In BC, like elsewhere around the world, economic insecurity disproportionately impacts women and those facing interlocking forms of marginalization. Women and people who are marginalized because of their gender are overrepresented in low-wage, precarious, and non-unionized work; experience higher levels of poverty; and face significant discrimination and harassment at work.
Advancing economic security for women and all people who experience gender-based discrimination in BC is one of West Coast LEAF’s six priority areas of work. Over the years we have undertaken significant work to address economic inequality, including advocating for universal child care; calling for improvements to employment standards and increases to the minimum wage; advocating for increased financial supports and the eradication of poverty; and working to eliminate discrimination and harassment at work.
We will continue to build on this important work and are collaborating with partner organizations to develop a comprehensive feminist economic framework for BC.
Explore the following tabs to read more about our work and achievements and key areas to watch:
Affordable, adequate, and accessible child care
Women continue to perform the majority of unpaid caregiving in our society. As they try to balance caregiving for children and other aspects of their lives, a lack of affordable adequate child care creates significant barriers. Women may be forced to choose jobs with flexible schedules at the expense of job security, may take on more precarious, part-time and lower paying employment, or may be unable to work at all. The lack of access to child care, often due to its prohibitive cost, can force women into financial dependence, which undermines their ability to flee violence, to parent their children, and to fully participate in many aspects of society.
- Through accountability mechanisms like West Coast LEAF’s annual Gender Equality Report Card (formerly the CEDAW Report Card), we are regularly monitoring the government’s progress in this area.
- June 2020 - West Coast LEAF's submissions to the government of Canada regarding its response to COVID-19 included a recommendation to invest in universal child care.
- Achievement: February 2018 – The provincial government introduced the Child Care BC Plan, which moves the province toward universal child care.
- July 2016 – West Coast LEAF published High Stakes: The Impacts of Child Care on the Human Rights of Women and Children, which analyzes how the inaccessibility or inadequacy of child care has impacted gender equality. The report also shines light on the path forward.
- September 2016 – West Coast LEAF wrote a joint policy submission with the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC to call on Canada’s provincial and federal governments to take meaningful action on child care to respect women’s rights under the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Improving employment standards
Women and all people who experience marginalization on the basis of gender continue to be over-represented in low-wage, precarious, and part-time work in BC. About twice as many women work part-time compared to men in BC, and women are more likely than men to hold multiple jobs. Part-time work tends to provide less stability, schedule predictability, and non-wage benefits than full-time work. Women are also over-represented in sectors, such as retail and hospitality, which remain largely inaccessible to unions due to a lack of legislative support for broad-based bargaining. This data indicates that strengthening employment standards and increasing the minimum wage can have a significant positive impact in addressing economic inequality.
- October 2019 – West Coast LEAF collaborated with Rise Women’s Legal Centre to advocate for paid domestic and sexual violence leave to be included in the Employment Standards Act.
- Achievement: In 2019, the provincial government passed legislation that provides up to five days of paid leave for employees impacted by domestic or sexual violence, or those who are parents of a child or dependent impacted by this kind of violence.
- April 2019 – West Coast LEAF made submissions as part of a public consultation process on modernizing the Employment Standards Act. We explained how gender-based discrimination results in particular difficulties in the labour force for women and gender and sexual minorities, and we called for legal protections to help ensure that people of all genders can participate in the labour market and benefit from the statutory minimum standards. Our submissions applied a substantive gender equality lens to issues including family responsibilities, violence, mechanisms of enforcement, and protections for vulnerable workers.
- Achievement: In 2019, the province made significant changes to the Employment Standards Act including the introduction of domestic leave, changes to the definition of “domestic worker,” and the elimination of self-help kits to enforce employment standards.
- December 2017 – West Coast LEAF submitted recommendations to BC’s Fair Wages Commission, with a focus on closing the gap between the living wage and the minimum wage and addressing the gendered dimensions of economic insecurity. Our recommendations included: (a) A universal increase of the minimum wage to $15 per hour by January 2019; (b) The elimination of the tiered system of minimum wage under which some employees earning minimum wage are paid less than others; (c) A mechanism for regular review of the minimum wage; and (d) Steps towards adoption and implementation of living wage policies.
- Achievement: The minimum wage in BC as of June 1, 2020 will be $13.95 and, as of June 1, 2021, $15.20 per hour. The new rates also apply to liquor servers, the vast majority of whom are women.
