By Jack Bourassa
Red roses, thoughtful presents and beautiful words— that’s Valentine’s Day. It’s a day to celebrate love.
On this Valentine’s Day, let’s be grateful and celebrate the women in our lives and beyond. Let’s raise awareness and take action to stop gender inequality that affects women nationally and around the world.
Women spend their time and pour their physical and emotional energy into unpaid work that fills the gap in public services. However, they take no credit for contributing to the economy and their unpaid work is not portrayed of value compared to the paid jobs. To the best of my knowledge, this is a prevalent issue in most parts of the world. Globally, 42 per cent of women cannot get jobs because they are responsible for all the caregiving, compared to just six per cent of men.
According to UN Women, unpaid work such as cooking, cleaning, caring for children and the elderly is valued at between 10 and 39 per cent of GDP. It can contribute more to an economy than manufacturing or commerce.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day with the theme of appreciating those who perform unpaid work makes me think of the “Bread and Roses” march that took place in 2006 in Zimbabwe. More than a decade later, women around the world are fighting for what women in Zimbabwe demanded during their “Bread and Roses” march on Valentine’s Day. Hundreds of women, including mothers with babies, were arrested. Organized by Women of Zimbabwe Arise, the Valentine’s Day actions became viral. Many of the women who participated were homemakers demanding affordable prices for food and basic items. Burdened by unpaid work, they courageously fought on behalf of their nation for better standards of living. Their action sparked an international solidarity movement that inspired women and men around the world.
Global economic inequality continues to be out of control.
The world’s richest one per cent have more wealth than 4.6 billion people. According to a new Oxfam report, “much of that wealth is built on the backs of women working billions of hours every day doing unpaid or underpaid care work.”
Canada is not immune to gender and economic inequality. According to Oxfam: “In Canada, the top one per cent own significantly more wealth than the bottom 70 per cent. As everywhere else in the world, women in Canada carry a larger responsibility for care work, doing twice as much unpaid care work than men do.”
Individuals, mostly women, who quit their jobs or choose to stay at home to care for children and/or elderly receive no income. Those women who have full or part-time paid jobs, tend to spend more time in unpaid chores at home when compared to men. In a report released by Statistics Canada, men and women aged 25 to 54 work roughly the same number of hours per day. However, the division of unpaid labour often leave women with the unfair burden. Working women spend around 4 hours per day on unpaid work.
Whenever we face a crisis or injustice, we need to find solutions. Solutions exist if we sincerely aim to live in a world that’s fair. It’s the duty of governments, internationally and nationally, to work on closing the gender and economic gap. For instance, women (and men) who give up their jobs to take unpaid work such as caregiving, must receive basic pensionable income. Investing in public service that help provide care is crucial in order to end gender inequality. Governments must ensure that the wealthy one per cent pay their fair share of tax that would help in investing in services such as childcare, health and quality caregiving facilities.
Lobbying politicians to bring changes to the existing system must take place. However, we as individuals must take the responsibility of raising awareness in our communities. What can we do to end gender inequality?
Let’s celebrate Valentine’s Day with “Bread and Roses,” demanding an end to economic and gender inequality while holding on to the message of love.
To all the women and men who voluntarily stay home to raise children or care for the sick and elderly, may you be in our hearts this Valentine’s Day and every day.
This column appeared in the Yellowknifer on February 12, 2020.