This year, the 12 Days of Action to End Violence Against Women Committee has chosen the theme “Gendered precarity; ignored violence” to highlight a type of violence that is as common as it is little-known: economic violence.
With this in mind, we propose to explore some of the most common challenges faced by women on their paths to professional success, financial empowerment and economic security.
As a multi-service organization, the YWCA Montreal addresses some of these obstacles and offers one or more concrete solutions to support the optimal development of as many women as possible.
In the quest for gender equality in the workplace, women still face many obstacles. The statistics don’t lie: even today, the median income of women in Quebec is 16% lower than that of men, and this gap widens to almost 30% among women aged 65 and over. Why does this gap persist today? 
Systemic Depreciation of the Female Gender
Pay equity Act was certainly a major step towards correcting pay inequalities. However, legislation alone cannot overcome centuries of employment inequalities and deconstruct the notion that certain jobs are a “vocation” (care jobs), unconsciously justifying lower wages in these largely female sectors.
Stereotypes and Non-Traditional Professions
Stereotypes persisting in many traditionally male or female professions or employment sectors (engineering or nursing, construction or teaching) can discourage women from pursuing careers in male-dominated, often higher-paying sectors.
To break down these stereotypes, the YWCA Montreal offers workshops on gender stereotypes to highschool students. These workshops aim to encourage girls to explore various “traditionally masculine” professions.
Working proactively to prevent inequality, we create tools and resources for schools and youth workers to facilitate the implementation of practices conducive to equal opportunity.
A Persistent Feeling of Imposter Syndrome
Over the years, our experience with thousands of women seeking to return to work has shown us that, unfortunately, many women doubt their own worth on the job market. They doubt their abilities more than men do, emphasize the skills they are lacking when faced with a job offer, or are more reluctant to negotiate their salary.
YWCA Montreal supports participants in its employability and entrepreneurship programs in exploring their personal and professional skills. Our advisors support them in building a CV that reflects their professional value, but also in becoming aware of their strengths, qualities and potential on the job market or even in entrepreneurship.
Programs at the YWCA Montreal focus on building self-confidence and support networks, providing psychosocial coaching and recognizing successes to help women overcome these obstacles.
Lost Wages Due to Maternity Leave
Although maternity leave in Quebec is one of the most advantageous in the world, we have observed, with the women we support, that maternity and the fact of being absent from work for several months are often major obstacles to women’s career advancement. Some lose their jobs during this absence, while others are not considered for promotion. The increased burden of maternity and family responsibilities weighs heavily in the balance when it comes to applying for positions with high levels of responsibility, whose hours are often less compatible with work-life balance.
All women suffer a loss of salary due to their absence from work, in addition to various financial losses in terms of reduced savings (e.g. RRSPs, pensions).
Invisible Work and Unequal Distribution of Expenses
Women perform an average of 26.50 hours of invisible work per week, in addition to their official work. […] At $15 an hour, the wages from women’s invisible tasks would add up to $400 a week. Multiply that by the number of women in the province between the ages of 18 and 85, and by 52 weeks, and you’re looking at $86 billion a year in invisible work that isn’t counted in the gross domestic product and isn’t recognized by society. – Odile Boisclair, former president of the R des centres de femmes du Québec 
The imbalance that persists in the management of domestic responsibilities and the mental burden borne predominantly by women contributes to many of them choosing part-time jobs, close to home or with lower levels of responsibility. Because they are less involved in domestic tasks, men can concentrate more on their careers, improving their chances of success.
Another factor affecting women’s long-term asset-building is the nature of expenses shared between heterosexual couples. As they typically have the higher salary in the family unit, men often take charge of the largest expenses, which are effectively “assets” (e.g. mortgage, car), while women look after day-to-day expenses (e.g. groceries, clothing).
This unequal division of expenses benefits male spouses, leaving their wives without property or assets of their own at the time of eventual separation. Consultations at our Legal Information Clinic are very often concerned with family law issues, and our tax clinics confirm the increased economic fragility of women, particularly in the event of separation.
Housing, an Essential Need That is More Difficult to Meet
The current housing situation particularly affects women. They head 80% of single-parent families. What’s more, they live alone longer. With less income from employment or retirement, they are particularly vulnerable and affected by high prices and the lack of affordable or social housing. Many of them share with us that they have been discriminated against when looking for housing.
Caregiving: A Predominantly Female Role
Caregiving is another risk factor for women’s financial independence. Nearly 58% of caregivers in Quebec are women, and they provide more hours of care than men do. The role of caregiver is demanding in terms of time and energy, often leading women to sacrifice part or all of their careers, hindering their professional development.
The YWCA Montreal offers support to caregivers of seniors and cancer patients. In addition to personalized support from our psychosocial counsellors, they have access to a variety of activities, workshops and conferences designed to help them manage their daily challenges, prevent burnout, increase their power to act and improve their quality of life.
Violence and Mental Health
Women represent the majority of victims of violence by a current or former intimate partner; young women aged 15 to 24 are over-represented.
Violence against women, whether in their personal lives (e.g. between intimate partners) or at work (e.g. sexual harassment), whether psychological, physical or sexual in nature, can profoundly affect their professional development. Fleeing a dangerous living or working environment, finding a shelter, regaining a certain stability often forces women to take time off or even quit their jobs. As one of the women we worked with in our social reintegration program put it:
Domestic violence isn’t like a broken leg. You can’t always see it, but it’s long and complicated to heal.
This type of violence can cause trauma and mental health problems, disempowering victims to the point of making it impossible for them to pursue their careers.
YWCA Canada even refers to gender-based and intimate partner violence as a “public health epidemic“.
For its part, in addition to offering support groups for victims of domestic violence, the YWCA Montreal strives to be proactive in preventing the onset of gender-based violence. This is how projects such as Connais-tu LA Limite and the Violence Free platform came into being, raising awareness of consent among young people, and supporting educational institutions in their work to prevent, raise awareness of and intervene in sexual violence.
A Preferred Solution: Intersectionality
The intersection of gender with other factors such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, single parenthood or disability, for example, compounds the challenges faced by women. Recognizing and addressing these multiple factors is essential to welcoming and retaining a workforce in more inclusive and equitable work environments.
With this in mind, the YWCA Montreal is offering employers an interactive awareness-raising workshop entitled Where are you from?, which looks at the role of unconscious bias in the corporate recruitment process, as well as inclusive work environments free from microaggressions.
To achieve a truly egalitarian society, both in law and in fact, it is essential to adopt a global approach and give a voice to the most vulnerable.
That is why the YWCA Montreal, in collaboration with a vast network of community partners, plays an active role in defending the rights and interests of women and girls.
By raising awareness of these issues among public and private decision-makers, with the aim of generating lasting social change, we want to provoke the following questions: “Who should be at the table and who isn’t? What are our blind spots?”
When you start asking these questions, gender and social equality are bound to come into their own. On social, ethical, moral, and economical grounds, we cannot afford to have 50% of the population at a disadvantage right from the start.
 While some articles state that menopause is often accompanied by health problems that can affect professional performance, leading some women to reduce their working hours or even quit their jobs, others stipulate that women must pay a “pink tax” on the aesthetic and hygienic products they need at different stages of their lives (e.g. menstrual products, hormones, comfort care, etc.).
 https://www.rcinet.ca/fr/2019/10/02/regroupement-des-centres-de-femmes-du-quebec-femmes-et-travail-invisible-droit-des-femmes-equite-en-emploi-remuneration-du-travail-invisible-travail-invisible-et-sante-psychologique-et-emotionnel/ (2019)
 In other words, by retaining the assets often contracted in their name alone, the men leave with the family assets, while their wives leave “with the empty yoghurt pot“, weakened by the precariousness of their situation..