- Stay tuned: While the increase to the minimum wage and elimination of wage tiers are welcome changes, West Coast LEAF will continue to advocate for the province to implement a living wage.
Strengthening financial supports and addressing poverty
About 13% of BC women live in poverty, and about 16% of racialized women in BC live in poverty, higher than the rate for either racialized men or white women. The disparity is even more pronounced for Indigenous women. Approximately 31% of First Nations women and 33% of Inuit women in BC live in poverty. Rates of poverty are higher among senior women, with about 15.5% of BC women aged 65 and older living in poverty, compared to 10% of men in the same group. Systems of poverty disproportionately affect seniors who are Indigenous, racialized, or disabled.
Furthermore, LGBTQIA2S+ people are more likely to live in poverty than heterosexual or cisgender people. It has been estimated that 25-40% of LGBTQIA2S+ youth in Canada are homeless, and recent research found that the median income of trans Ontarians was just $15,000.
The eradication of poverty is intimately connected with the advancement of economic equality for women and all people of marginalized genders.
- June 2020 - West Coast LEAF's submissions to the government of Canada regarding its response to COVID-19 included a recommendation to introduce universally accessible, permanent financial supports.
- April 2020 – West Coast LEAF joined Parent Support Services Society of BC and other organizations in calling for the Canada Child Benefit to extend to kinship caregivers.
- March 2019 – West Coast LEAF made submissions on the provincial Universal Basic Income Consultation calling for an approach that addresses the gendered dimensions of poverty and echoing the call of BC Poverty Reduction Coalition to implement a basic income framework only if it is grounded in a human rights foundation; is part of a comprehensive and accountable poverty reduction plan; and is designed to alleviate poverty rather than cut costs.
- Achievement: 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.
- Achievement: In 2019, the definition of spouse in social assistance legislation was amended to improve accessibility for women and all people who experience gender-based discrimination.
- Stay tuned: What BC's poverty reduction plan 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. We will continue to push for a focus on human rights that will frame poverty reduction as a fundamental requirement for justice and substantive equality.
- March 2018 – West Coast LEAF submitted recommendations on BC’s Poverty Reduction Strategy to the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction. We highlighted the need for an intersectional gender analysis for all policies, legislation, and decision-making to address poverty, and for inter-ministerial collaboration and a whole-of-government approach to tackling this issue. We made specific recommendations in the areas of pay equity, living wages, child care, child protection support services, and access to justice. This submission built on close to a decade of work advocating alongside the membership of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition for the implementation of a provincial poverty reduction strategy including a May 2014 letter to then premier Christy Clark outlining the ways poverty disproportionately impacts women, especially racialized women, Indigenous women, and women with disabilities.
- October 2016 – West Coast LEAF, alongside the BC Civil Liberties Association, Pivot Legal Society, BC Public Interest Advocacy Centre, and Community Legal Assistance Society, called on the BC government to raise social assistance rates and address the resulting epidemic of food insecurity and the dire consequences for human health and safety. We also participated in the 2016 Welfare Food Challenge, a campaign organized by Raise the Rates to educate people who do not have firsthand knowledge of the gross inadequacy of current welfare rates and to increase pressure on government to take meaningful action on poverty.
- September 2016 – West Coast LEAF submitted a briefing note to the BC government calling for changes to the Employment Assistance Act and the Employment and Assistance for Persons with Disabilities Act that would support women’s financial independence, self-determination in relationships, and ability to flee abusers. We called for revisions to the current broad definitions of “spouse” and “dependent” in the legislation which create barriers to accessing benefits which disproportionately affect women. Applicants for income assistance and disability benefits should not be asked to depend on others financially to meet their basic survival needs when no actual support is available to meet these needs.
In 2018, women in BC earned 18.6% less per hour than men, representing the highest gender wage gap in the country. Wage gaps are especially deep for those who experience interlocking inequalities—including marginalization based on race, Indigenous identity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, and recent immigration to Canada.
Currently, BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland are the only provinces without pay equity legislation and they have the largest discrepancies in earnings between men and women.
In order to address economic security in a meaningful way, there must be proactive pay equity legislation to enforce transparency, raise public awareness about the issues, and make employers responsible and accountable for the composition of their pay structures.
