families that allows them to live with dignity and safety, and without discrimination. Legislative changes are necessary to address the systems that perpetuate poverty and keep many full-time workers living well below the poverty line.
In March 2019, the BC government launched a poverty reduction plan, the result of a decade of strong advocacy led by the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition. The plan was developed with input from an expert committee, which included West Coast LEAF staff, and from community members. The plan sets out many of the steps the government is taking to reduce or prevent poverty, and it recognizes that poverty is gendered. The current plan is a good first step.
What it doesn’t include, however, is a human rights framework. West Coast LEAF believes that more bold action is needed, particularly to address the gendered dimensions of poverty in our province. A focus on human rights would frame poverty reduction as a fundamental requirement for justice and substantive equality.
Here are two ways we’re asking the government to apply a substantive gender equality framework that includes human rights at its core.
The provincial government is currently studying whether implementing a basic income could reduce poverty and address shifting labour market conditions, including automation.
We shared our analysis of the gendered dimensions of poverty and echoed the call of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (of which we are a member) to implement a basic income framework only if it is grounded in a foundation of human rights; is part of a comprehensive and accountable poverty reduction plan; and is designed to alleviate poverty rather than cut costs.
Employment Standards Act
The Employment Standards Act contains critical protections for workers and impacts the fair treatment of both employees and employers across the province. It sets minimum standards regarding hours of work, vacation days, sick leave, and statutory holidays, among other protections. Efforts are now underway now to modernize the Act, which was passed in 1996 and amended in 2002.
Our submissions to the Ministry of Labour focus on applying a substantive gender-equality lens to the issues that underpin work and economic security in BC.
We know, for example, that the ongoing gendered division of labour means that women are more likely to perform caregiving duties for family members, including children and older adult dependents. We also know that family violence is widespread and disproportionately impacts BC’s most vulnerable women and gender-diverse workers.
Our submissions therefore focus on improving the Act as relates to family responsibilities—the ability to take a Family Violence Leave, for example, or to take time away from work to attend to an ill family member.
We also recommend changes to the mechanisms of enforcement available to the government, like additional penalties for violations of the Act, and a shift away from a complaint-driven system. These and other updates to the Act would better protect vulnerable workers, including live-in caregivers, those who rely on tips, children, farmworkers, and temporary workers.