Ensuring the Economic Security of Women in Canada

On June 1, 2017, the CASA's Board Chair, Shifrah Gadamsetti, presented to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. She shared the student perspective on how we can ensure that women attain economic security in Canada.

 

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For more background information on this subject, consult our brief. The presentation was recorded in audio only, and the full transcript is provided below:

 

"Good morning, Madam Chair and members of the committee, witnesses, and members of the gallery.

 

My name is Shifrah Gadamsetti and I am president of Mount Royal University Students' Association in Calgary, Alberta, as well as chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations here in Ottawa. We advocate at the federal level on behalf of 21 member institutions and 250,000 students from coast to coast, based on our pinnacles of accessibility, affordability, innovation, and education of the highest quality.

 

Before I begin, please allow me to take a moment to thank you for having us here once again, and for seeking out our perspective. This is an issue that I care very deeply about, based on my own personal, lived experiences. I am a first-generation immigrant. I work on the front lines of health care as a registered nurse, and I am very involved with many grassroots organizations that work to eradicate violence against women. These experiences have taught me that everyone has a unique story, but at the end of the day we all face systemic barriers.

 

CASA sees accessibility, affordability, and high-quality education as key to fighting poverty and improving economic conditions for all Canadians. There continues to be overwhelming evidence that as long as you have access to post-secondary education, you have access to higher lifetime earnings and better employment opportunities. While more women are accessing post-secondary education than ever before, we still see that they face unique challenges and that there are further considerations to be made for those who face barriers along multiple intersections.

 

CASA has produced many different policies that we hope will improve the experience of women in post-secondary and their economic sustainability. We really strive to create a safe campus environment for all of our member institutions. While it's incredibly important for our campus environments to be safe for all students, we find that women face very specific challenges, especially in terms of gender-based sexual violence on our campus, which makes it unwelcoming and very unsafe as an environment.

 

Women represent over 93% of the survivors of sexual assault, violence and harassment on our campuses, and from my work with the Calgary Communities Against Sexual Abuse, we know that for every case that is reported, there are so many that are not.

 

For our campuses to be safe, we cannot simply be reactive, so proactive engagement such as stand-alone sexual assault policies, promotion of consent culture, and inviting all members of our campus community to participate in the dialogue makes it everyone's issue, not just those who are affected personally. We know that this committee is very familiar with the idea of gender-based violence on campuses. We had the privilege of presenting to you on that before, and we're very supportive of the report you released that addressed those issues.

 

Today, we would really like to highlight the barriers that exist to fully participating in post-secondary.

 

Women continue to be responsible for dependants at higher rates than men. For women in post-secondary, especially those who are historically marginalized or from lower-income backgrounds, mature learners' child care continues to be imperative to their success. The combined stressors of managing dependants, part-time and/or full-time work, and the dedication to post-secondary really make it hard for these women to succeed.

 

Student assistance plays an incredibly important role in this. The Canada student loans program currently uses a needs assessment to determine how much financial aid a student is eligible for. This current assessment factors in child care costs, but it isn't reflective of the actual costs of child care.

 

For example, the monthly loan limit in Ontario for child care is $357, but in Toronto the average monthly cost for child care is $1,700. Since 80% of those with dependants receiving loans or grants in recent years are women, we think they would benefit significantly from an improvement to this program.

 

A related challenge is the lack of national data about child care availability on campus or in surrounding communities. Not all campuses actually offer this service, and certainly there are communities that are disproportionately disadvantaged.

 

First nations students are an example. We know that one-third of our first nations students are parents, so we think initiatives such as subsidized child care on campus, indigenous family housing, and improved financial aid would significantly help those in need. We also believe that affordable child care is key to the success of women on campus, as is data collection, so that we know exactly the types of needs that are present for our students.

 

Supports are also needed exist for women once they begin transitioning into the workforce. For those who cannot find gainful employment immediately, there is currently a repayment assistance program. It allows graduates to hold off on repaying their student loans until they meet the threshold of a $25,000 annual income.

 

While we're very supportive of this initiative, we recognize that there are concerns about the promotion of the program and the process for accessing the program. For instance, recent graduates who are accessing it have to reapply every six months, and there's a lack of awareness among those who are eligible to use it. Two-thirds of part-time borrowers identify as women and if they knew about programs like this, it would have a significant impact on their financial stability. We would recommend that this program be expanded to last a year without applicants having to reapply.

 

Student employment, of course, continues to be at the forefront of our minds. Women are engaged in multiple and often uncompensated responsibilities while attending post-secondary education, so we believe that the transition from education to employment needs to be prioritized as well.

 

Experiential learning continues to be an incredibly strong factor and we know that paid opportunities result in more successful outcomes than unpaid ones. As a registered nurse, I know this fact all too well. We would like to draw your attention to the need for more programs that encourage not only the engagement of women in fields like STEM and business, which are typically male-dominated and have compensated employment opportunities, but also those fields that are dominated by women employed in their professions to help with the compensation factor.

 

Again, thank you so much for having us here today. We really appreciate the opportunity."