Women, work, and childcare issues in Canada

women, work, and childcare issues in Canada. Canadian women lag far behind men in many areas of the labour force, and they have a long way to go to catch up with men. Childcare must be easily available, and Canadian men must stop demeaning and criticizing women who work. Social values must change, because Canadian women can contribute much to the economy and labour structure, if only they are allowed to participate effectively. Canadian women report more difficulties in attaining good paying jobs, respect, and equality in the workforce, something that must change if Canada is truly going to move into the 21st century.

While a strong feminist movement in the 1960s did move many Canadian women and their issues into the spotlight, and created new opportunities for women, women’s work in Canada has seemed to stall since the 1990s (Phillips, et. al, 2000, p. 14). Another author reports, “Women in Canada earn an average 72.8% of men’s earnings, dropping to 67.3% for self-employed women, and 53.8% for employed minority women. In the highest paid jobs (senior managers, lawyers, dentists, general practitioners) women earn an average 66.4% of men, and only 19.7% of women are in them” (Fenwick, 2004, p. 136). This continues to be a burgeoning problem in Canada, demoralizing Canadian women and giving their families far fewer opportunities for economic advancement and equality. In many of the most prosperous industrialized nations, such as the United States, two-income families are the norm, and while women in the U.S. still do not consistently earn as much money as their male counterparts, there are more women working in more fields, and more opportunities are open to them than most Canadian women.

Since the 1990s, the face of the entire Canadian workforce has changed, as well, which has helped changed the face of women’s work. While in the past, a large number of jobs in Canada were in the manufacturing sector, today, those jobs represent a relative minority in the workforce, and the largest number of jobs is in the service sector. Computer technology has also transformed the work environment, and many jobs are disappearing overseas (Dhruvarajan and Vickers, 2002, p. 123-124). Since studies indicate that fewer Canadian women work in high-quality jobs such as technology, and many more work in lower paying jobs in the service sector, this means there have been fewer opportunities for women to advance into more lucrative careers, and these careers have been dwindling, as well. In addition, Canadian women lead the numbers of the poor and impoverished in the country (Caplin, 2003), and this is a result of their reliance on lower paying jobs because they are the only ones available to them.

However, there is another aspect of Canadian women’s work that highly affects their lives, their outlook, and their productivity. This is the fact that society so undervalues their work at home, and in fact, Canadian women still participate in a much larger role in taking care of the home and family than their partners do. Writer Fenwick continues, “While anecdotal and popular media reports suggest some change in men’s participation in child care and housework, the most recent Canadian data reports that women on average spend 69% more hours per week on domestic labor than men” (Fenwick, 2004, p. 138). In addition, Fenwick reports this is not a new phenomenon in Canada, and that women’s work at home has traditionally been undervalued and seen as somehow less worthy and important as men’s work. Thus, women in Canada who work play dual roles, and literally work two jobs, one without pay or much recognition.

One of the key sociological questions to be answered here is why? Why is women’s work so undervalued in Canada, and what role does society itself play in this process? One school of thought believes that the job market is entirely equal, and that employers treat all people the same. However, women wage earners have invested less in their development than their male counterparts have, and they are less productive, so, they receive less in monetary reward (Dhruvarajan and Vickers, 2002, p. 126). Another school believes that there are different levels of jobs and job markets. The top jobs pay more, and are often unionized, higher paying, with benefits, and offer advancement, while the lower jobs often include subjective management, lesser wages, poor advancement opportunities, and poor working conditions (Dhruvarajan and Vickers, 2002, p. 126). In this theory, women, immigrants, and other minorities tend to congregate in these second-tier jobs, even though they may be better educated and capable than these jobs might indicate. Society helps maintain these second-tier jobs by supporting poor labour practices, lower wages, and the underlying attitude that women’s work should be in the home, rather than in the workplace.

