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My Elderly Mother Has a Few Words of Wisdom for Party Leaders

09/17/2015 05:18 EDT | Updated 09/17/2016 05:12 EDT
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By Julie Delahanty, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada

Election season is heating up. The leaders debate on economic policy is almost upon us. And my mother wants me to say a few things to those who aspire to lead our country.

She wants me to say that, as a strong woman who is the mother of a strong woman and grandmother of a strong granddaughter, we need to do better. Our leaders need to do better. Our society and our institutions need to do better. We need to end inequality, in all its forms. And we especially need to end inequality between men and women.

My mother also wants me to say, politely but firmly, that she is angry -- along with a lot of other women, young and old -- that we are even having this conversation in 2015. Yes, we've come a long way in righting the wrong of inequality. But we still have a long way to go, as was made abundantly clear in a recent internal report from Status of Women Canada (click here to read CBC coverage of the report and the report itself).

My mother is 81 years old. She was married to my father for 61 years. She cared for him without remuneration through a long, difficult illness and now finds herself widowed and with remarkably few resources. While her loss is great, my mother is lucky to have family support that will prevent her from falling into the sorrow that the 30 per cent of single elderly women who live below the poverty line endure . Knowing her own precarious position and that of so many others, it is clear to her that our governments and our socio-economic policies are failing.

Our leaders know, because it has so long and so obviously been the case, that women earn much less than men. That's because women do more unpaid work than men, leaving less time for paid work. The double burden of home and workplace responsibilities forces many women to sacrifice their long-term economic security.

Our leaders also know that we still have a gender wage gap. It's therefore not surprising that, over a lifetime, women earn approximately one third less than men do. They have fewer years of paid work and lower CPP/QPP contributions than men. Women's lower earning power means they are at a high risk of falling into poverty if they become separated, divorced, or widowed. Indeed, poverty among Canadian seniors is most acute in women.

So much needs to be done and the good news is that all of it is doable. What's been missing is political will. What better time than in the middle of an election campaign for political will to surface and be sustained through the life of the next government and beyond? The new government can get right to work on Oct. 20, with Oxfam and dozens of other practical organizations working on women's rights in Canada and around the world.

Once and for all, let's eliminate the wage gap.

Once and for all, let's ensure that there is affordable childcare right across the country so that fewer women are forced to step out of the workplace during childbearing years.

Let's get to work on pension reform to give part-time workers greater access to workplace pensions, and create fairer rules for those who stop work to help raise children. And let's ensure that CPP and Old Age Security benefits are indexed to inflation.

There's much to be done and not enough space here to spell it all out. I'm guessing that my mother will encourage me to say more in the columns I'll be writing in coming days and weeks, as Canadians consider what kind of Canada we want for those who came before us and those who come after us.

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