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Op-ed: Pay equity will benefit NB women

On November 25th, Canada is beginning 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence. New Brunswickers will be marking this time in a variety of public and private ways as they speak out about gender based violence and support organizations throughout the province who are working with victims of abuse and violence.

There is a link between gender-based violence and pay inequity. The NB South Central Transition House and Second Stage Coalition and the Services ruraux pour femmes victimes d’abus du Nouveau-Brunswick have joined forces with the Coalition for Pay Equity and Forte Communication in a campaign to speak about those connecting issues and highlight the need to enact pay equity legislation for the private sector.

Pay Equity Now!, launched on November 14th, is a grassroots effort that will bring this timely discussion to communities around the province leading up to next fall`s provincial election. The project will have an active social media presence and will also spread the message around the province through community discussions and presence at candidate campaign events.

Pay equity is equal pay for work of equal or comparable value, and while there is pay equity legislation for the public sector (enacted in 2009), more than 65% of New Brunswick women work in the private sector and are not afforded the same protection under law. On average, in 2016, women in NB earned 91.8% of men`s hourly salary.

So why are shelters involved in the campaign? While violence and abuse happens at every economic level, most women who reach out to our shelters for safety are working women, employed in traditionally female occupations in the private sector and this lack of pay equity legislation means they seldom receive a fair wage and many work at the minimum wage level. 

Consequently, when struggling to leave an abusive relationship, these women are often faced with choosing between abuse and violence or poverty. They worry they will not find safe affordable housing, they worry their children will suffer, and that they will ultimately fail. There are many barriers to leaving an abusive relationship but let’s not have undervalued work and low wages be another.  Many women report that if they had made a sustainable wage, they would have left the abusive relationship sooner.

This is why we are taking an active part in Pay Equity Now!  We are on the front lines dealing with the vulnerabilities that these women experience and we understand the dilemmas in a direct way, because, in our sector, there has been no funding increase since 2007 and, on average, our workers are the lowest paid in Canada.

Finally, as you reflect on these 16 days of action, learn more by visiting the campaign`s Facebook page and Twitter feed @NowmaintenantNB. We need to acknowledge the important work that women do to build society and community and honour that work by ensuring that they are paid a fair and just wage.  Please also reach out to your local shelter and ask them how you can support them in their vital work.

There is a Chinese saying that Women Hold up Half the Sky. Let`s ensure they are paid fairly for that heavy lifting. It`s a matter of human rights. Pay Equity Now!

Debrah Westerburg
Coordinator - New Brunswick South Central Transition House and Second Stage Coalition

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