Author Archives: cfuwadvocacy

CFUW Calls for Action to Address Growth in Low Literacy among Canadians

Nearly 50% of Canadians have Low Literacy According to Latest Assessment

OTTAWA, September 8, 2014 – On the occasion of International Literacy Day, CFUW calls on federal, provincial and territorial governments to address the troubling growth in low literacy among Canadians.

According to the latest Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC) carried out by Statistics Canada on behalf of the OECD, 48% of the Canadian population has literacy skills below level 3, the internationally accepted level required to function in a modern society and to be fully component in many jobs. This represents a nearly 8% increase since the last assessment in 2003.

While the rates of low literacy are similar for both women and men in Canada, women with low literacy skills are more likely to be unemployed or employed in lower paying jobs than men with similar levels of literacy. Elevating the literacy skills of women and girls in particular, is therefore an important way to help reduce poverty and gender inequality.

“Low literacy affects the social, economic and political participation of Canadians, and its growing incidence should be a pressing concern for policy makers”, said Doris Mae Oulton. “It is imperative that federal, provincial and territorial governments work together to develop a national strategy to address this issue, with specific attention to gender differences and the groups most affected, including Aboriginal peoples and immigrants.”

CFUW questions the Government of Canada’s decision to cut core funding to national and provincial literacy organizations as of June 2014. Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) has instead assembled a pan-Canadian network focused on improving the labour market outcomes of Canadians. ESDC sought proposals from organizations to join the network, however many literacy groups were not selected and are therefore currently reducing their programs, services and staff, or closing all together.

 

Today, CFUW joins the International Federation of University Women (IFUW) and affiliates in over 60 countries to mark this important day to raise awareness about illiteracy and low literacy, particularly among women and girls, around the world. Together, CFUW and IFUW are pressing governments, as well as educational bodies to take all steps necessary to eradicate illiteracy and low literacy. Action must include drafting and implementing legislation and concrete policy frameworks that identify measurable goals and benchmarks to tackle the global literacy shortfall. All programs for action must recognize and make provision for the increased vulnerability of women and girls, who account for two-thirds of the 774 million illiterate people in the world.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.

For more information, contact:      

Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, CFUW, advocacy@cfuw.org or 613-234-8252 ext. 106

CFUW Meets with Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan to Discuss Women’s Rights

Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, paid a visit the CFUW National Office on Tuesday to meet with representatives of the organization. The ongoing work of the Ottawa Club’s study group, University Women Helping Afghan Women (UWHAW), resonated with the Ambassador and prompted her to reach out to CFUW for a meeting.

Ambassador Lyons spoke passionately about her role as the first woman Ambassador in Afghanistan in 10 years. She commented that one of her major challenges as Ambassador has been trying to keep public attention on Afghanistan; something certainly that CFUW, with its network across Canada, can help support.

As she nears the end of her first year as Ambassador, she is enthusiastic about Canada’s new phase of involvement in Afghanistan; focused on development, human rights, security, and governance. There continues to be a lot of hard work ahead from her perspective, which must be carried out with as much vigour as Canada’s military involvement. This she believes is an important way to honour the military’s work, and to make Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan a constructive story; women’s rights being an essential part.

The task of supporting women’s rights in Afghanistan is enormous she says, but one that Canada and the international community remain committed to. Their progress is fragile, but also tangible, and symbolic of what can be accomplished collaboratively. She stressed that Afghanistan could become an important example of 21st Century Global cooperation if the international community and the Afghan government are able to achieve something workable for the Afghan people, particularly if women’s rights continue to improve, considering the past extremism they experienced.

So how can this be accomplished? There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.  The Canadian government recognizes that women have an essential role to play in attaining durable, long-lasting peace, as research from the Institute on Inclusive Security, and others have shown. Ongoing funding for women’s rights, health and governance will certainly be important components, along with support for economic development to ensure sustainability.

CFUW, with its member Clubs, can support women’s rights in Afghanistan by continuing to keep these issues and Afghan women’s concerns in the public eye.

To find out more about the work of University Women Helping Afghan Women visit the CFUW Ottawa website or like the UWHAW Facebook page.

University Women Strive to End Violence against Women


Ottawa – June 22, 2014
– In 2013, the CFUW National President Susan Murphy invited Clubs across Canada to participate in a national initiative to support women and girls who are survivors of violence.   CFUW Clubs across the country took up the President’s challenge and over half of the Federation’s 107 Clubs responded with a wide variety of projects.

The initiatives undertaken by CFUW Clubs included community activities such as CFUW Nanaimo’s community-based workshop on how bystanders can intervene entitled Ending the Silence: Strategies for Preventing Abuse. Members ofCFUW Corner Brook became a community partner in the CAMPUS Project, a study examining the issue of violence against young women on university campuses. CFUW Southport held a candlelight service in honour of the women killed at École Polytechnique. CFUW Dartmouth provided supplies to “Alice Housing” for women and children in second stage housing who are victims of violence.

Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the UN has said that violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights in our time. It affects one in three women and girls. In this vein, and building on the momentum from last year, CFUW will continue with the National Initiative in 2014/2015 because we believe our ongoing collective efforts can and will help raise public awareness about violence against women and girls, improve support and prevention, and put pressure on all levels of government to take stronger action.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.

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 For further information, contact:

Robin Jackson, Executive Director, Canadian Federation of University Women, 613-234-8353 ext. 106, executivedirector@fcfdu.org

CFUW Grants Close to $1 Million in Scholarships and Bursaries for Women

Waterloo, June 20, 2014 – Close to $1 million in scholarships and bursaries was awarded by the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) Clubs across the country. Susan Murphy, National President of CFUW, announced that “This is an annual contribution Clubs make to demonstrate their commitment to the education of girls and women. We know that these scholarships and fellowship have an impact on thousands of lives every year.”

At the CFUW Annual General Meeting & Conference, being held in Waterloo, Ontario, Ms. Murphy praised the work of CFUW members. “This is an organization that believes in the education of girls and women. We consistently demonstrate our willingness to ensure that education is a possibility for our promising women.”

As well as the funds that are raised and distributed on a local basis, CFUW also last year gave $83,500 from their CFUW Charitable Trust for postgraduate funding for women, funding that is available to Canadian citizens or permanent residents studying in Canada and abroad. CFUW received 389 applications for these 15 fellowships and awards.

“We have made learning our priority. We believe in the power of education. We believe that an education is one of the most effective ways for women to achieve equality, maintain their voice, and understand and exercise their rights.” Murphy stated. “The need has never been greater for independent self-funded groups such as CFUW to be visible, with strong community based activities.”

Supporting education is only part of the mandate of our Clubs. Clubs across Canada hold hundreds of different fund raising events, sustain endowments and undertake hundreds of activities that keep members engaged in promoting and supporting their communities. As well, Clubs support women’s shelters, day cares, work with aboriginal women and advocate on important issues such as financial literacy for girls and women. Murphy said “We believe in Action, Advocacy and Education and the women of CFUW continue to show community, national and international leadership.”

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.

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For more information, please contact:

Robin Jackson, Executive Director, Canadian Federation of University Women, 613-282-1758 or cfuwed@rogers.com

 

University Women Concerned New Prostitution Legislation Continues to Criminalize Women

OTTAWA – June 5, 2014 – The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) is concerned that Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act will continue to punish and criminalize women for selling sex, and fails to address the social, economic and racial inequalities that push women into prostitution.

“While CFUW agrees with the aspects of the bill that focus on criminalizing the purchase of sex and targeting demand, we are concerned by the provisions that will make it illegal to sell sex in some public spaces”, said Susan Murphy, President of CFUW. “We agree with the government’s assessment that prostitution is harmful to women, but criminalizing them is not the answer”.

Since 2010, CFUW has supported the adoption of a legal framework similar to Sweden, where women are fully decriminalized and comprehensive exit services are provided. Sweden also has a more robust social safety net, which allows women to enjoy a higher degree of economic and social equality in comparison to women in Canada.

“Bill C-36 continues to treat prostitution as a public nuisance, and will likely replicate some of the safety issues that arose with the previous communication law struck down by the Supreme Court”, said Ms. Murphy. “Far too many women are forced into the sex trade as a result of poverty and inequality. The funding earmarked for exit services is laudable and a step in the right direction, but more is needed to address root causes”.

With the rising cost of post-secondary education and students having difficulty finding summer jobs, even some young women are turning to prostitution using the internet to pay for their university and college education. CFUW finds it egregious that the Government of Canada would criminalize these young women trying to make ends meet. Instead the government should address rising tuition fees and improve access to decent jobs for young people.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.

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For more information, contact: Robin Jackson, Executive Director, Canadian Federation of University Women, 613-234-8252, ext. 102, executivedirector@fcfdu.org

University Women Call for Increased Access to Education for Girls and Women in Detention and Prison

OTTAWA – June 1, 2014 – Women and girls in detention and in prison generally have little education, are poor and have low employment prospects, say the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), based in Geneva, Switzerland, and the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) on the occasion of IFUW Day on June 1st. IFUW and CFUWcall for increased education programs, including financial, health, human rights, information technology (IT) and language literacy training. Such programs for incarcerated girls and women would help upgrade their skills and improve their employability. “Education has the power to break the link between crime, poverty and poor employment skills”, says Susan Murphy, President of the Canadian Federation of University Women.

