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City needs big changes to improve the lives of women

Report shoud be a red flag for politicians

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

It’s being labelled as a wake-up call for Oshawa.

In a recently released report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Oshawa is placed at the bottom of a list of 25 Canadian cities ranked on their livability for women, sitting only above Windsor.

The Oshawa census metropolitan area, which also includes Whitby and Clarington, ranks 24th among 25 cities included in the rankings. Victoria, British Columbia, Gatineau, Quebec and Hamilton rank in the top three respectively.

Oshawa’s low ranking is attributed to a number of factors, the most glaring of which has Oshawa ranked 25th in terms of women’s personal security.

While the employment rate for both men and women increased over 2016, the area still has a significant wage gap with men bringing home over $14,000 more than their female counterparts, and while the study notes that the gap narrowed slightly over 2016, it has been overall stagnant for the past five years.

The report also found that while women were more likely to have completed high school in the area than men, and women’s rates for college completion were higher than the national average, they were still very absent in the political realm, accounting for less than one in four elected officials in the area. However, women do better outside of the political sphere, accounting for 36 per cent of management positions.

“As a community, this needs to be better,” says Wendy Leeder, co-executive director of the YWCA. “It is a kind of scar on Oshawa when you have a report like this and it is a wake-up call that things need to change.”

Leeder says the findings of the report were of no surprise to her. The YWCA’s women’s shelter is routinely over capacity, nearly every single night for the past few years, and in 2016, the shelter had to turn away nearly 600 women, referring them to other shelters.

“These are huge concerns for us, it’s why we’ve been working in this community for so long,” Leeder says.

“It’s an interesting community because we have such a wonderful community full of really supportive people, then we have this document that comes out and tells us these things that just confirms what we are seeing, the trends that we are seeing.”

With that said, the report notes the data should be a red flag to those who have the positions to make the changes.

“No two cities look alike,” the report reads. “Statistics will never be a substitute for the full experience of lives lived. But as signposts they mark the spot where attention is needed from our leaders, our policy makers and our communities.”

The same was said by Leeder, who notes that with 2018 being an election year, Oshawa residents should bring these issues to their local officials.

“The general public certainly needs to raise the flag about this and talk to their local members of parliament, talk to their municipal government about what they’re doing, we’re going to have an election coming up, let’s start discussing this.”

In the Oshawa area, several local organizations are dedicated to providing services and improving the lives of women living in Durham Region, along with the YWCA, there is Denise House, Catholic Family Services, Bethesda House in Bowmanville and Horizon House in Ajax to name a few.

These frontline service providers are crucial, Leeder says, but there are more pervasive issues that run much deeper that need to be addressed.

“I think there’s a whole bunch of systemic things that need to change in Oshawa and…it’s concrete changes,” she says. “We have to build more houses, we have to lift people up out of poverty, we have to change the way that our justice system is looking at domestic violence cases, we have to make it safe for women to come forward and make sure that we follow through on what we’e saying we’re going to do.”