Single Mother’s Alliance in British Columbia Goes to the United Nations

pair-1269059_1920The Single Mother’s Alliance of British Columbia (SMA) has taken their fight for women’s rights to the United Nations. Viveca Ellis, a single mother from Vancouver, British Columbia, said, “We can’t sell ourselves short: we can’t settle for anything less than the realization of our full human rights, as women and people.” An important call for one marginalized population, single mothers. They have the tremendous responsibility of the upbringing of the next generation of children.

Ellis, also a mother to a 7 year old boy, founded the Single Mother’s Alliance of British Columbia. The SMA devotes grassroots, non-profit efforts and resources to community building, leadership, and advocacy for single mothers in British Columbia. In short, it is a women’s collective for the needs of single mothers in British Columbia.

Of the single mothers in BC, one out of two raises the single parent family in poverty. Women as single mothers in poverty translates into children in poverty. Children in poverty means lowered life expectations, outcomes, and prospects. In general, the issues faced by single mothers are noted in a December 2008, paper entitled Precarious and Vulnerable: Lone Mothers on Income Assistance. It describes the insecurity and vulnerability of single mothers.

On the one hand, as a society, we have concerns about single parent households having one source of income. Two incomes tend to make financial life easier. As well, there is only one person for child care and house chores. On the other hand, we have concerns about the lower pay single mothers receive. As well, the fact that many of them require income assistance. Together, this creates problems for the livelihoods and wellbeing of mothers and their children. The single mothers’ situations come with the additional problem of a difficult ex-partner, possibly with substance abuse or domestic abuse issues in the past. Devastation can ensue.

SMA works to alleviate some of these difficulties through ground-up group planning and implementation. To guide them, the SMA developed and works from the Three Point Mandate:

To build community among the family class of single mothers…

To provide educational opportunities and tools for single mothers to a) gain empowerment, and b) develop leadership skills which strengthens both our individual and collective capacity to participate in public policy-making that impacts our lives, and those of their children…

To advocate for the rights of single mothers and their children to live lives free of poverty and discrimination.  

Indeed, to me these seem like noble aims and initiatives for women raising children in difficult circumstances (similar arguments apply to the minority single parent sub-population known as single fathers). However, they might need assistance to achieve these goals. That is, the strength of grassroots and nonprofit organizations can weaken without national or international legitimation, recognition, and support.

Recently, there were months of testimonies at the United Nations on the struggles of single mothers. The issues raised at the United Nations related to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which is intended to reaffirm fundamental human rights and the equality of rights between women and men.

The BC CEDAW Group submitted to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women with the combined 8th and 9th periodic reports from Canada in the 65th session of the committee. The BC CEDAW Group included other organizations such as the Coalition of Child Care Advocates of BC, Hospital Employees’ Union, Justice for Girls, Poverty and Human Rights Centre, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, West Coast LEAF-Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, Single Mothers’ Alliance of BC, and Vancouver Women’s Health Collective.

They recognized in the periodic review the failure of BC to comply with CEDAW, the “42,236 single mothers on welfare in a prosperous province” (August, 2016), the almost decade long stall in welfare rate raises (since 2007), the fact that over 90% of single parents are single mothers (July, 2016), and more than half of poverty-stricken children are raised by single parents (in BC). They also recognized that single mothers in BC with kids below the age of 18 have the highest food insecurity rate (34.3%) and there are intersectional disadvantages for Indigenous and immigrant single mothers, and there is a “crisis due to lack of affordable childcare, access to justice, inadequate responses to violence against women, and lack of access to education for those accessing welfare.”

Through the Canadian periodic review, the BC CEDAW Group recommended the following (among many others):

BC to raise welfare rates and restore access to education for all accessing welfare.

Enact a comprehensive poverty reduction plan within a gender based analysis with special temporary measures and targets to eliminate women’s poverty in BC

British Columbia adopts and implements the $10 a Day Child Care Plan over ten years.

Province to introduce proactive pay equity legislation requiring both public and private sector employers to ensure women equal pay for work of equal value.

BC to reinstate the BC Human Rights Commission; provide adequate funding for poverty and family law legal aid and raise financial thresholds for qualification.

BC to develop an effective provincial anti-violence plan to address economic and social policy failures that make women unable to escape violence.

With the tremendous difficulties faced by single mothers, there are hardships and heartbreak felt with the living observation of one’s own child disadvantaged by disproportionate poor life circumstances. At a minimum, the province and nation can commit to the acknowledgement, in policy and practice, of the troubles faced by the single mother subpopulation in British Columbia. They can do this through support of the international obligations that this nation, and therefore province, remain obligated to; I suspect Ellis and others would agree.

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

* All views expressed in this blog post belong to the author and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of CYH.