February 27, 2012

Education costs put heavier burden on women

Protesting the Charest increase in fees
People's Voice

Tuition fee increases disproportionately impact the access of women to education, an example of social policy perpetuating gender inequality, says a new policy report from a feminist research group at Concordia University in Montreal.

The report, authored by the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, was released as students mobilize for increased access to education. The Charest Liberals have announced a $1,625 across‑the‑board increase in tuition fees in Quebec. Across Canada, over the past three decades, tuition fees have increased by 400 per cent above inflation, pushing student debt to a record four billion dollars.

On average, the report notes, women are poorer than men because of pay inequality. In Canada, women workers make 71 cents on each dollar for a man for comparable work. At the same time, to fund their education, more young women students are working than ever before.

In Quebec today, over 40 per cent of students work more than 20 hours a week, considered a threshold‑level critical for academic success. Women are over‑represented in low and minimum‑wage jobs. Many students also work for free, in so‑called "co‑op" placements, for‑profit research, or other such "partnerships" with corporations.

Pay‑inequality has a very negative affect on single parents (overwhelmingly mothers) who are forced to allocate 18 per cent of family revenue on education costs for a bachelor‑level diploma, compared with two‑parent families who already spend 10 per cent of revenue for a diploma. Likewise, child support payments rarely cover the expenses of raising children. (In Ontario, for example, the average child support payments are only $3,000 a year - when they are paid).

Women's life‑long learning, post‑secondary education or re‑training is further held back by the Harper government's refusal to implement a country‑wide child care program. The total number of quality child care spaces is inadequate; nor is day care affordable. Even in Quebec, which has a $7 a day child care, spaces are limited with waiting lists up to three years. Child care is rarely available in the evenings, when night courses are offered.

While provincial governments justify tuition increases by claiming education is a good investment and will result in an increased salary, women and men do not get the same financial result out of their diplomas. On a life average, women will make $863,268 less than a man for the same diploma. This inequality is even greater for women from racialized and new immigrant communities.

Aboriginal women face additional obstacles to obtaining a diploma. While 25% of non‑aboriginal women hold a diploma at the age of 25, only 9% of Aboriginal women do so at same age. Breaking Treaty rights guaranteeing access to post‑secondary education, the federal government has capped First Nations and Inuit education funding at two per cent growth since 1996. M├ętis and non‑status students receive no funding to pursue their education.

This racist policy has likely prevented hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal students from attending college or university. About 20,000 eligible students are on current waiting lists. A dire crisis of unemployment and poverty exists in Aboriginal communities fighting the genocidal legacy of colonial policies, leaving young Aboriginal women struggling to just graduate high school.

Trade school and art and design programs, as well as apprenticeship programs to recruit women into so‑called "non‑traditional" work are also under‑funded or non‑existent. Despite massive increases in military spending and an aggressive recruitment campaign, there have been virtually no new programs to counter the higher sexual violence, harassment and domestic abuse experienced by women training, working, or living on military bases.

The barriers women face are reflected in the character and quality of education received by students, the Institute said. Greater barriers to post‑secondary education result in fewer women instructors and tenured professors, which can be reinforced by racist and sexist hiring practices. Under pressure to immediately find a job after graduation, women students are less likely to enrol in courses such as Gender Studies. These programs have been the specific target of cutbacks by university administrations. The University of Northern British Columbia, for example, has all but eliminated its Women Studies program.

"Ensuring equitable access to state‑funded education not only supports students; it is one concrete way to support the work of post-secondary teachers, as well," the Institute said.

Responding to the claim that governments, and particularly the Charest Liberals, do not have sufficient funds to adequately support women's education, the Institute noted that imposing licensing fees on mining and industrial manufacturing companies using water in Quebec alone could yield $775 million annually (at a rate of just one penny for each litre used). "[C]ollectively, Quebec does have the resources required to ensure that all people have equitable access to post‑secondary education," the Institute said.

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