It is possible to contemplate only the good news of the past year related to the status of women, as we do at our book publishers to sift through the intellectual ramifications of these important issues. Not that it was a particularly good year. A true picture of the situation would require a more full discussion.
But here are some good moments of 2010:
* More women were elected in the September 2010 New Brunswick election than had been elected in the previous election - 8 women were elected, one more than in 2006 (but less than in some previous elections). This fall's election also produced the highest proportion of female to male candidates in our history: 30 per cent of candidates were female. We now have the highest proportion of women in cabinet that New Brunswick has ever had: female ministers form one-third of the new cabinet.
After the recent provincial election more New Brunswickers commented on the need for electoral reform than ever before. More and more people perceive unfairness in our current way of forming governments and understand how proportional representation forms of vote counting, which most other democratic countries use, work.
* The 350 New Brunswickers who found their way to Fredericton at the end of October to participate in the Women's World March 2010 were a joy to behold. This loosely organized event went off like a charm because people came from all corners of the province and arrived in a mood that was both celebratory and realistic about the status of women. The first World March in 2000 made more of a splash around the world but these women (and a few men) marched and discussed priorities for equality with a spirit that was heartwarming - the kind of spirit needed for the long-haul kind of work they are doing.
* The biennial Status Report on women in New Brunswick included a few tidbits of good news: the percentage of child support payments that are collected went up to 87 per cent in 2008/09. The rate was 82 per cent in the previous year. New enforcement measures introduced by the provincial government in 2008 - particularly the threat of driver's licence suspension - resulted in substantial back payments on child and family support debt.
* The increase in the average wages of trained workers in child care centers was one particularly welcome bit of news in the 2010 Status Report. The average salary increased to $14.72/hour from about $7 per hour in 2001. There were regulated child care spaces for 19 per cent of New Brunswick children aged 12 and under in 2009, a significant increase from seven per cent in 1996.
* The pay gap between men and women in the province was smaller in 2009 than 2008, a nice change to the worsening trend during the two previous years. When hourly wages for all women and men in New Brunswick are compared, women earned on average 87 per cent of what men did in 2009. This pay gap of 13 per cent is better than the previous year, though the situation was even better in 2007 and 2006.
* Young women head a number of women's rights organizations and events in the province. Each generation of women identifies its issues of concern, though some are ongoing. Today's young women are as well or better educated as young men but many recognize they remain more vulnerable than young men to discrimination, pay gaps, partner and sexual violence and poverty.
* The reaction of ordinary New Brunswickers, men almost as often as women, to the Advisory Council on the Status of Women's summer project of a Women's History Map, was inspiring. People were asked to look around their community, or any New Brunswick community they would visit during the summer, for sites or landmarks related to women's history. For a while, responses came in faster than we could read them.
Most of the submissions were exactly right for the list we had in mind. But many others were suggesting names of women who should be recognized but for whom no site or plaque exists. The result will be a history map database to be released in the New Year, accompanied by a list of people, events and groups for whom no physical site attests to their contribution, a situation that someone - historical societies, groups, governments - will have to address.
* According to book publishers, The United Nations created an agency to promote gender equality with as much power and financial stability as other full-fledged UN agencies. "UN Women," or the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, will help countries and the UN implement its commitments on gender equality. It is typical for women's rights to lose ground when the UN sets priorities. "Something is always more important than women," said one of the main advocates for the new agency.
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