At The Heart of Human Rights: A campaign for a Pay Equity Law

Posted 2005-04-01 by Patricia Harewood | Jurisfemme Publications – Volume 23, No. 3, Spring 2005

“The time for pay equity is now!” That’s the message of the Pay Equity Network (PEN), which includes NAWL, as it launches its campaign for the adoption of a pay equity law. This cross-country campaign aims to pressure the federal government to adopt the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force.

The PEN is a coalition of dynamic organizations that have worked for pay equity and employment equity for decades, through agitation, briefs or research addressed to the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The network includes feminist organizations, trade unions, research councils and social justice agencies. All of these organizations have a common goal and strategy. By working together, NAWL and its partners will successfully consolidate their resources and draw on the outstanding experience of the network’s member groups in an effort to achieve an objective with implications that in fact go far beyond national borders. For example, in January 2003, a United Nations review committee noted that Canada had enacted a number of policies, such as cuts to funding of legal aid clinics and social programs, that violated women’s right to equality under the Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) reacted by launching a public education campaign to step up Canada’s enforcement of its obligations under the CEDAW, particularly in regard to aboriginal women, refugee women and domestic workers.

A Feminist Valentine’s Day?

Conscious of the power of solidarity, the network has initiated its campaign with a substantial mobilization of progressive organizations. Already, in an impressive display of solidarity, more than 125 social justice and feminist organizations from one end of the country to the other, from British Columbia to Newfoundland, have endorsed the campaign by signing the call to action. The call proposes that the federal government adopt all of the recommendations of the Task Force on Pay Equity, and in particular urges the adoption of pro-active legislation that is distinct from the Canadian Human Rights Act.

On February 14, Valentine’s Day, the network launched its official public campaign in a number of cities: Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto, Montréal, St. John’s and Moncton. The call to action and Valentine’s Day cards encouraging equity was sent to MPs and Senators. These “love letters” have a simple message: women are deeply attached to pay equity. This is especially true for women living in poverty, for aboriginal women, for disabled women, women of colour and elderly women. The government is urged to comply with its constitutional and international obligations by adopting the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force without delay.

But the campaign is not confined to mass actions; it also includes a popular legal education component. In the spring of 2005, NAWL will provide free workshops on behalf of the network to women’s groups and activists. These groups and individuals can then educate the members of their own networks, thus spreading the influence of the campaign to other organizations and members in a ripple effect. This will no doubt help to create an environment of shared action We hope that women and disadvantaged groups will gain greater access to the resources and information that will enable them to defend and demand their fundamental right to pay equity in an effective way.

Patricia Harewood is a graduate in civil law from the University of Ottawa (LL.L). She is currently in the national program (LL.B.) and works part-time at NAWL.