Political economy refers to different, but related, approaches to studying economic and political behaviours in reference to other fields such as law, education, health, social environment and gender. The fundamental driving force of political economy is economic progress in relation to the division of labour and the development of science. Labour within our society is a fascinating and diverse theme because the role of women as changed so much since the early 1600s. Themes such as scientific evolution, politics, religion, indigenous cultures and European cultures have all influenced the political economy on a global scale.
The study of women and their contributions to the political economy is a diverse topic, in that much has changed since the 1600s “In the 1600s, there were two cultures in Ontario: hunter gatherer bands in the north, and horticultural, tribally organized Native people in the south.”[i] The hunter gatherer society was influenced by the fur-trading of New France, whereas the tribal horticultural bands were influenced by the British who colonized their territory by building large cities and farms.
Britain and France believed in the theory of mercantilism. Mercantilism is an economic theory that there is a fixed amount of wealth in the world and that a nation’s prosperity depends on its success in accumulating its wealth by exporting more than it imports. “From the 1500s to the 1700s in Canada, mostly European men and Native people engaged in fur trading, hunting and gathering, horticulture and agriculture.”[ii] The Europeans were bewildered by the less than hierarchical order of the indigenous people, which included easy divorces, sexual freedom, polygamy and equal work status. It was the native women who played a vital role in the fur trade. Without the Indian women, the Europeans would not have survived the harsh winters of the north.
“For most of the 1700s, Native people were treated with the cautious respect accorded allies in war and partners in trade.”[iii] This changed when the colony of New France was ceded to Britain in 1763. The system switched from mercantilism to an industrial society. This was a period where villages were established and most of the people married someone form their village or community. In this period there were Catholic villages and Protestant villages, farming and trading villages.
European society had always subjugated women. Women were not given equal opportunities and equal pay when working with men. A woman’s contribution on the farm was considered important to the economic survival of the family; however, women were subjected to sexual harassment and brutal beatings. As the century progressed, two major economic changes occurred. “Small scale subsistence farming was gradually replaced with large-scale, high-volume commercial agriculture and employment based at or near the home was replaced by work in large factories. With the advent of commercial expansion in the nineteenth century, work and family life became increasingly separate.”[iv] This was the start of an urban and industrialised workforce that witnessed the influx of new immigrants.
Industrialization created controversy because it reiterated a caste system that is still practiced around the globe today. Industrialization limited the opportunities for women in the work sector. In this period, it became demeaning for married women to labour for wages. Working class women would save every penny for their future wedding. Upon marriage, women were considered to be inferior to men and women became the property of their husbands. Women could not hold a job nor was she allowed to vote.
Canada gained its independence in 1867 and motherhood was still regarded as women’s main profession. “New Zealand was the first country to give women the right to vote.”[v] By the 20th century, women in most nations won the right to vote and increased their education and job opportunities. The famous five were five Alberta women, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Emily Murphy, and Louise McKinney. Nellie McClung is best remembered in Manitoba for her achievements in getting Manitoba to become the first province to allow women the right to vote and achieve provincial office in Canada. “Nellie McClung was one of the Famous Five—five Alberta women who petitioned the government of Canada to expand the legal definition of the word person to include women. Ottawa refused, but the five persevered, appealing to London. Eventually, they won their case; in 1929.”[vi]
We need to understand the key explanations of women, work and family within the political and economic sphere. Originally, native women were equal to their partners in the economic and political system. The migration of Europeans to North America changed the social and economical structure of the state. Mercantilism soon gave way to an agrarian system that evolved into an industrialized society. British North America was formed after 1793 and British laws dominated society. For the next 124 years, women were servile to men in Canada. It was women such as Nellie McClung who earned political, social and economical freedom for the women of Canada.
“The simplest and least threatening version of feminism is to ask for what is seen in North America as simple fairness. Even lots of Americans who would never, ever think of themselves as actually being feminists nonetheless expect fairness for women”[vii] Women have achieved many equality rights in the workplace. “For example employers have to accommodate women who are pregnant. It is also illegal for an employer to ask a woman if she is pregnant.”[viii] Society has come a long way, from a century ago, and we have made many positive changes. Today more men can handle the position of nurturing a baby. Finally the economic position of women can only improve because they are now more educated and pre-conditioned to survive a world that is based on many social laws.
