Happy 20th to N.S. Advisory Council
The Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women celebrates its 20th birthday during this International Women's Week with a look back at two decades of achievement and ahead to making more progress toward women's equality.
The council was established in 1977-78 as a result of a key recommendation of a task force appointed during International Women's Year (1975). Herself/Elle M^me: Report of the Nova Scotia Task Force on the Status of Women was released in March 1976. A little over a year later, the advisory council got off the ground.
Its role was and remains one of an advisory body to the provincial government. It monitors women's issues, brings forward the concerns of women, and makes recommendations to Nova Scotia's decision-makers through the minister responsible for the status of women.
"Our focus has sharpened but never changed over the past 20 years," said Patricia Doyle-Bedwell, council chair. "We remain firmly committed to advancing women's equality. We watch what's going on and bring the women's perspective on a myriad of issues to the minister's attention."
Recommendations council has made since 1978 concern a wide range of topics, from addiction, adolescence, AIDS, child care, education and employment to family violence, housing, maintenance enforcement, midwifery, native women, pornography, reproductive health and sexual harassment.
A review reveals hundreds of well-considered, carefully worded, and purposefully detailed recommendations, all advancing women's equality, and many now acted upon. Council's advice on child care and day care, for example, reads like a history lesson.
"When you look back to what life was like for women in the '70s, you realize we've made a lot of progress," said Ms. Doyle-Bedwell.
Two women's issues well hidden in the '70s, have come to the fore in the '90s: abuse and sexual harassment.
"Eliminating violence against women is now one of our main goals," said Ms. Doyle-Bedwell. "The original task force report in 1976 didn't even mention the issue. But that was before we knew that one in four Canadian women is a victim of domestic violence at some point in her life."
Another issue now at the forefront of the council's work pertains to discrimination against women who have been traditionally excluded on grounds such as disability, aboriginal status, racial or ethnocultural origin, poverty, sexual orientation or various forms of family status. The wider inclusion of women from all backgrounds is a central goal of the council.
Women's economic equality was a major concern of the original task force and remains so for today's advisory council. "That's the key to overall equality," said Ms. Doyle-Bedwell. "We've made a little progress, with more women in law and medicine. But when we look at trades and technology occupations, women are highly under-represented."
She said workplace changes and pressures of the '90s, with more women relegated to non-standard, part-time work and reductions in traditionally female-dominated fields, require new ways of looking at opportunities for women.
The council also strongly supports the recognition of the vast amounts of unpaid work that women do within their families and in their communities. "We need to find ways to better balance all these paid work and unpaid work commitments and to ensure a fair recognition of these contributions in legislation, policies and programs of governments at all levels," said Ms. Doyle-Bedwell.
As she looks ahead, Ms. Doyle-Bedwell said she expects the council's focus to continue to sharpen as it deals with issues both old and new. But its true purpose won't change, she said.
"What we're about is advancing equality, fairness and dignity for all women. And we're just going to keep getting better at doing that."
ngr Mar. 4, 1998 1:30 p.m.