International Women's Day: An Opportunity to Uncover and Recognize Issues in Women's Poverty

While women’s issues should remain part of our everyday discourse and way of engaging with the world, International Women’s Day provides us the dedicated space and opportunity to gather as a global community to give collective rise to the voices and issues of women. I’ve been encouraged by all the #IWD2016 social media tweets and posts I’ve been seeing today: encouraging words of wisdom, statistics and narratives about any and all issues, anecdotes and analyses of feminism, men showing their support for women’s issues, and examples of strong historical females. Equally important to celebrating the fierceness and strength of women, International Women’s Day also provides a platform to recognize and examine the issues that are distinct to women. I would like to discuss the area of women’s poverty.

We’ve heard the sociological term “feminization of poverty”, which is the general recognition that due to societal and cultural structures, women represent a larger proportion of the world who are in poverty situations. While the LPRC @ King’s exists to be a partner for research on issues that face ALLhumans, it is important to keep in mind the distinct needs and issues of women in poverty and recognize these nuances in our approaches to poverty reduction strategies. What are these distinct needs and issues? I can’t speak for all women, but as a woman, and as someone with experiences in the LPRC focus areas, I hope to offer some insight.

It’s 2016, and the income gap isn’t closing. At all. report was recently released that indicated that the wage gap between men and women in the workplace is not closing, but perhaps widening. This report calculated that for every dollar made by a Canadian man, a woman makes $0.72. The study broke down the different structures that could affect a perceived wage gap (i.e. reduction of hours, job structure, etc), and concluded that all these factors aside, the wage gap is still this significant. The cost of child care also is requiring at times a third of one’s income to go to caring for their child while they work. For single working mothers especially, they are earning less and having to front the cost of child care. Thankfully, subsidy programs exist to support the cost of child-care, and in London we have a particularly strong system of subsidies, but we still cannot lose sight of the structures that exist that set up women to underperform as financial contributors to their households.

Motherhood. This is a subject I can’t speak personally about, but my work allows me to gain an understanding of some of the issues around motherhood that women experience when facing certain situations of poverty. I know that in some cases, poverty is a cause of and sometimes a result of addictions, mental health issues, abuse, trauma, or other difficulties that a woman can experience in her life. At times, women in poverty situations face losing their children or being perceived as unfit to parent. A mother’s bond to her child is something indescribable, and not easy to understand unless you’ve had that bond. When a woman loses her child or her ability to parent, she has the potential to suffer tremendously from the grief from that loss. I’ve often respected and been interested in the grief recovery method to be used in counselling those in poverty, as grief is often a state that does not allow a woman to engage in the processes and activities required to bring herself out of poverty. Further to this, the news reports a growing rate in child poverty in Canada; certainly concerning, yet we need to recognize in our strategies to tackle child poverty, that quite often there is a mother and a woman behind that child’s needs as well.

Women’s personal hygiene is darn expensive. Menstruation is a necessary part of biology and is a normal part of the life of the female experience. Every month, women need to ensure that they have an adequate amount of supplies available to take care of her hygiene needs. Every time I go to the store to buy these kinds of products, I groan and usually mutter under my breath something to the effect of being resentful that men don’t having to worry about this kind of regular expense (unless those ones who are forced to pick them up for their female partners). Last summer, Ontario lifted the “tampon tax”, removing HST from feminine products. Good move, but it doesn’t totally help with the expense. In general, these products need to be more accessible and better priced to allow a woman the dignity of hygiene throughout her life. Luckily for London, Ontario, a wonderful initiative called Tampon Tuesday exists and it’s spreading across Canada, which involves people from all over the community coming together for an evening of networking and inspiration, with a feminine product being the requirement for entry. These products are distributed by My Sister’s Place within this community. I commend this group for recognizing this need to support women financially with the necessary products required for health.

Systems still demonstrate patriarchy and dominant white-male privilege. It makes me cringe to say it, but I feel it’s too true. The fight for equality requires us to challenge structures that privilege dominant, white-male perspectives, whether that exists in the actual structures of decision-making or in the processes that facilitate access to poverty reduction strategies. When Mayor Matt Brown initially pulled together the Mayor’s Panel on Poverty, one of the first criticisms was the lack of diversity within the leaders he pulled together (which I don’t believe was intentional on Mayor Brown’s part), leading the Mayor to add more individuals to represent the diversity voices in our community. More recently, there was a public dialogue when a local woman who was revealed to be a sex worker went missing and the seriousness of the police investigation was questioned due to engaging in a “high risk lifestyle”. These situations remind of us the fact that in the world exists imbalance, and at times, the imbalances exist within the structures that are intended to support and represent all people. At times, decisions are made for certain groups by structures that are not the most informed or equipped to make decisions for that group. Other times, the dominant male voice becomes so “loud” that it sets an environment of intimidation where women do not feel able to speak up or advocate for what is important to them. I attended a community event a few weeks ago where a formerly homeless man talked about the capacity of those who are experiencing poverty to contribute to the solving of the problems themselves, but often these people who want to make a difference have felt “unworthy” to engage with those in privileged positions who are appointed as the leaders of poverty reduction efforts. For women, and for all purposes of promoting equality for all, we as a community need to advocate for diverse representation and help elevate the voices who have been told they need to be quiet. I am so proud to be part of a community where diversity is important and is getting strong attention.

Everyone in poverty, regardless of their unique situation, faces pain, struggle and every day challenges. No one’s challenge is greater than another’s, yet it is important to be proactive in recognizing the distinct needs of women (and all groups) in facing poverty, and do what we can to mitigate the struggles that women in poverty face. Have I left out any perspectives on women’s poverty? Please feel free to connect with me at manager@povertyresearch.ca.

Happy International Women’s Day!