Oxfam Report: Precarity, Women, and the Economy

Photo by Max Panamá on Unsplash.

This month, Peterborough participated in the Precarious Festival, which showcased the precarious nature of the arts while facilitating larger discussions about income and poverty in Peterborough. Peterborough currently holds the highest unemployment rate in Canada, at 9.6 percent. Many have trouble finding secure, full time work for a living wage. Marginalized groups are overrepresented in this group of people unable to find sustainable work. This phenomenon in which the lives of marginalized people are made more precarious through systemic vulnerability is described by gender theorist Judith Butler as precarity. Precarity also encompasses the politically-induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social and economic networks of support and become differentially exposed to injury, violence, and death. Such populations are at heightened risk of disease, poverty, starvation, displacement, and of exposure to violence without protection. This includes, women, transgender people, people of colour, the severely impoverished, and LGBTQ+ identified people.

This year for Women’s Economic Justice Week, Oxfam Canada sought to expose the precarious conditions which plague women in the hotel industry. Through their report, “Short-changed,” Oxfam highlighted the way in which these women, primarily women of colour and new immigrant women, are subjected to unfair and unsafe work practices at the hands of corporate hotel companies who seek to profit from their vulnerability. Informal and otherwise insecure work is often the only option available to poor and vulnerable women, because of lower-levels of education or discriminatory social norms.

Oxfam seeks to end global poverty through a holistic and gendered lens. This can manifest through crisis aid, food and agricultural justice, or women’s education and empowerment projects. Oxfam believes that gender inequality does not happen by accident. It is rooted in long-established norms, attitudes and beliefs, and it can be exacerbated by laws, policies and government spending. Government action can, however, act to reduce inequality between men and women at work. Government has a fundamental responsibility to do so, especially when markets and the private sector fail to. It is for this reason that Oxfam delegates began meeting with their MPs to discuss the upcoming federal budget. Trent Oxfam met with Maryam Monsef’s team to discuss the report, as well at Oxfam Canada’s official recommendations for making this upcoming budget work against income and gender inequality.

What does Oxfam recommend?

  1. Make Work Paid

    Many women now have greater access to the workforce and with it the promise of greater independence and empowerment. Under neoliberal financialized capitalism, the dual income home is less a symbol of women’s empowerment and more symptomatic of the need to survive. Financialization, the assigning of capital values to all goods and services, necessitates that more women work, while still supporting the home. This results in double days, wherein women perform labour outside the home for remuneration and inside the home for free, stretching themselves thin in order to support their households. Too often, women, primarily women of colour, are rewarded for this work with poverty wages and insecure jobs. Oxfam’s report recommends that The Government of Canada commits to be a Living Wage Employer and ensure that all federal government contracts are only granted to employers who provide a living wage to their employees. Furthermore, Oxfam believes Canada should monitor and regulate Canadian companies working abroad, such as in the hotel and tourism industry, to ensure adherence to international labour standards.

  2. Make Work Equal

    Oxfam’s second recommendation is to introduce pro-active pay equity legislation in the upcoming year, that has a clear aim to close the pay equity gap for women, particularly racialized, Indigenous and immigrant women. The federal government should strongly insist that all provinces and territories adopt pay equity this legislation. Internationally, Canada must substantially raise its investment in women’s rights, women’s rights organizations and feminist movement-building to ensure women are being able to organize and advocate for improved work standards.

  3. Make Work Valued

    The final recommendation has to do with the care economy. Social reproduction, the process of creating and maintaining social bonds, often through care work, is a gendered labour. Social reproduction is also the essential labour that goes into maintaining a society and allows for the fostering of social organizations. Without it there would be no economy, polity or culture. The task of taking care of the vulnerable, whether it be the elderly or the young, often falls on women due to gendered notions of inherent caring capacity and women’s roles within the family. Furthermore, outside of the home, as more privileged women are able to ascend to positions of power within the economy, their tasks of social reproduction are increasingly assigned to domestic workers such as housekeepers and nannies. The women who fill these positions are primarily women of colour and new immigrant women whose lives are already precarious by nature. In order to protect these women, Oxfam recommends that the Government of Canada significantly increase investments in the care economy in Canada and abroad. This includes increased financing for affordable and quality child and elder care, and ensuring decent and fair employment in the care sector.

In their report, “Women and the 1 Percent,” Oxfam revealed that 62 individuals own as much wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion people. This figure is down from 388 individuals as recently as 2010, an indicator of the alarming pace at which the gap is growing. The richest people in the world are overwhelmingly men, while women are more likely to be poor than men. In order to address this increasing inequality, it is imperative that students become informed and active in advocating for an economy that works to address inequality. Young people, specifically young women, need to become advocates for change.

Trent Oxfam meets monthly out of the Kawartha World Issues Centre. If you are a Trent student interested in joining, please email Zoe at trentoxfam@gmail.com. You can follow Trent Oxfam on Facebook and by subscribing to our newsletter. All of Oxfam’s reports are available as free downloads through the Oxfam Canada website.