A new report card says the provincial government has taken minimal action to respond to gender inequality issues related to health care, housing and public transportation.
West Coast LEAF, which produced the report published Jan. 24, awarded B.C. mostly Cs and Ds across 13 key areas. A general lack of action on what it describes as urgent gender-equality issues is reflected in gendered income inequality, unaffordable housing, health-care inaccessibility and issues with accessing harm reduction resources, according to West Coast LEAF.
“One of our key messages is that we really think the BC government's actions can be bolder, and not sort of tinkering around the margins, or continuing on with status quo approaches that haven't really made enough of a difference,” said Kate Murray, law and policy researcher at West Coast LEAF.
The Gender Equality Report Card tracked government action on gender justice from January 2021 to November 2022 by asking: What actions has the government taken, and where is government action overdue?
Through collaboration with 30 community dialogue participants, 26 organizations and 35 individual experts, 13 key areas that disproportionately impact those who are experiencing "intersecting oppressions" based on gender, race, indigeneity, disability, class, family status and other aspects of identity or experience. The province’s performance on addressing gender inequality in each area was then evaluated with a grade from A to F.
B.C. got a grade of D or D- – which represents minimal action taken – in seven areas. Its lowest scores (D-) were in the areas of racism and gender-based discrimination in health care, and care for people who use substances.
Solutions to these issues need to be rooted in an approach that is evidence based and community led, said Murray.
“The province really needs to ensure that health-care providers receive mandatory training and support to deliver health care that is free of bias and discrimination,” she said, adding that the government has the fiscal capacity to tackle these issues as a result of a financial surplus that can be used to invest in new solutions.
Housing and homelessness also received a low mark (D) for failing to act in proportion to the urgency of the province's housing crisis, according to West Coast Leaf. For example, in 2021, only one in 1,000 Vancouver rental units were affordable to households earning under $25,000.
For access to fair work, the province was awarded a C grade. New legislation for sick pay, making unionization easier and increasing the minimum wage for liquor servers to the general minimum wage were all considered signs of improvement in gender equality, said the report.
Some 80 per cent of food and beverage servers in B.C. are women, according to the report. Women – especially racialized women – risk greater exposure to illness as they are more likely to work in front-line work such as nursing or long-term care. Access to unionization, meanwhile, allows vulnerable or precarious workers to engage in collective action in order to improve working conditions, as well as promote pay equity.
However, the report noted that there are still barriers to accessing fair work for women and marginalized people.
In B.C., for each dollar a man makes, women make full-time average earnings of 86.5 cents, according to the report. In addition, for every dollar a man makes in Canada, Indigenous women make full-time average earnings of 65 cents, racialized women make full-time average earnings of 67 cents and newcomer women make full-time average earnings of 71 cents.
“B.C. really needs to not only recover, but make bold forward progress on these issues,” said Murray. “With inflation the way it has been over the past year, that has just really emphasized the need for fair pay and also fair financial support.”
“Gendered economic precarity, and also barriers in accessing health care, really existed long before COVID-19. The pandemic has really amplified these pre-existing inequalities. So, returning to normal and simply recovering won't address things like the systemic devaluation of work that is done by women and people who are marginalized based on gender,” Murray said.