Women are most often imprisoned for activities carried out for economic purposes such as theft and fraud. Approximately 80% of women who are federally incarcerated in Canada were unemployed at the time of admission, and have lower than average education levels. For instance, an estimated 50% of incarcerated women have less than grade 9 education, and 40% are considered functionally illiterate. Aboriginal women and other women with multiple barriers such as poverty, mental or intellectual disabilities, addictions, and histories of trauma are over-represented in the female prison population.[1]

“Secondary and tertiary education for girls and women can provide them an alternative source of income to crimes of poverty,” said IFUW President Catherine Bell. “It has been proven that girls and women who are trained in prisons and detention have lower recidivism rates.”

While prisons in Canada offer education to grade ten levels and/or General Educational Development (GED), vocational training and post-secondary education[2] some of the barriers for women to succeed include a lack of qualified instructors and lack of continuity between prisons if they are transferred. Very few vocational education programs in prisons qualify as viable entry requirements for accredited positions outside of prison. Correspondence programs for university level courses are also expensive and difficult to complete because they often lack enabling study space, equipment and access to adequate academic research.[3] Eliminating these barriers to educational success, will go a long way to paving the way to a life without crime for these women.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace. It is the largest affiliate of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), located in Geneva Switzerland, the leading girls’ and women’s global organisation run by and for women, advocating for women’s rights, equality and empowerment through access to quality education and training up to the highest levels. CFUW and IFUW hold special consultative status with ECOSOC and maintain official relations with UNESCO.

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For more information please contact:

Robin Jackson, T: 613-234-8252, ext. 102; Email: executivedirector@fcfdu.org

Nina Joyce, T: +41 22 731 23 80; Email: nj@ifuw.org

 

[1]CAEFA. (n.d.) Criminalized and Imprisoned Women. Retrieved from: http://www.caefs.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Criminalized-and-Imprisoned-Women.pdf

[2]Corrections Services Canada. (2011). Education and Employment Programs.

[3]CAEFA. (n.d.). Areas of Advocacy, Educational and Vocational Areas. Retrieved from: http://www.caefs.ca/resources/caefs-guidelines-for-advocacy/

Gender Differences in Academic Pursuits and Career Outcomes

By: Kelsey Sunstrum

Soon students across Canada will be accepting offers of admission to universities, colleges and trade schools. Young women are considering their futures carefully, making decisions that will impact the rest of their lives.

How young women are guided towards their futures influences these important choices. In the October 2013 issue, American Cosmopolitan included an article about women and postsecondary education. While it seems positive that women’s magazines are offering more in-depth, relevant advice, this article takes a different direction.

The article, entitled “Working the Ratio” focuses almost exclusively on how to choose the best school (or city, or profession) to find a mate. It is saddening that despite women’s enormous contributions to academia, their participation is downplayed. Instead, women are assumed to be more preoccupied with their chances of romantic, not academic, success. This messaging perpetuates the gender divide still present in post-secondary institutions, particularly in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields, at the graduate and doctorate levels, and in faculty.

Educational Attainment

Women have made tremendous gains in terms of educational attainment, and certainly have much to celebrate. Currently, in both Canada and the United States, young women outnumber young men at the undergraduate level. There are also higher percentages of women (28%) in tertiary-type B institutions, which includes community college, nursing certificates, and university degrees below Bachelors.

However, women remain less likely to pursue education in traditionally male-dominated fields such as STEM, as well as the trades. While advances for women have been made in the Natural Sciences and Engineering (NSE) fields, the proportion of women was still only at 37% at the undergraduate level in 2008-2009, with their participation dropping further at the graduate level.  The decrease of women’s enrolment in the STEM areas at higher levels is described as the ‘leaky pipeline.’ This trend worsens the problem of women’s under-representation in academia and research in these fields.

The most recent National Household survey in 2011 puts women’s representation in all STEM fields at 39%. However, women are mostly concentrated in science (e.g. biology) and technology, according to the survey.

Tuition Fees

While attaining a degree certainly increases a young woman’s earning potential over a life time, more and more young women are taking on debt to do so. Young women for instance have higher take-up of the Canada Student Loans Program, and are more likely than men to take upward of a decade to repay these debts. This not only affects the overall “price tag” of a degree (i.e. higher compound interest), it also has an impact on the disposable income of young women, and the likelihood of owning a home, having savings and/or investments.

Women from minority backgrounds encounter further challenges in this regard. Tuition fees represent a higher percentage of income for racialized women (21%) compared to 17% of non-racilaized women’s pay, and just 11% of the average income of a non-racialized man.

Immigrants are also much more likely to seek assistance in the form of loans (45%), while only 31% of non-immigrants seek financial aid to pay their tuition fees.