An important factor in analysing the social laws implemented between men and women is gender analysis. Gender analysis indentifies the inequality between men and women. Gender analysis is based on the premise that women and men should be treated in the same way. Gender analysis is based on two key components-gender equity and gender equality. “Gender equity takes into consideration the differences in women’s and men’s lives and recognises that different approaches may be needed to produce outcomes that are equitable.”[ix] Gender equality is based on the human rights code which declares equality for all people regardless of race, sex and religion.
By using the Gender Analysis article as an analytical guide, there will be a comparison between the article titled, “Baby Bust: Declining birth rates in Canada to Toronto Star article titled, “Opinion Babies make comeback – except in Canada. These two articles are closely related because they try to find a solution to the problem of declining birth rates in Canada. More importantly one can get a better understanding of why some regions have a higher or normal birth rate compared to others.
The article Baby Bust by Ginette Petipas-Taylor shows concern for the declining birth rates in Canada. The author uses government statistics to depict the situation in Eastern Canada. Eastern Canada has the lowest birth rate in Canada. “The average age for a woman to give birth in Canada is 30 years old. This is a significant increase from a generation ago in the 1970s when the average age to give birth was 24 years of age.”[x] By using the gender analysis article as a guide one realizes that women in Canada are taking advantage of all the equality that life as to offer. Women are marrying at a later age because they would like to start a career. This is the major reason for a lower birth rate in the bigger cities.
Within the rural areas of the eastern region the decline in birth involves unemployment and young people migrating to bigger cities across the country in search of career opportunities. The writer is under the assumption that women would like to have more children, however high taxes and inadequate maternal leave programs in provinces such as Ontario, makes the prospect of having large families difficult. Women also fear the repercussion of taking too much time off work to have a child.
In the Toronto star article titled, Babies make comeback – except in Canada, the writer Carol Goar, praises the plan implemented by Premiere Jean Charest. The province of Quebec spends upwards of 45% more than other provinces to support families. “Critics call Quebec’s approach costly social engineering. But the majority of citizens support their government’s family policies because they make life easier for parents and safeguard the province’s francophone identify.”[xi] Carol Goar believes that women across Canada would opt for large families, but the benefits in provinces such as Ontario and British Columbia are not equal to the top countries of the world. Carol Goar believes that the Gender analysis law has many flaws. Goar suggests that the system used in Quebec should be the system used across the province of Canada.
Gender Analysis is understood as giving the female sex an equal opportunity to compete in every sector of life. Both articles indicate that certain regions do have a higher birth rate. However, both writers fail to identify that in the indigenous regions of the Northwest Territories and on reservations, high birth rates continue because of drug dependency, rape, alcohol and low self esteem. Both writers fail to explain that the native population and to smaller extent provinces such as Newfoundland, New Brunswick and PEI. These regions are not considered desired regions for economic growth. A more accurate analysis would be to chart the pregnancy rate in relation to ethnic groups, religious faith and social background.
All the articles defined equality. Equality is, at the very least, freedom from adverse discrimination. Gender analysis is a process of constant and flexible examination. In the 1950s, the role for women was almost exclusively housewife after marriage. Women today have more opportunities to rise in the financial world. This means that women are getting married at a much older age and some women are choosing not to have children. This is a tough task for our government, because the problem of declining birthrates is more than economics.
[i] Deborah Davidson, SOCI 3860 6.0 A&B Women, Work and Family “Family Histories” (Toronto, Ontario: 2009),pg12
[vi] http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/canadian_history_culture/16232/2 (accessed November 29th 2009)
[vii] Deborah Davidson, SOCI 3860 6.0 A&B Women, Work and Family “Family Histories” (Toronto, Ontario: 2009),pg7
[viii] http://www.babycenter.ca/pregnancy/work/maternityrights/ (accessed November 29th 2009)
[x] http://www.cwhn.ca/resources/kickers/baby_bust.htm (accessed November 30th 2009)