Under the LFDS women are no longer viewed as needing access to women- centred bridging programs, as they were under the previous CJS (Canadian Jobs Strategy). Gone is the Re-entry program, amalgamated into the generic Project-based training. This situation means that organizations interested in offering women- centred training, which a study commissioned by EIC in 1989 found to be still relevant, must now compete directly with other organizations for funding. In New Brunswick, word is that bridging programs are now gender-mixed. Whether this is always the best approach has not been debated nor confirmed through consultations.
The new program structure under the LFDS also makes it difficult to see that women are grossly under-represented in EIC-funded training offered by employers to workers for training in areas of skills shortages. The old CJS Skills Shortages program, which in New Brunswick in 1991 had under 6% female representation, has been amalgamated with a portion of the old Skill Investment Program, which as a whole had over 45% female representation. As a result, overall female participation in the new LFDS program appears almost equal with men's, but this is misleading. In-depth data retrieval and monitoring are now required more that ever.
In a nutshell, the specificity of women's training needs and barriers and their status within LFDS programs are less obvious than under the old CJS, flawed as it was concerning women. It is doubtful whether the one voice of a women's representative on the national and provincial labour development boards can adequately counterbalance the lack of consideration given women's situation by the overall strategy. But there is an even larger question. Why did we end up in the first place with a training strategy that is so blind to the gender factor?
This question brings us to the fundamental issue of how policy is created. That the training strategy does not consider the situation of women in any central way would suggest the lack of a bureaucratic policy- making process to ensure such consideration. In spite of the excellent and vital work of bodies such as Status of Women Canada and the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, they do not have the power to develop policy.
The government units with the actual responsibility for creating social and economic policy should be required to take into account how their policies and programs affect the status of women and to ensure that their policies contribute to the social and economic equality of women. The centre of debate should be how the status of women is considered in government policy--such as training policy--not why we face the absence of such consideration. The energy of women's groups would be much better used lobbying on how that inclusion has been effected rather than simply demanding inclusion itself.
We know that in the two phases of the consultations held on the LFDS, women's situation as workers and trainees was considered only haphazardly; there were no women-centred studies. It is hardly surprising that the government policy units involved in fleshing out the policy did not do more. But, would it really make a difference to acknowledge the reality of female clientele in policy documents?
The question becomes: is occupational and sectoral segregation of women in the labour force a fundamental issue? This goes beyond assuring more money for training. When we affirm that we want women to have equal access to quality jobs we are affirming something radical--radical because it means a fundamental rethinking of how we value women's visible and invisible work and the place we hope women can assume in our society.