The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: equality

Nothing Less

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THE U.S. CONGRESS JOINT ECONOMIC COMMITTEE put their conclusion in stark terms. Though some advances are being made, the gender pay gap will not close until 2059. Presently, women on average in the United States make $10,800 less than their male counterparts, based on median annual earnings. Over the course of a career, this loss adds up to nearly half a million dollars.

Something else they found was equally striking: “Women make up only 26% of highly paid executives, but 71% of low-paid cashiers.”

Writer Lydia Dishman from Fast Company noted that the Hired Group made its own discoveries from its recruiting platforms that others use:

“Hired found that, on average, companies were offering women between 3% and 30% less than for men for the same roles … Our data – which spans technology, sales, and marketing roles – shows that 69% of the time, men receive higher salary offers than women for the same job title in the same company.”

Canada has its own story to tell on this subject and I learned much just from going over the Canadian Women’s Foundation website. It was troubling:

  • The percentage of working women in Canada has increased from 42% to almost 60% in the last 30 years.
  • About 70% of part-time workers in 2013 were women – unchanged over the last three decades.
  • Based on the current gender wage gap in Ontario (31.5%), a woman would have to work an extra 14 years to make what a man makes by the time he retired at 65.
  • In 2008, female university graduates earned $62,800 a year, while men earned $91,800.
  • A woman’s lower earning power means they face a higher risk of falling into poverty if they have children and become separated, divorced, or widowed.

This is a lot of data, I know, but it paints a pretty clear and troubling picture – one that isn’t changing nearly dramatically enough. While young women are more likely than their male counterparts to hold a university education, a greater number of them are the sole providers in their home. That means their financial security is often at risk. For women, their pay cheque isn’t just for themselves, but is the sustenance of entire households.

Lost in all this is what our economy look like if women were equally financially rewarded for the same work as men. Increasingly, economists are warming to the reality that a fairly paid female employee is actually a financial powerhouse, capable of purchasing and investing far greater sums of money into local economies. The American group, National Partnership for Women and Families, reckons that if women were paid equally to men for full-time work, they would be able to afford an additional seven months of mortgage and utilities, or 1.6 years of food annually. If you’re looking for some kind of action that could credibly alleviate poverty, this could be it.

At some point we have to put an end to realities such as that, of the women making up almost half of the workforce in Canada, only 5% are CEOs, only 15.9% sit in boards. It is a disservice to us all and cheapens our supposed prosperity as a nation. Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan surely had it right when noting, “Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.”

This is our great challenge of the moment. Without equal pay women can’t fully enrich their families, their communities, their countries, their world. And neither can anyone else. There are two genders but one human race and the latter can’t advance until the former are truly equal. Or in the remarkable brief flash of inspiration by Susan Anthony: “Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.

Run to Meet the Moon



OUR FAMILY WILL HEAD DOWNTOWN TO THE CENOTAPH this evening, as we do every year on Remembrance Day, and lay two roses on its steps – one each for Jane’s father and my own. Occasionally I leave a poem to Dad as my own way of saying thanks for struggling for what he believed in, despite the emotional and physical wounds he received during World War Two.

During that conflict, along with being a soldier, he also wrote poems from the front for the Calgary Herald. One of these is titled The Moon and Mars. I bring it out every year and have to come to terms with the reality that Lloyd Pearson was not only a brave citizen but a confounded one as well. I’m starting to understand what he was getting at.

In The Moon and Mars, he speaks about his love for his country, his family, his local community, and romantic love. All these he likens to the seasons of the moon and its ability to enchant the human race with its sense of affection and possibility. But always on the heels of those sentiments came the presence of Mars – the ancient god of war, as epitomized by the Red Planet, who saw peace as merely the trite interplay that happens between conflicts. The hue of the moon over the battlefields nevertheless calmed my father’s soul, reminding him of why he was fighting. But the redness of Mars always drove him to despair because it was about how war seemed to regularly outdo the penchant for peace.

Years later, he would tell me how he came to believe that war was what happened when people stopped listening to the better angels of their nature. Once, as we sailed in the water off Penticton, British Columbia, he said that the most important thing about why he fought was that the love he felt for those people behind and with him was stronger than any animosity he might have felt for the enemy in front of him.

In other words, my Dad, like millions of others, fought for the kind of life he believed in. He had fought for the nationalization of parks in Western Canada, endeavoured to find ways to help the poor find work, was president of his neighbourhood association, a great believer in sports, and sought to expand the vote to Alberta’s aboriginal populations. These were the things he was fighting to preserve, along with the welfare of his family.

I wonder what he would think now. How would he respond to the fact that food banks are growing? Could he tolerate a kind of politics that refused to dedicate the resources required to locate the approximately 1,000 aboriginal woman who are presumed murdered or have disappeared in Canada? What would he say about all those recent veterans who for the life of them can’t access the benefits promised them after they returned home to struggle with PTSD, family poverty, even suicide? His world had been one in which the burgeoning middle-class could find employment, build their communities through good paying jobs, and bring up their children to follow a life that was bigger than themselves.

