Poverty is Sexist in Canada. Period.

Poverty is sexist. That’s what the ONE campaign has been saying in a clever campaign highlighting the need for women’s economic equality around the world. But in borrowing from the ONE campaign, we may add two more words to the slogan and say: poverty is sexist in Canada.

How can we make this claim? What proof do we have that women experience poverty significantly in Canada? Let’s start with the 21% of single mothers who are raising children in poverty, women who are responsible for putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their children’s heads.

Another startling fact is that 36% of Aboriginal women live in poverty in Canada. Consider this in light of the connection between poverty, vulnerability and missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. A final startling fact about poverty in Canada is that there is a tremendous wage gap for women in Canada. Women who work full-time earn about 71 cents for every dollar earned by men.

The realities of women’s experiences of poverty in Canada can be shocking. Especially when considering that Canada is a very wealthy country and that we have human rights obligations to end poverty. There’s no question about it: poverty is sexist in Canada.

This doesn’t mean that men or persons who identify otherwise do not experience poverty. This simply means that when we think about poverty in Canada we must use a gendered lens. A good example of this gendered lens on poverty can be found in discussions around the ‘Tampon Tax’.

In 2011, Irene Matessyn, MP for London-Fanshawe introduced Bill C-282. This Bill would exempt feminine hygiene products from being taxed under the GST. Under Canada’s tax system GST is not charged for items which are considered “essential”. This includes wedding cakes, Viagra and cocktail cherries. In comparison, menstrual products are excluded from this list as they are considered non-essential. This is a tax that applies only to persons who menstruate, namely women.

This issue got the attention of the Canadian Menstruators, a group of feminists across Canada. They gathered the names of over 74,000 people in an online petition to end the tax. Two weeks ago these names were presented in the House of Commons. On May 12th, 2015 all parties voted in support of a motion to get rid of the tax. The question now is whether the government will follow through with action and actually get rid of this tax.

It’s important that we consider this issue in light of women’s experience of poverty. This isn’t just a question of the ‘fairness’ of a tax that only women pay. This is an issue of discrimination. This is an issue that affects women in poverty more than anyone else.

Recently, Harriett McLachlan, President of CWP’s Board of Directors, spoke about her own experience living in poverty and paying this additional tax on menstrual products. In a Global News article she said:  “Poor women make impossible choices between food and paying rent,” McLachlan said. Sometimes she couldn’t afford tampons so she said “I used to use my children’s old cloth diapers,” but it didn’t work very well.

The tampon tax has to be considered in light of women living in poverty – those extra dollars paid in tax make an enormous difference for women in poverty, especially for women who support other women in their households.

So if poverty is sexist in Canada, what can we do about it? How do we change? One suggestion is for these conversations about women and poverty to happen in a leader’s debate on issues identified by women, that’s what the Up for Debate campaign is asking for.

Perhaps it’s important that we name this discrimination against women. That poverty is sexist in Canada. Period. But together with groups like the Canadian Menstrators, Up for Debate and many other groups fighting for women’s equality it’s not too late for change.


Canada Without Poverty is a non-partisan, not-for-profit, charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Canada. CWP is here because of your support. We would not be able to continue our work in eliminating poverty without your help. Please consider making a donation to CWP to support our work in ending poverty for everyone in Canada.

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