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A woman’s place: At home, at a career, or in unpaid caring roles the work is always there

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“A woman’s place is in the home” is a phrase that goes back nearly 25 centuries from a Greek play written in 467 B.C. by Aeschylus. Women have always worked, but the emphasis on the home environment suggests that the unpaid work of child rearing, caring for the ill and elderly, cleaning and cooking should still fall on women.

The landscape has changed in Canada over the years as women have entered the labour market; opened their own businesses as entrepreneurs; completed post-secondary education in record numbers; and added volunteer hours in their communities. However, the old adage still applies – even though more men have stepped up, women continue to dominate the unpaid labour sectors in the home and community while adding significantly to the GDP.

Joli Scheidler-Benns.

Kawartha Lakes women have embraced a wide variety of roles, such as the entrepreneurs and small business owners we featured in our latest issue. They are also leading non-profits, caring for elderly parents, raising children and doing critical homemaking work, going to school (or back to school), and getting involved or leading community groups and initiatives.

Colleen Collins, executive director of the Lindsay and District Chamber of Commerce, says in 2018 about 36 per cent of new members were women-led businesses.

“There seem to be a lot of health and wellness related businesses that women are spearheading,” says Collins, although there is a great deal of diversity, too.

“I’ve also noticed women are being appointed or hired at more high profile positions then ever,” she says, pointing out Amy Terrill’s recent appointment as executive director of the Boys and Girls Club of Kawartha Lakes.

Labour and GDP

In most economic theories, labour is considered work that contributes to the GDP. A nanny for example is considered part of the labour force. Her caring of the children adds to the GDP and ‘counts’ as work. But if she marries the children’s father and continues to care for the children, it would be assumed that she would no longer be paid for these things as a wife. Her work is no longer ‘for sale’ in the market and becomes part of the unpaid work category. According to Statistics Canada in 2016, women spend 50 per cent more time doing unpaid work than men. Men spent 37 per cent more time than women doing income-generating activities.

Women currently make up 48 per cent of Canada’s total labour force. The global financial crisis of 2008 solidified the importance of women’s participation in the economy. Labour that was available after this became increasingly precarious, part-time and low wage positions — and women were more likely to accept this type of work.

The World Bank and IMF recognized women as a huge factor in the global recovery noting that “the rise of women’s participation in paid work is contributing to GDP growth in almost every country in the world.” Additionally, the OECD recognized that the “rising female participation in the labour force has been the mainstay of per capita real income growth [for Canada] over the last decade.” Interestingly, so many women have gone into the labour force that families with a stay-at home mother declined by 1,025,000 from 1,487,000 in 1976 to 493,000 in 2015.

As well, it is worth noting that it is care of children that contributed specifically as a factor as one-third of women who limit their work to part-time cite a lack of access to affordable child care as the reason.

As governments like Canada’s increased their austerity measures by withdrawing important social and health services in the 1990s (and increasingly afterwards), women’s contribution of additional unpaid care work also increased. Women added ‘value’ here, given they were (and are) more likely to take service-and care-related occupations. They are also twice as likely to accept minimum wage work, three times as likely to work part-time, and more willing than their male counterparts to take on the increasing amount of unpaid care work.

Women-owned Businesses

According to Statistics Canada (2018), women-owned businesses increased significantly during the period from 2005 to 2013. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) in 2015/2016, Canadian women are starting their own businesses at a faster pace than all other G20 countries. The most common type of businesses for women to start tend to be small businesses (less than 20 employees) and typically focused on the service or retail sectors. This reflects the majority of local women profiled in this issue, too.

The service industries for women also include educational services; arts, entertainment and recreation; and health care and social assistance. Women are less likely to start businesses in goods-producing industries which are still dominated by men. According to Statistics Canada in 2011, over 37 per cent of businesses are owned by female entrepreneurs in Eastern Ontario.

Rebecca Mustard, manager of economic development, City of Kawartha Lakes, says women entrepreneurs are becoming more prevalent.

“Here in Kawartha Lakes, we’re seeing more and more women running their own businesses. Approximately 60 per cent of the consultations conducted through the Kawartha Lakes Small Business Entrepreneurship Centre (KLSBEC) are women seeking guidance and resources as they explore the possibility of starting up a new business or looking for ways to grow their current business,” Mustard tells the Advocate.

“We’ve also seen a sharp increase in the number of women running businesses in our agriculture sector.”

Mustard says staff at the City are there to “encourage all entrepreneurs through a robust offering of mentoring, development and direction to funding sources.”

Women are also attending post-secondary school at record rates in order to be competitive in the workforce. As of 1990, 25 per cent of women aged 25-54 had not finished high school and only 14 per cent had a university-level degree. Currently women are outpacing men in Canada, with 56 per cent of the bachelor-level university degrees and 51 per cent of the master’s degrees.

They also account for 58 per cent of the college graduates. These higher graduation rates aren’t reflected in the workforce as most are not in senior-decision making roles. They are also underrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) positions which tends to be higher paying fields. Less women tend to enroll in these programs in general. Only 32 per cent of the graduates in mathematics and computer and information sciences are women. Further only 20 per cent of women graduate in engineering and related courses.

This situation has changed some since 1986, when Canadian mothers did 200 per cent more unpaid work than fathers. By 2015, mothers accounted for 38 per cent of the total hours of paid labour done by parents, up from 29 per cent since 1986. The saying “a woman’s work is never done” has certainly been true over the years. Women still spend an average of 3.6 hours per day doing unpaid household work which include chores, household shopping, cooking, car pooling, and caring for children or adult family members in addition to paid labour.

Caring for children is still largely dominated by women in Canada. In 2010, women spent an average of 50.1 hours per week on child care, more than double the average time (24.4 hours) spent by men.  Women also tend to spend more time caring for aging parents or other family members than men.

According to The Conference Board of Canada (2018), volunteers (both women and men) contributed two billion hours to Canada’s work effort in 2017 contributing to economic activity by increasing the value of services provided. The volunteer service is valued at $55.9 billion dollars in 2017; this is equal to 2.6 percent of the GDP. If volunteering was considered an industry, its employment level would equate to the amount of people working in the field of education. The 2,072 million hours of volunteer work done by both females and males is equivalent to 1.1 million full-time jobs in Canada.

The landscape has changed some over time, but there are many who still see a “woman’s place” as “in the home.” While many women have entered the labour force and become entrepreneurs, received degrees, and volunteered in the community, the “work” levels for the majority of women have only increased. A shift in the way we value and recognize unpaid work is necessary for families, the community, and our entire society as we are all dependent on unpaid work getting done.

–with files from Roderick Benns

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Joli Scheidler-Benns is a PhD candidate in Health Policy and Equity at York University. She is a sessional professor for UOIT's Faculty of Education. She serves in a Research, Strategy, and Community Development role for The Lindsay Advocate while also serving as a Writer-at-Large.

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