Lloyd Pearson died almost 40 years ago, but I sometimes fret that his dream died with him. There was a very real sense that, for him, the true battle of World War Two wasn’t about ridding the world of tyranny, but about building the kind of Canada that was fair, prosperous, sustainable, and equitable. Hitler and Mussolini are gone. The fascists were defeated. But sometime along the way, we began losing the battle at home. In place of abundance we have food banks; instead of communities we struggle with homelessness; in the place of enlightened lives we have education solely for the sake of employment; and instead of citizens with purpose we have components of capitalism with little sense of honour to those communities in which it thrives. Mars seems alive and well and I think that reality alone would break Dad’s heart.

Harry Leslie Smith is 90 years old, a veteran, and living out his final years in Britain. He has said that this will be his final year for wearing a poppy because we don’t truly honour those who perished in conflict if we continue to lay aside the true purposes for which democracy stands and for which they fought. He powerfully concludes in his piece in the Guardian:

Next year, I won’t wear the poppy but I will until my last breath remember the past and the struggles my generation made to build this country into a civilized state for the working and middle classes. If we are to survive as a progressive nation we have to start tending to our living because the wounded: our poor, our underemployed youth, our hard-pressed middle class and our struggling seniors shouldn’t be left to die on the battleground of modern life.

These are sad words from someone who has earned his opinion and they make mine feeble, yet I will still don my poppy.  But they would light a fire in my Dad’s heart if he were alive today. He would say, “Take the torch, citizens; our real fight is about the fairness of home and not merely the foes overseas.” As Robert Frost would say, “Let us run to meet the moon.” Mars has had its way long enough.

A Woman’s Place Is In The …



IN A COUPLE OF DAYS, JANE HEADS TO SOUTH SUDAN with two other formidable women to oversee our projects in that troubled region of Africa.  It happens every year, regardless of circumstances either here at home or over there.  Commitment like Jane’s knows no irregularities.

I was asked for coffee by someone last week who wanted me to know that I wasn’t fulfilling my role as a husband because I was letting my wife head into a conflict region.  “She needs you there to take care of her, Glen, in case something happens,” he observed.

For the next 30 minutes I took him through Jane’s remarkable exploits around the world, in places like Rwanda, Bosnia and Somalia.  I told him of when she travelled for days through the mountains of Turkey in order to drop into Iraq during the First Gulf War.  She came down out of those cold elevations only to land at a military camp that was struggling to assist thousands of refugees.  When Jane offered to assist, the ranking officer asked, “Do you anything about distributing food?”  She smiled and nodded (she didn’t inform him she directed a food bank) and he put her in charge of the entire operation.  The thought of it still inspires me: a camp of very strong, dedicated and capable men turning to a woman they didn’t know to take the lead – truly remarkable.

I finally put my hand on the man’s shoulder in that coffee shop and said: “If you were ever in Sudan with us (as so many have been), you would quickly understand that it’s Jane that hits the ground running and that it’s me who looks to her for guidance and not the other way around.”

Jane and I have literally been through the wars in numerous regions around the globe and I’ve come to understand one of the secrets to her effectiveness.  Rather than talk endlessly about a woman’s place in the world, she just lives it.  She always finds it deeply troubling that so many people aspiring to full equality fail to show any interest in those regions of the world where women have no advantages or access whatsoever.  And so she journeys to those regions and fights for women’s rights in places where it’s remarkably difficult to achieve any such victory.  There is action to her words and the women in places like Sudan know that they have found someone from the West who can reach out past her own confines to help in those regions where the darkness around women’s lives is the most pervasive.

But it’s not just about Africa, Asia, South America or Eastern Europe.  She dedicates herself to working at the food bank because she is fully aware that it is primarily women who suffer through the encroaching clutches of systemic poverty.  She always wonders why people who claim equality as a lofty goal don’t undertake greater efforts to assist women struggling on low-income or in aboriginal communities.

True equality between men and women will never come until we all apply our efforts to those very regions where women face the greatest struggles.  To seek equality in Canada while ignoring the developing world is to miss the point and, sadly, to miss the opportunity to assist two billion women who suffer for our lack of being able to extend our values to where they are truly needed.  For women in general, their community is far more vast that mere geography, and journeys wherever their solidarity is required.

We must always struggle for the right of any woman to lead, follow, run for politics or manage a company – wherever her dreams take her.  But surely her horizon can’t overlook women who can’t find water, suffer from HIV, can’t breastfeed their children, or protect their villages from violence.  One woman’s fight for equality is necessarily every woman’s fight, and this is something Jane just lives out in her life with no need to preach it.  Her life is her sermon.  Her actions are her policy.  Her faithfulness is her politics.  And her husband and children are her debtors.

I was to travel with Jane in a couple of days, but when a Sudanese woman expressed her deep desire to be with her people in their struggle, Jane and I both agreed that I should let her have my seat.  But we needn’t worry that in that male-dominated part of the world that Jane will be all the poorer for the lack of her husband’s presence.  She will debate, woo, charm, and fight with those leaders to get the schools built, our water projects functioning, and in keeping the woman’s micro-enterprises in the solid ownership of the women themselves.

