Taxes reveal inequalities and spawn anxiety.
Every spring, people with an income in Quebec and Canada have to submit their tax return for the previous year.
This mandatory step, seen by many as time-consuming and laborious, can, for others, be a real source of anxiety and reveal much deeper issues: income inequality, financial dependence, economic violence and a lack of financial literacy.
Since you’re likely hunched over your calculators working through this annual tax declaration, we’d like to take this opportunity to tell you about the issues faced by many women, at this very moment.
Women’s financial security
According to Statistics Canada (2015) , “women’s labour force participation and employment earnings continue to be lower than men’s, and women have retained a disproportionate share of housework, childcare and eldercare, contributing to their heightened vulnerability to financial insecurity, particularly in the event of conjugal-union dissolution.”
Also, “Women are more vulnerable to low income than men […]. [They] are paid less than men with the same qualifications, even when they work the same number of hours. Traditionally-female occupations have lower average hourly wages than traditionally-male occupations, even when they require the same skill level. Women are also overrepresented in low-paying occupations.
On the home front, women are more likely than men to care for children and elderly or disabled family members. Combining earning and caring roles is challenging, so women are more likely than men to reduce their work hours or take time out of the workforce to care for family.”
Easy prey to economic violence
Because a woman’s employment income, if she has one, is often much lower than that of her spouse, a woman is often more often the victim of economic violence on the part of her spouse. Because his income is higher, he might take advantage of this to justify taking total charge of family finances. This could result in a situation of financial control, a lack of transparency into income and expenses, and even the woman’s total dependency.
Economic violence can take on several forms, according to Inform’elle, such as:
- Controlling finances and denying access (budget, bank accounts);
- Monitoring the other person’s economic activities;
- Imposing financial dependence;
- Poorly managing family budget: significant spending on goods or services that are unnecessary or excessively expensive, putting family finances at risk.
Financial literacy, the key to independence
This total control over family finances distances women from essential knowledge needed for healthy financial management. This is known as financial literacy. According to Statistics Canada (2015) , “Gender differences in financial knowledge are problematic… [It has been demonstrated] that financial knowledge is associated with positive financial behaviours and economic outcomes: individuals with greater financial knowledge are more likely to plan for their retirement, and those who plan generally accumulate more wealth. Conversely, individuals with less financial knowledge tend to borrow more, and they often report excessive debt loads and borrow against pension accounts. Ultimately, they accumulate less wealth.”
Support when it counts the most
Through all work they do as part of the different programs and services offered by the YWCA Montreal, counsellors and therapists notice daily the toll that income inequality, situations of financial control and a lack of financial knowledge have on women. This is why, for the past few years, starting in early March, a team of volunteers is available to help low-income women, often recent immigrants, with their annual tax return. A large number of the women who benefit from this tax clinic also benefit from our various residential services and are helped by our counsellors.
For many of these women, basic survival needs consume all their energy (housing, food, clothing, safety). So, once they settle in at the YWCA, they’re able to get all aspects of their lives under control again, from a financial, legal and administrative perspective. Depending on the situations under which a woman has left her former home environment (for example, a sudden departure due to domestic violence), it could be difficult for her to access the documents she needs to file a tax return (social insurance card, official documents sent to the address she has left, etc.). Our team helps women through this phase and guides them through all the steps they need to follow to recover all the required documents.
Other women find themselves overcome by a range of emotions in tax return season. They might feel hopeless on seeing their low income on their employment slip, they might feel incompetent when faced with the complexity of the steps needed to fill out their tax return. They might also feel guilt at having neglected this accounting aspect of their life or even fear or anxiety when faced with the idea of having to fill out a joint return with a violent spouse whom they’ve left.
Another fundamental aspect to having an updated statement of earnings is that this is needed for women applying for low-income housing or any other type of subsidized housing. Not having this statement makes it considerably harder if not impossible to get into autonomous housing.
The YWCA Montreal tax clinic allows these women to receive help, support, and to be listened to. They tell us they are relieved because this service allows them to properly meet governmental requirements within the prescribed deadline.
The YWCA would like women and girls to have the opportunities, abilities and tools they need to be able to live their lives at their fullest potential. We help them when they need it most; at this time of year, we provide them with support to lessen the stress caused by income tax returns and to help them achieve greater autonomy in managing their finances.