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Women’s work impacts women’s health: Women’s Xchange panelists

Spring 2017

Many women in Ontario are juggling part-time or temporary jobs with low pay, no sick leave and little job security — and it is dangerous to their health, said panelists at a forum presented by Women’s Xchange.

On Nov. 25, over 100 people gathered at the WCH auditorium for the event “Women, Work and Health: Precarious and Invisible Labour.” The speakers presented data showing that precarious work is rising. One in eight Ontario workers earns minimum wage today, compared to one in 40 in 1997, according to a study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Dr. Jennifer Poole, an associate professor and the graduate program director at Ryerson University’s School of Social Work, moderated the event. “Precarious work always equals precarious health,” Dr. Poole said. Decades of evidence points to the relationship between poverty and poor health. Those in precarious work situations are often living below the poverty line. Precarious work makes it difficult for them to see their doctor and take the time they need to recover. "There are 1.7 million workers in Ontario that are unable to even take job-protected unpaid sick days," said Deena Ladd, Co-founder of the Workers’ Action Centre, one of the speakers.

Women are especially vulnerable. Twice as many women than men work part-time, said Dr. Peter Smith, a senior scientist and Canadian Institutes of Health Research Chair in Gender, Work and Health at the Institute for Work & Health, and an associate professor at the University of Toronto. Women are more likely than men to take time off to care for sick family members. They are also more represented in certain sectors, such as childcare, where workers’ rights are not always protected, said Dr. Ito Peng, a professor at the University of Toronto and Canada Research Chair in Global Social Policy.

However, we have the opportunity to reverse trends toward precarious work by becoming involved in the conversation, the panelists said. Mary Gellatly, a community legal worker at Parkdale Community Legal Services, said initiatives such as the Changing Workplaces Review by the Ontario Ministry of Labour could be a chance to improve the treatment of precarious workers and weigh-in on policies that could give them more security. Dr. Smith called for better integration of sex and gender in research about work and health, to help us understand the mental and physical health risks in workplaces for men and women and determine if we need separate prevention strategies.

“We spend a lot of time at Women’s College Hospital thinking about how to keep women healthy," said Dr. Paula Rochon, the lead of Women’s Xchange and the vice-president of research at WCH. “This event was an important step forward in that conversation.”

Women’s Xchange events bring together diverse communities to share research, form collaborations and build capacity. The next event is scheduled for May, 2017.

Panelists at the Women's Xchange
Panelists at the Women's Xchange event "Women, Work and Health," on Nov. 25.
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