- May 2020 – Graduate students from the School of Public Policy at Simon Fraser University prepared Mind the Gap: A Legislative Approach to Ending Pay Discrimination in BC. West Coast LEAF partnered with the team through the Simon Fraser Institute’s BC Priorities Project and provided guidance on the drafting of the report as well as engaged students in conversations with decision makers.
- In July 2019 – West Coast LEAF produced a backgrounder setting out a comparative analysis of pay equity regimes across Canada.
- In August 2018 – West Coast LEAF met with the Honourable Minister Harry Bains and the Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity Mitzi Dean to present a briefing note calling for proactive pay equity and pay transparency legislation to be implemented in the province.
- Stay tuned: West Coast LEAF is continuing to advocate with decision makers for the passing of a proactive pay equity and pay transparency legislation. We are in the process of publishing an updated brief that will be shared with government.
Addressing violence and harassment at work
Discrimination, harassment and assault continue to be widespread in BC, with a recent study finding that half of working women across Canada have endured sexual harassment, but fewer than 30% have reported it. Additionally, a 2019 nationwide survey of trans and non-binary people by Trans PULSE Canada found that 42% of participants had faced sexual harassment within the last five years. Addressing gender-based discrimination and harassment at work is a critical component of advancing gender economic equality in BC.
- 2017 – West Coast LEAF intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in Schrenk v BC Human Rights Tribunal, a case where the Court was called upon to decide whether a human rights complaint should proceed in situations where the complainant and the respondent are employees of different companies on the same construction site, and the respondent is not in a position of authority over the work of the complainant.
- Achievement: The Supreme Court of Canada found that human rights law prohibits discrimination in the workplace regardless of whether it is perpetuated by an employer or a co-worker.
- May 2016 – West Coast LEAF called for the addition of explicit protection from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression to the BC Human Rights Code.
- October 2011 – West Coast LEAF made submissions to the BC Human Rights Tribunal Policy and Procedural Review on the importance of the Tribunal as an accessible forum for the resolution of sex discrimination cases.
Advocating for robust human rights oversight
For more than a decade, West Coast LEAF advocated for the reinstatement of the BC Human Rights Commission, highlighting the impact the lack of a strong human rights oversight body can have on the human rights of the most marginalized groups.
- November 2017 – West Coast LEAF shared input on the re-launching of the BC Human Rights Commission arguing that an independent, authoritative, and empowered Commission is essential to the promotion of human rights and gender equality in BC.
- August 2010 – West Coast LEAF made submissions to the BC Law Institute regarding the profound harm that would be caused by the elimination of the Human Rights Tribunal.
- September 2002 – West Coast LEAF made submissions to the Attorney General of BC regarding the province’s move to abolish the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Advisory Council and the lack of consultation that led up to the decision.
- Achievement: In August 2017, the province announced the reinstatement of the BC Human Rights Commission. In September 2019, West Coast LEAF’s former Executive Director, Kasari Govender, took office as BC’s first independent Human Rights Commissioner. Her role is to lead the promotion and protection of human rights in BC through the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner.
Fighting for fair child support and spousal support
The feminization of poverty and the gendered division of caregiving labour in our society mean that child support and spousal support are critical feminist issues. West Coast LEAF has been working for progress in this area of family law for many years.
- 2019-2020 - West Coast LEAF intervened in two separate appeals before the Supreme Court of Canada which concerned the laws on retroactive child support orders (in other words, when should courts order increases or decreases to a payor’s child support obligation for past time periods?). In Colucci v. Colucci (in which West Coast LEAF co-intervened with LEAF National) and Michel v. Graydon, West Coast LEAF made submissions about the gendered effects of child support law and the need to ensure that the law does not incentivize the under-payment or non-payment of child support.
- Achievement: Following decisions in these cases, the laws on retroactive child support orders are clearer and more predictable, discourage the under-payment or non-payment of child support, and explicitly recognize the feminization of poverty as the social context which surrounds child support law.
- April 2013 - West Coast LEAF, together with the Community Legal Assistance Society (CLAS) and First Call: BC Child and Youth Advocacy Coalition, wrote to all of the provincial party leaders in the run-up to the 2013 election, calling on them to commit to ending the clawback of child support from parents receiving income assistance. In November 2013, together with our partners, we wrote a follow up letter on this issues.
- Achievement: The province ended child support clawbacks in February 2015.