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Austerity has cost Quebec women nearly $7 billion

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Photo: scottmontreal/flickr

Exiting the financial crisis comes with a cost. For women in Quebec, the price tag has nearly reached $7 billion since 2008. And that's just part of the story...let's start with the beginning.

In 2008, the province of Quebec, like most Western states, was hit by an economic crisis that many claim was the worst since the (in)famous Wall Street Crash of 1929. For the two following years, the government felt justified in accumulating deficits. However, as soon as growth -- however weak -- reared its head again, austerity measures were brought in. The government was apparently swayed by the mystical call to eliminate the deficit.

Even though new spending initiatives kept on being unveiled, the lion's share of government announcements concerned cuts. In total, austerity measures removed more than $23 billion from Quebec's economy. Of that sum, $13 billion hit women, that is, $3 billion more than what affected men.

Giving money to the public sector is a form of spending which must be controlled. Giving money to private businesses however is a form of investment that reinvigorates the economy. This dichotomy seems to have guided recent governments in their exit strategies from the crisis. By doing so, they favoured investments in traditionally male-dominated areas (construction, resources) and cuts in sectors in which workers are predominantly women (health care, education, public service).

In total, the budgetary choices made since 2008 increased the gap between men and women by nearly $7 billion. Minister Leitaõ certainly claims that these measures are neutral and technocratic in nature, but reality proves him wrong. The philosophy classes his government is thinking about shutting down would have made it possible for him to understand the distinction between "intentions" and "effects." Maybe he needs to be reminded that women perform the majority of domestic chores. Reducing services doesn't only mean cutting jobs, it also means transferring collective responsibilities onto the private sphere and thereby increasing women's double burden.

Some hold growth to rank above all in importance. Everything else -- the environment, regions, gender equality, etc. -- takes a backseat when the economy is stagnating. But if we don't care about the "rest," what sort of future do we have in store?

Do we really want to close down all of Quebec's regions? Would we be ready to bet again on an industry as dangerous as asbestos for a few jobs and a couple more bucks? Shouldn't the increased incidence of child prostitution, sexual assaults and domestic violence encourage us to rethink how we develop our natural resources? By viewing the situation solely from a financial angle, the government thinks it can bypass these reflections. We think it errs; we think that the economy cannot afford to ignore all the rest.

This article was written by Eve-Lyne Couturier, a researcher with IRIS, a Montreal-based progressive think tank.

Photo: scottmontreal/flickr

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