It was reported that young women are not coming forward to youth employment projects, and that in a society with so many unemployed workers, unemployment is seen primarily as a male problem. Similarly, young women are not being trained for non-traditional work and therefore have little chance of escaping the likelihood of ending up in female job ghettoes.
Women of varying educational level who do approach employment outreach programs face a labour market of marginal, seasonal and casual employment. The situation is even more difficult for native, black or disabled women who face even greater obstacles.
The recent Abella Report (Report of the Commission on Equality in Employment), states that despite a decade of voluntary affirmative action programs and equal opportunity laws, there has been little progress in the overall economic advancement of women in the labour force. Women's occupational options are so narrow that fully 3/4 of employed women work in only 5 of the 22 major occupational groups. Most of these jobs are not only low paying but also dead-end, offering limited scope for advancement. Nevertheless, women's participation in the labour force is growing.
The employment, education and training struggles that young women reported, mirror the complexity of problems that exist for young people generally. Young women face the problems of getting experience in order to apply for jobs; the lack of adequate preparation for the job market; and the frustrations of dealing with an ever tightening and fluctuating labor market that simply does not supply jobs for everyone. These factors, combined with a socialization process and educational system which continues to stream young women into traditional occupations, ensure continuing economic discrimination against them.
Housing statistics show the lack of affordable housing to be of crisis proportions both in the Halifax Metro area, and in rural areas throughout the province. National statistics indicate that since the recession of 1982, more young people have remained at home. However, while 53% of males aged 20 to 24 live with their parents, only 34% of females are still at home. There have been no studies undertaken to measure the effects of prolonged dependence.
Housing statistics also show that numbers of female single parents are increasing in the Maritimes at a rate almost twice that of the national average. Almost 65% of female-led single parent families experience affordability problems at the 30% "shelter cost to income" level. (a commonly used indicator of poverty). Further, it is known from agency statistics that large numbers of young homeless women sought assistance from the few services available in the province outside the Halifax-Dartmouth area.
Incidents of battering and sexual abuse are reported to be significant among this population. The transition houses contacted indicated that 1/3 to 1/2 of their residents were women under 25 years of age, and that most of these women had small children.
There is no doubt from the findings of this study that the situation for young women is difficult. The important transition of moving successfully from school to work, and from the parental home to a home of one's own are the developmental tasks of this age group. Without access to employment opportunities and affordable, available housing, these tasks simply cannot be accomplished. The attendant feeling of anxiety, stemming from the lack of a sense of belonging, and lack of a sense of future purpose, were expressed by many of the 'older' focus-group participants.
Feelings of stress and pressure were reported by young women of all ages. High school women indicate from their responses that they do feel pressured to be sexually active, at a time when they are not fully prepared. Young women in the study did indicate that they were aware of world peace and economic issues. Some group discussions centered on the sense of futility experienced by the young women because of not being able to assert any control over their own lives. Many expressed resistance and anger to assertions that the young assume responsibility for present social and political problems. From focus group discussions, it was clear that for some young women the lack of opportunity to move towards independence in their personal lives, has created a sense of powerlessness, with implications for many levels of society.
Both governments and the churches are deeply concerned and recognize the depth of the crises for youth. Recent conferences, by their very lack of feminist analysis, point to the very urgent need for continued study and vigilance regarding proposed strategies for solving the "youth crisis", to ensure that these include the particular concerns and participation of young women themselves.
Mary Morrissey is Coordinator of Community Outreach
Copies of the complete report can be obtained from: