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Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters speaks on Equal Pay Day

By Sophia Lopez, April 7 2021—

Equal Pay Day falls on April 7 in Canada, and is a day that “represents how far into the new year women must work to be paid what men were paid the previous year,” according to a media release from the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS). The ACWS is an organization of women’s shelters in Alberta that supports women, children and seniors experiencing domestic violence.  

A summary of the 2019-2020 Shelter Workforce Survey has been released by the ACWS that highlights women’s experiences in the workplace and the need for systemic changes. According to the media release, “On average in Canada, women earn about 89 cents for every dollar earned by men. The gap widens to 67 cents for racialized women, 65 cents for Indigenous women, and 54 cents for women with disabilities.”

Jen Reimer, an executive director at the ACWS, spoke with the Gauntlet about the salary inequalities women are facing in society, along with how female-dominated workforce’s continue to be put at a disadvantage.

Reimer discussed how surveys are done every so often in order to identify areas that need improvement and where the organization is excelling at, especially regarding staff experience. 

“[Every] couple of years we do a workforce survey, and shelter staff are definitely part of that workforce so their experience and how it relates to other women in the workforce really helps to inform us of where we’re doing okay, where we could do better and what improvements need to be made,” she said.

Since the ACWS is an organization that is highly dominated by women, staff experiences are often reflective of women’s experiences. Reimer mentions how these experiences are very gendered, since these experiences also include the ones of women who go for support. 

“Well there’s no question that women’s shelters experiences are highly gendered, 97 per cent of our workforce is female,” she explained. “So they’re juggling their professional and their personal caregiving responsibilities, and so are the women who come to shelters that need their support.”

With such a high volume of women working within the ACWS, Reimer points out the financial issues that come along with that. Many women that are a part of that 97 per cent may have other duties they need to take part in outside of their positions in the workplace. 

“It’s a financial strain as well,” said Reimer. “Shelter staff may need to stay home to care for a child, a loved one, all those things create stress and strain as well as financial hardship. Childcare is another huge issue that working women face, and shelter staff aren’t all alone in that.”

Reimer went on to discuss the difference between the non-profit and government or public sectors, where government or public sectors receive more benefits. She says even though the wage gap between the sectors has improved over the years, there’s still more that can be done in that area.

“Well I think generally what we’re seeing, related to women’s shelters, is that we’re still several dollars lagging behind other workers in the not-for-profit sector. And certainly a huge wage gap between women’s shelters and government,” she said.

For the ACWS, Reimer talked about how most of the funding for the organization comes from fundraisers, and with COVID-19, fundraising has become quite difficult. She explains how a strong funding model would need to be set in place to ensure proper funding is being provided. “Shelter’s still rely on fundraiser dollars more than the average not-for-profit organization in Alberta and we know the toll that COVID has taken on fundraising,” said Reimer. 

“And while the emergency wage subsidy has helped the shelter as well for the last little while, we know that’s not going to continue forever,” she explains. “What we’ve seen for the last five years is that shelters have not received any kind of salary increase — any salary increases have been through fundraised dollars. So that makes it extremely challenging, hence the need for that robust funding model.”

The ACWS is a safe place, somewhere people can go or call for help, and Reimer reassures that although the organization is not the biggest, it still provides quality support and help for those who need it.

“Women’s shelters are delivering support to women, children and seniors fleeing domestic violence. While we’re a small workforce, it’s a mighty one, and they’re doing amazing work on the ground to provide safety and support to women, children and seniors fleeing violence,” she said. “Women’s shelters are open, they’re there for you and you don’t necessarily have to go to a women’s shelter to get support from one — you can call.”

Specifically to University of Calgary students, Reimer expresses how dating violence is also a part of domestic violence. If students do not feel safe or need support, she encourages them to reach out for help. 

“When we talk about family violence, it’s really violence against women, and thinking about it from that frame, that does include dating violence. We know that the statistics around dating violence have increased over the years and it’s now a major component of partner violence. You don’t have to go in [to a shelter], if you’ve got concerns about your safety please call,” she concludes. 

For more information, visit the ACWS’s 2019-2020 Shelter Workforce Survey summary or fact sheet. If you need help or support, call ACWS’s confidential and toll-free line at 1-866-331-3933 to speak with someone at a shelter near you. 

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