Atikokan Crisis Centre executive director Donna Kroocmo says the issue most affecting district women is poverty, yet when interviewed and asked about women’s issues, none of the candidates in the Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding touched on this point.
According to Kroocmo, poverty or the risk of it is a huge concern in the district and is connected to other factors such as affordable day care, better access to addiction treatment, pro-choice support, mental illness and the cost of post secondary education.
NDP candidate John Rafferty said the lack of access to shelters in the district is a major setback here.
“You shouldn’t have to travel 200 km [to reach a shelter]. That access should be available to all,” he stressed, referring to the distance many district women would have to travel to the Atikokan Crisis Centre.
He said it’s not just a women’s issue, but one which affects everyone. “It’s a particular issue locally,” he added.
Touching on a well-known problem in the community, Kroocmo addressed issues of addiction treatment and explained the toll lack of options can have.
Limited access to treatment locally poses many problems which effect the entire community.
But single mothers are especially hard hit when it comes to getting help.
“The biggest fear for women is ‘what’s going to happen to my children?’” revealed Kroocmo.
If a woman is impoverished and has children and an addiction issue, “what does she do?” Kroocmo asked.
Often times, there is no other family member or friend to care for a woman’s children while she is in treatment and they are forced to go into foster care.
“Women have actually put their children in care to get treatment,” Kroocmo detailed.
She continued that convincing women to leave their kids for addiction treatment is incredibly difficult-and one of the hardest choices women at the Crisis Centre make.
“We have a really difficult time selling them that,” leaving the kids to get treatment is the best option.
To alleviate this problem, Kroocmo said what is needed is more locally available treatment.
“If we had a treatment centre closer to home,” it would make the lives of women, and everyone else, easier.
More specifically, the director would like a family treatment centre. She explained at that type of facility children attend day care services on site while their parent receives treatment.
“We need them bottom line,” asserted Kroocmo.
In the fall of 2006, the Harper government made significant changes to Status of Women Canada, a government ministry with advocacy, research, funding, and other facets.
The Tories have been widely criticized by other parties for making cuts to funding.
“We’re certainly not pleased about it,” Rafferty said of the cuts.
If elected, Rafferty would work towards secured funding, “not funding that is at the whim of changing governments,” he explained.
He also would support the recommendations of the Pay Equity Task Force to support proactive pay equity, which means equal work should garner equal pay—something which has been an ongoing challenge for women in the workforce.
Rafferty said his party has always backed this idea. “We’ve always been proponents of pay equity,” he asserted.
Liberal incumbent Ken Boshcoff, a self-proclaimed supporter of Victims’ Services here, said his party was the first to draw attention to the cuts made to Status of Women Canada and further called the cuts discriminatory. He said it’s also part of his platform to make sure pay equity is enacted promptly.
Meanwhile, Conservative candidate Richard Neumann defended his party, saying everyone has it wrong. “We actually increased the budget by $10 million,” he noted.
Neumann said changes and downsizing made to individual departments of SWC “don’t necessarily show the big picture,” adding Status of Women Canada is no more important than any other government-funded program.
Neumann outlined how the Conservative party is trying to reduce the administrative costs of several programs to free up dollars which can be put to better use in other areas of those programs.
“The overall commitment hasn’t changed at all,” he stressed.
On a similar note, Kroocmo described how difficult it can be for women to be equal to men in terms of the education level required to earn good wages.
“The cost of education is ridiculous,” Kroocmo exclaimed. “There’s a need to reduce the cost of education. The high cost of education is more of a penalty for women than it is for men,” she continued.
She said a woman with a high school education would be lucky to find a job in the service industry making minimum wage, while a man with a high school education can much more easily find a job which pays well. It takes a university or college education for a woman to compete- wage wise- with a man of a lower education level.
“There’s still that discrepancy for females versus males,” said the director. “This makes us more likely to be subjected to poverty.”
The inequity is something which must be addressed in order to give women a level playing field economically. Although, Kroocmo is hesitant to back pay equity as the ultimate answer.
A major area of concern for candidate Neumann is the issue of “deadbeat dads”— men who dodge paying required support payments while women struggle to make ends meet without them.
“This is indicative of the type of thing that desperately needs support,” Neumann pledged.
“I absolutely believe strongly in support of women’s shelters,” he added, agreeing with Rafferty.
Green candidate Russ Aegard empathizes with women’s challenges and views knowledge as the answer.
“We need to support more education,” Aegard stressed, adding people don’t know what it’s like to be stigmatized the way immigrants and women are.
Ultimately, preventing the slide of women into poverty is the most important aspect to be addressed by candidates-and with so many other issues effecting this slide, the task is not an easy one.
Luckily, Kroocmo said the message is getting out through support from the local media.
“The media in Northwestern Ontario has been very supportive and sensitive towards womens’ issues,” she commented.