However, there is another side to this work structure, and that is the feminine school of thought. The feminists believe that women have long been undervalued because of a variety of gender-specific ideas, such as women are more fragile than men are, and cannot stand the rigors of many jobs. They believe that women should be recognized for their work inside the home and that the transition of many women into traditionally male-oriented employment indicates that gender bias is not relative (Dhruvarajan and Vickers, 2002, p. 127-128). Thus, each school of thought has different views of women in the workplace, and each measures one aspect of society’s view of women who work. A journalist reviewing several books on working women in Canada writes, “Taken together, these recent books paint a picture of hard work, poor conditions, and the persistence of low wages for ‘feminized’ work. They show difficulties in remedying both low wages and undervalued work via social policy and in some cases trade unionism, and discuss the varied strategies employed by women to enact change” (Kainer, 2003, p. 2). Society must change its views to bring women’s work into the 21st century in Canada, and women must voice their own concerns and experiences to bring about strong societal change.

The Canadian economy could be stronger if women played stronger roles throughout the country and the economy. Although there are more women working in Canada than in many decades, many of these women are working part-time jobs, which are almost always not included in union negotiation, and normally pay less than full-time jobs. They usually do not include benefits, as well, placing women at a monetary and benefit disadvantage. The Canadian economy is becoming increasingly dependent on these types of part-time jobs as they attempt to compete with the low-paying international labor market, and these jobs keep women at the bottom half of the economy. Better paying jobs with benefits would give more women the opportunity to make it to higher paying, more stable jobs, and it would add additional income into the economy, as well. Women have always participated in work, from the Aboriginals to the pioneer farmer’s wives and the working women of World War II. They have always added to the Canadian economy, but their input today comes mainly from low-paying and second-tier jobs, when they could add so much more to the economic outlook if they had more opportunities for advancement and equal pay.

Childcare is another difficult issue facing Canadian women. There are more single-families headed by women than men in Canada, (Fenwick, 2004, 138), and women are traditionally more responsible for childcare and other domestic functions even in two-family households. Even when women work, as other studies have shown, women are primarily responsible to childcare, to the detriment of their careers. Fenwick continues, “Informally, women bearing primary childcare responsibilities find it difficult to participate in learning opportunities of training, special projects, or promotion when these involve travel, conferences, and workshops in off-work hours, as is often the case” (Fenwick, 2004, p. 138). Studies indicate that if this work were paid work, instead of expected (and even demanded) it could represent as much as 40% of the Canadian Gross Domestic Product in the economy (Phillips, et. al, 2000, p. 14). There is another aspect of this childcare issue that bears study. Traditionally, from the 1980s onward, there has been a lack of available childcare vacancies throughout Canada, and many working women report they rely on relatives (often unpaid), or paid babysitters, rather than formal childcare ((Phillips, et. al, 2000, p. 49-50). Thus, childcare, and the costs of childcare, can be prohibitive for many mothers, and the costs may prohibit them from working outside the home, simply because their salaries would only offset the childcare expenses, rather than add measurably to the family income.

In conclusion, to many men, Canadian women still are not as accepted or as acceptable in the workplace. Their place should be in the home, they rationalize, and their jobs are not nearly as important as those of their male counterparts are. This is an outdated and chauvinistic attitude that must come to an end for Canada and the Canadian workforce to really move into the 21st century. Women are just as capable (and more capable in some areas) as men are, and they should be treated equally in the workplace. In addition, men should take on some of the household duties, and women should have more than simply part-time opportunities open to them. The Canadian economy is facing many threats from overseas, and to devalue women and the contribution they could make is shortchanging Canadian women, and keeping the Canadian economy in a 20th century mentality when it needs to move along, modernize, and look toward the future. Childcare must move into the 21st century, as well, and there should be enough childcare for all the families who need it, at a low cost, so women can truly afford to work outside the home.


Caplin, E. (2003, January/February). Canadian rights for women worldwide. Canadian Speeches, 16, 60+.

Dhruvarajan, V. And Vickers, J. (2002). Gender, race, and nation: A global perspective.

Fenwick, T. (2004). 8 Gender and the new economy- Enterprise discourses in Canada: implications for workplace learning and education. In Globalizing Education for Work: Comparative Perspectives on Gender and the New Economy, Lakes, R.D. & Carter, P.A. (Eds.) (pp. 131-152). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kainer, J. (2003). Valuation, resistance and women’s work: A review essay. Journal of Canadian Studies. 1-9.

Phillips, P.A., Phillips, P., and Phillips, E. (2000). Women and work: Inequality in the Canadian labour market. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company.

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