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International Women’s Day has become a global movement of celebrating women’s achievements while also recognizing the gender inequalities that persist. This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter.
International Women’s Day emerged as part of the labour movement in North America in the early 1900s. By 1975, International Women’s Day was celebrated on March 8 by the United Nations and throughout many countries globally. International Women’s Day has been closely linked historically with the labour and peace movements. We are asking this year that we hearken back to the roots of International Women’s Day and examine women’s work, particularly in the non-profit sector, and the inequities that still exist. We call on all governments to #BalanceforBetter their investments in community sector initiatives.
The non-profit sector consists of many organizations with a variety of mandates. Organizations serve different populations and work on different issues; however, all organizations enhance the lives of individuals and communities while increasing social cohesion. Women make up most workers in the non-profit or “third” sector. For instance, according to Ontario Non-profit Network’s “Decent Work for Women” literature review, women make up 75 per cent to 80 per cent of non-profit workers. Across the board women are not only over-represented but also underpaid throughout the sector. According to this same literature review, “non-profit sector wages are lower than other sectors, in large part because of a phenomenon known as the ‘care penalty,’ despite the fact the workforce is highly educated and experienced.” According to research conducted by the Community Foundation of P.E.I., in 2011 there are 943 registered non-profit organizations in P.E.I., and in 2003, the sector generated revenues of $230 million. This figure would be much higher today. Our non-profit sector is vibrant and in need of increased investments. The lack of reliable and consistent funding within the non-profit sector creates uncertain, unstable working conditions and is a women’s and feminist issue.
Without proper funding, women end up doing extra work to maintain their organization and its mission. That work is often excessive, unpaid and devalued. Sometimes it is not even visible. Non-profits are not optional, and they are not extra or frivolous: they provide direct services and supports to people and work to prevent harms to individuals, communities, and the environment. Working in the non-profit sector is not easy and can be emotionally draining. We must value this work, we must recognize it and we must fund it properly. One cannot ignore gender when we look at conditions in the non-profit sector. We know that the wage gap in all sectors exists and that women do not receive equal pay for work of equal value compared to their male counterparts. This pay gap is racialized as well as gendered as women of colour earn even less on average than white women.
Community sector organizations are not looking for a handout. We are key stakeholders in advancing any government’s social policy agenda. We are the keepers of grassroots knowledge of community needs. We find innovative solutions to complex problems on shoestring budgets. We work magic in the non-profit sector, and we should be mining our ways of working to source effective practice for other sectors. We should partner with community-based organizations differently to confront social challenges with greater impact.
Women are leaders of the non-profit sector. In P.E.I. there are so many talented, intelligent, innovative women with integrity working in the sector. They are providing important supports and advocacy for social change despite the conditions and funding models they must adhere to. On International Women’s Day in 2019 (#BalanceforBetter) we reflect on why this day was created – to honour women protesting for better working conditions. We recognize all the amazing women in P.E.I. working to make our society more just and equitable. We call upon governments, funders, donors, philanthropists and other stakeholders to shift their thinking about the non-profit sector and provide consistent and sustained funding to non-profit organizations. Over a century after International Women’s Day began, let’s stand up for better working conditions for women as they did when this day was first created.
Jillian Kilfoil, on behalf of Women’s Network P.E.I.