What New Brunswick women lose with the expected disappearance on Friday of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women is a public body that speaks out to defend women’s interests.
There will no longer be a public body with a mandate that allows it to set its own agenda and its own priorities and to speak out based on the concerns and interest of women.
One generation of New Brunswick women, at least, will have had a publicly funded ally, in creating a fairer world.
Governments fund bodies like advisory councils because it recognizes that a group – the majority of the population in women’s case – is disadvantaged by history, by how things are done and by under representation in decision-making positions. Advisory councils are a way to raise issues of importance to the population group they represent, to begin to create a level “living” field.
It is clear to thousands of New Brunswickers that the promise of equality – the collective rights of women, of our daughters and granddaughters, as well as the quality of life of all our descendants, male and female – will suffer with the disappearance of an independent voice for women. No social justice reform has ever come about without public pressure having been exercised.
Here is the to-do list of work needed to reach a better status for women in New Brunswick:
*Have governments produce an independent report on the progress made toward reducing inequality between the sexes, in all aspects of New Brunswick society. Or else we won’t have a complete picture and will be vulnerable to those who would say that things are going well because government is working on a few non-controversial women’s issues of its choosing. We’re all appreciative that victims of violence have services, but – in other news – 73 per cent of men’s salaries is not enough, no access to child care is a poor reason to not be a mother or to be a stay-at-home mother, and discrimination based on sex stinks.
*Have all governments’ and institutions’ strategies take sex into consideration. Before launching a budget, measure whether it treats everyone fairly or whether it will actually increase inequality, which other public programs will then have to try to fix. For example, when planning how to reduce poverty, overcome the reigning political correctness that forbids looking at issues based on sex – face up to the fact that, often, men become and stay poor for rather different reasons than women. You won’t be effective if you don’t acknowledge this.
*End our silence about the status of our aboriginal sisters.
*Have New Brunswick employers, unions and governments create family-friendly policies and environments, so that women don’t have to sacrifice earnings, health or well-being in order to reconcile work and family, so that New Brunswick families can have the number of children they actually want, so that we become a good place for families.
*Have skills shortage initiatives consider recruiting girls and women and consider implementing the successful campaigns many other, more competitive, jurisdictions have. Ask why we were doing better in the 1990s in getting girls and women into non-traditional trades than we are now.
*Express outrage that governments have not even noticed, let alone expressed outrage, at the government survey results that show that more and more New Brunswickers blame battered women for provoking the violence. Where is the action plan? Why is violence against women as common as ever, despite massive community efforts and the millions of dollars spent?
*Have all New Brunswickers working in traditionally female positions benefit from the same right that was given to public sector workers – equal pay for work of equal value – so that employers don’t continue to benefit from the age-old “discount” on women’s salaries.
*Hold all our sons, partners, brothers, fathers and male colleagues responsible for rejecting sexism in their language, their actions and among their peers.
*Notice every day until it is no longer true that very few officials, commentators and quoted experts are women in this province and that this absence goes unnoticed. Ask yourselves and political parties, how the fact that the great majority of our elected leaders are from one gender is skewing how we are governed and what issues are addressed.
*Notice every day until it is no longer true that the worst-paid jobs often involve care work.
*Do not let one more politician or party person go unchallenged when they pay lip service to the need for more women in politics. Ask why women’s under-representation, a situation which is not improving with time, is not the focus of an action plan by parties, governments or Elections NB? The decision to abolish the Advisory Council on the Status of Women is more evidence that women’s voices, no matter how loud, are not heard when we are in minority situations – eight women in the legislature is evidently not enough.
Good luck, remember to have fun, and remember the watchwords of a New Brunswick women’s group active in the 1800s: Agitate, Educate and Organize. It is the only thing that ever improved women’s status.
Elsie Hambrook is chairperson of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women.