Critics say provincial government not doing enough for women's issues
The Alberta Ministry of Human Services is responsible for women's issues, but it is not publicly tracking its progress in advocating for women.
Human Services, a super-ministry, which is one of the new projects that Alison Redford is undertaking during her term, is responsible for many other issues, ranging from abuse and bullying to foster care and homelessness.
Like other ministries, Human Services issues an annual set of performance measures, a report card that grades its success.
That report card tracks the ministry's progress in placing aboriginal foster children with aboriginal foster families, protecting children and helping the unemployed — among other issues. But it only mentions one goal related to women's issues: —the number of adults who felt better able to keep themselves and their children safer after staying at a government-funded women's shelter.
Women in business, labour, and political communities are concerned about the lack of female-focused performance measures.
That concern comes against a backdrop of concerning statistics about the state of women in Alberta.
For example, according to Statistics Canada, in 2011 women in Alberta earned 59.1 per cent of what men did —the highest gender inequality among the provinces.
Another report from Statistics Canada showed that the "proportion of women experiencing spousal violence was significantly higher than the national average in 2009" —nine per cent in February 2013 versus six per cent in 2009.
"I think statistical analysis might change (government) policy... there is a need for having more gender-based statistics. "and that there's a bit of a disconnect," said Tracey Scarlett, CEO of Alberta Women Entrepreneurs — an organization dedicated to helping women build successful businesses in Alberta.
High levels of inequality
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman agreed, saying the current government's track record on supporting women's issues is "somewhere between dismal and crappy. There is little recognition of the need to do anything. Even less action."
For her part, Shannon Phillips, director of policy analysis with the Alberta Federation of Labour said, "We have quite high levels of economic inequality in this province despite our wealth and we do not have a ministry or a portfolio dedicated to women's issues."
Blakeman said the province used to have an advisory council on women's issues, as well as a women's secretariat who would look at every piece of legislature that was proposed through a gender lens. But she said the advisory council was underfunded and shut down. The secretariat met a similar fate.
"I'm not impressed," Blakeman continued. "There's a lot of different things they could be doing and they're just not."
Blakeman said there are a number of ways human services could track its performance on women's issues.
These measures could include:
• The wage gap between men and women in Alberta
• How many women are relying on minimum wage jobs to get by
• The percentage of single-parent families headed by women that are residing in poverty
Looking at factors such as assault rates against women and the self-esteem of teenage girls could also be a possibility, according to Blakeman.
"There are all kinds of ways that you could be measuring this or using to measure and they use none of them."
The Alberta government did not respond to a request for a comment by deadline.
- By AMANDA TAYLOR, ALI HARDSTAFF-GAJDA AND MAHROH MOHAMMAD