It will be me who will the poorer for her absence.  I will feel slightly lost and somewhat incapable of overseeing our remarkable amount of responsibilities.  But I will know that this one remarkably capable citizen will be reminding everyone that a woman’s ultimate place of effectiveness is in the world – shaping it, loving it, confronting it, elevating and refining it. Jane is a constant reminder that a woman’s world must include all women, especially those on the margins.  A man married to such a person captures his own hope through such an example.

Kathleen Wynne’s Victory – Look Deeper

Two faces of womanOntario has a new premier and her ascension is nothing if not groundbreaking – the first female and openly gay premier-designate. She ran a disciplined and largely respectful campaign and that last characteristic might have been a key reason for her ultimate victory. Repeatedly through the contest she said things like, “The rancour and the viciousness of the legislature can’t continue.” Many seasoned observers have noted that Queen’s Park has increasingly taken on the hyper-partisan characteristics of the House of Commons in Ottawa. So her emphasis on decorum and respect is a welcome signal.

It was also Tweeted consistently that over 90% of Canadians are led by female provincial leaders – another positive signal. But will it last? And more importantly, can the effects of a better gender balance in our parliaments lead us to a more productive future of cooperation and compromise so seemingly out of reach in the formerly male-dominated world of politics as a blood sport? Women political leaders will hardly prove successful in such an undertaking if we as citizens don’t support such efforts.

But before we get too carried away with this transformation that has been years in the making, two sober realities remain that must be understood and counteracted.

The first is the troubling tendency for women to refuse voting for other female aspirants to leadership. According to Peggy Drexler, research psychologist and gender scholar, too many studies reveal this tendency to make it a mere anomaly. Although women are more likely than men to focus in on gender issues, they still remain hesitant to transform that interest into voting for other women. Ironically, while women are more likely to vote for someone because she is female, they are just as likely to dismiss her for the same reason. In noting that women tend to be harder on female candidates, Drexler concludes:

Women still judge other women – simply put, they continue to be judged against the standards initiated and maintained by men.  And because many women therefore know quite well what it’s like to feel judged, they then turn that judgement back on one another.

This is disturbing, but my own experience in politics has taught me that it is indeed a reality. So, in order to matter, to count, to lead, SOME women become more harsh, more partisan, more mean-spirited than their male counterparts simply because they feel they have to be to get noticed or to move ahead, and are often coached by their male advisors to adopt such a posture.  Kathleen Wynne explicitly demonstrated that you can win and lead by being inclusive. Powerful women leaders like Deb Matthews recognized that and gave her their support.

Now for a second sobering reality. The international development community learned years ago that for true development to be effective, the role of women must be enhanced worldwide, not merely in the West. How’s that going so far? Consider this from Amnesty International:

  • Women perform 66% of the world’s work, receive only 11% of the world’s income, and own only 1% of the land.
  • Women make up 66% of the world’s illiterate adults.
  • Women head 83% of single-parent families. The number of families nurtured by women alone doubled from 1970 to 1995.
  • Despite women totalling 55% of all college students, it does not translate into economic opportunities or political power nearly to the same degree as men.
  • Two-thirds of the world’s children who receive less than four years of education are girls, and girls represent 60% of the children not in school.
  • Three out of every four fatalities of various wars are women and children.
  • About 75% of the refugees and internally displaced in the world are women who have lost their families and their homes.

There remains the tragic disconnect in Canada between the fate of women domestically and internationally. To promote the rights and potential of women effectively means to defend it everywhere, not merely where it is close to us. Nevertheless, support for Western governments that cut back international aid continues to curtail the opportunities for women worldwide and yet we permit such a decline to prevail.

One week ago my wife and I returned from south Sudan after leading a large team to assist with development projects we have run there for years. With their own eyes these Canadians saw how for the lack of $300 per annum a girl can’t get a high school education. They learned that for want of $120 a mother can’t provide sustainable food for her family.  They were saddened to discover that women who fled slavery in order to give their children a chance for health and education are considering returning to captivity since precious few resources exist for them in the south.  Ms. Wynne’s victory is important, but compared to such realities it surely must lose some of its lustre. Victory for women in Canada should mean the same for women worldwide; we’re not there yet – not even close. Or as Benjamin Franklin put it: “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

I am tired of a kind of politics that doesn’t have enough female representation, but I am equally saddened to live in a Western world that places such emphasis on women’s representation at the same time as it ignores it worldwide. All too many struggle to see women finally have power equal to their male counterparts, but the power they reach for and deserve must be mirrored by their thoughts and actions for their sisters  in the rest of the world. Reach for that and we will truly have reform.

How Was 2012 For Women?

Screen Shot 2012-12-31 at 6.12.50 AMMy new Huffington Post piece on how women fared globally and in Canada in 2012.

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