With the rising cost of post-secondary education, we can only expect these gendered and racialized impacts of student debt to become more pronounced.

Each year CFUW administers more than $1 million in scholarships and bursaries to young women to help reduce the financial burden of post-secondary education, while continuing to advocate for lower tuition fees.

Careers

Women continue to work in highly “feminized” fields, including in the education and health sectors. According to the latest statistics from the NHS, the two most popular professions for women today are teachers and nurses; the same as in the early 1990’s. The statistics also show that women remain overly represented in clerical and administrative roles.  Not surprisingly  women still comprise a mere 22% of the NSE labour force, and remain under-represented in the skilled trades. In each of the top five male-dominated trades – construction, precision production, transportation and materials moving, and engineering technology – women made up equal to or less than 10% of the workforce.

A number of factors are responsible for this lack representation. Girls and women are pushed towards other fields and not given adequate information about less “traditional” career paths. In the same vein, as evidence demonstrates that women are less likely to move to leadership positions, young girls do not often see female role models in these careers. Furthermore, sexist institutional practices and barriers to a satisfactory work-life balance deter women from more non-traditional pathways.

In academia, women constitute only 22% of full-time professors teaching at Canadian universities, while only 16 out of 95 University Presidents are women. Female faculty members in NSE disciplines are not surprisingly, relatively uncommon. Of full-time NSE professors, women comprise 12.2% of the group, while there are 27.8% of women employed as assistant professors. Women are also more visible towards the lower academic ranks.

An important element of any individual’s career in academia is the number of publications to their name. Women are less likely to author published works in all academic niches. The numbers are lowest in the fields of Mathematics, Operations Research, Economics, Philosophy, and Law.

Women on the tenure track in academia often must adjust their life plans to achieve their career goals. In 2004, Mason and Goulden found that women aiming for tenure are more likely to have children between the ages of 36 to 40 whereas men on the same path generally had their children between the age of 22 and 36. This indicates that women are more often waiting to begin a family because of the constraints of a difficult work-life balance.

Pay Gap

The discrepancy between the pay given to men and women in similar professions is persistent, and slow to change. As of 1998, women with tertiary education (college or university degrees) made only 61% the earnings of their male counterparts. A decade later, this number has increased only slightly to 63%.

One explanation for this difference is that women are more likely to occupy lower-paying positions and/or work part-time hours while they are less likely to secure permanent employment. In many careers, women are less likely to advance to leadership positions, which are generally higher-paying.

There is good news, too, thankfully. In 2005, women entering the workforce with higher levels of education (defined as a post-graduate or doctorate degree) made very close to men with the same level of education at 96% of their earnings.

The pay discrepancy between women and men in the academic setting is also much narrower than other fields, although women are still commonly earning less than their male colleagues. Full-time female professors earned 95.1% of the earnings gained by male full-time professors; associate professors at 97.2%; and assistant professors at 98%.

Solutions

Unfortunately, there is no “silver bullet” that can address ongoing employment and pay inequities. However, governments, academic institutions and other employers can be more pro-active.

For instance, cross-country studies conducted by the OECD and others have found that subsidized child care boosts women’s participation in the work force across fields. Among industrialized countries Canada currently has one of the lowest child care access rates and invests significantly less in child care than most OECD countries.

Institutions also need to change their policies to enable women to achieve a better work-life balance and reach their academic and career goals without sacrificing their personal aspirations, such as having children.

In addition to a federally funded Universal Early Learning and Child Care program, institutions could also establish new, creative options to alleviate the unpaid care workload in women’s lives. Some examples include integrating employment benefits that offer child care and/or elder care. To attain greater female representation in traditionally male fields or non-traditional career paths, CFUW has proposed a national strategy to encourage women to pursue these pathways and to address employment inequities. This would involve collaborating with the different levels of government, as well as business, labour, and other stakeholders to remove barriers and develop workplace practices that are more inclusive of women and considerate of their needs.

Pro-active pay equity legislation could also help close the pay gap between women and men. A Pay Equity Taskforce made this recommendation, among several others, in 2004; however it has never been implemented.

Addressing student debt is also extremely important, especially as tuition fees continue to increase in most parts of the country. Federal, provincial and territorial governments ought to work together to re-evaluate the post-secondary education system, including working to reduce or entirely eliminate tuition fees. In the meantime, organizations like CFUW are working hard to raise funds for scholarships and bursaries to help reduce the financial burden for women. While there has certainly been a lot of progress for women in academia and all corners of the workforce, we can and should be doing more to ensure that all women can fully realize their potential and are compensated equitably. It is imperative that Canada’s public and private sectors take steps to offer women the same opportunities and advantages in their school and career paths while recognizing that this may require a modification of current policies and practices.