The nightmare gender gap

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinions – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/the-nightmare-gender-gap/article1488609/What’s the Gender Gap Index? And why does Canada rank lower than Mongolia?
Published on Wednesday, Mar. 03, 2010.  Last updated on Thursday, Mar. 04, 2010.   Margaret Wente

Did you know that women’s human rights in Canada have been steadily eroding? Did you know that women now make only 70.5 cents for every dollar made by men? Did you know that Canada ranks 25th on the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Index? That’s below Ecuador, Mongolia, Lesotho and South Africa.

“Canadian women have lost ground in many areas in the past 15 years,” says Barbara Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress. Since 1981, the wage gap has grown much worse, says Kathy Lahey, a professor of law and gender studies at Queen’s University; “deep, cultural” forces, she warns, are operating against women.

The proof is contained in a high-profile report (Reality Check: Women in Canada) prepared by a coalition of feminist and labour groups for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Their aim is to embarrass the Harper government before the world. Unfortunately, the “proof” amounts to the usual labour-feminist rhetorical stew, flavoured with a heaping cup of statistical abuse.

Take the gender wage gap. To arrive at 70.5 cents, the report compares full-time annual wages between men and women. What it doesn’t mention is that men work more hours in a year than women do. Once you adjust for that, the gap narrows to 84 cents. And when you adjust for work experience and women’s preference for jobs in the public sector and social services, the gap shrinks to 93 cents.

The cancellation of Paul Martin’s national daycare program is also treated as a major setback for women – even though national daycare never existed and is never likely to exist, and even though most families, when polled, say they’d prefer other child-care arrangements instead. Then there’s violence against aboriginal women, which is rightly identified as a serious problem. The report puts the blame on racism, sexism and the indifference of law enforcers. But it neglects to mention that most violence against aboriginal women is committed by aboriginal men.

So what’s the Gender Gap Index? And why does Canada rank lower than Mongolia?

It turns out the Gender Gap Index is measured by a precise number (Canada gets 0.7196) based on a series of calculations I defy anyone to explain. But never mind. The rankings are full of impressive-looking charts and graphs. Whether the women of Canada really ought to envy the women of 10th-place Lesotho (with an infant mortality rate 15 times higher than ours) or sixth-place South Africa (where the rape rate is among the highest in the world) is something you’ll have to ask the experts.

In Canada, a small army of people (mostly women) have built lucrative careers arguing that women in the developed world are nearly as oppressed as they are in, say, Yemen. These people belong to the worldwide web of conferences, committees, consultations, NGOs and grant-writing that are sponsored by governments, the UN and the World Economic Forum. Their assertions get good airtime, and are then incorporated into other reports, conferences and the conventional wisdom. This particular document got a free ride on the front page of the Toronto Star, where the reporter opined that Canada won’t be winning many medals from the UN for women’s equality.

If there were no women’s issues in this country, perhaps this junk wouldn’t matter. But there are. The plight (and rights) of aboriginal women is a serious matter. The growing marriage gap between highly educated and less-educated women – and the hugely unequal life impact this has on their children – is another. Unfortunately, these issues won’t be honestly addressed so long as the old-time dogma maintains its stranglehold in academe, labour groups and public discourse. It’s hard to change the conversation when the oppression of women is such a good racket.

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