Raising their placards for equality in Toronto

1,500 attend wet rally to push for ‘good jobs and dignity for all’

In tough economic times, fear about layoffs, bankruptcies and companies shutting their doors threaten to push other issues off the public agenda.

Hundreds gathered in Toronto to mark International Women’s Day and make sure that in the current recession, issues critical to women won’t be among them.

“A day like this is so important because we do get pushed off the radar in a tough economic situation,” said Judy Vashti Persad, one of the organizers of the annual event. But we’re not going to be quiet, we’re not going to be ignored.”

The theme of this year’s event was government’s role in ensuring “good jobs and dignity for all.” Organizers estimated 1,500 women, men and children braved the rain to wave placards and chant that message as they marched through one of the city’s busiest intersections at Yonge and Bloor Sts.

Chantal Sundaram of the local International Women’s Day organizing committee stressed that women’s security, health and well-being are particularly vulnerable amid the highest job losses in decades and an unemployment rate of 8 per cent in Ontario.

While headlines tend to focus on news like last week’s layoffs at Stelco in Hamilton, and at Chrysler in Windsor, there is “a low-level bleed” among the many women who are in non-unionized jobs, or are temporary or migrant workers, and their families.

Sundaram added that women are also hurt by shortages of child care, cuts to health care and lack of affordable housing that worsen during an economic downturn. And they are further at risk because of reduced services and supports such as shelters that would help them.

A statement yesterday from the Canadian Auto Workers union noted that women account for two-thirds of Canadians earning minimum wage and hold 70 per cent of part-time jobs, making it difficult to qualify for employment insurance.

“We need to demand a change to EI eligibility requirements that will provide women and their families with a safety net during these tough economic times, as well as stringent pay equity legislation that would finally work to close the wage gap,” said Julie White, women’s director for the union. Women make only 70.5 per cent of the average male salary, she noted.

Dayna Scott of Toronto said she joined yesterday’s march with her 2-year-old son largely to support the fight for access to affordable child care, which is particularly important when women are struggling to make ends meet. Scott, 34, said she’s fortunate her son has a child care spot at York University, where she works. But he’s been on a waiting list for a spot near their home for two years.

Diana Grimaldos, 30, attended as part of a group from the Working Women Community Centre, which provides services to immigrant women and their families. She said it’s critical that challenges facing immigrant women whose work credentials aren’t recognized or who are in low-paying, insecure jobs don’t get overlooked amid the grim economic news.


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