Women have always played an important role in labour, even when they did not receive the recognition they deserved.
During the Industrial Revolution, women were forced to work the lowest-paid jobs, where hazards and harassment were commonplace. It took generations of working women to make progress and changed public opinion, and it only happened because of their sustained, collective activism.
Women’s needs are often ignored in workplaces with male-dominated leadership, such as properly fitting uniforms and safety-wear. This becomes discriminatory when it jeopardizes a worker’s safety or impacts their ability to advance their career.
“Women in Alberta are more empowered than they ever have been, but we cannot take this for granted."
Today, three-quarters of AUPE members are women. They are employed across all levels of provincial government services, health care, education, boards, agencies, and municipalities.
“We have come a long way,” says Sandra Azocar, AUPE Vice-President and Chair of the union’s Women’s Committee. “Every year, we make progress for young women entering the workforce in Alberta, opening more opportunities for women to choose their own career path.”
Women have a strong voice in AUPE, but this was not always the case. Alberta’s organized labour movement has a long history of courageous women who defied societal norms, broke into new industries, and made life better for future generations of women.
Rosella Bjornson grew up in a small Alberta farming town and later became the first Canadian woman to pilot a commercial jet, thereby becoming the first woman to join the Canadian Airline Pilots’ Association.
Kathleen Andrews was Edmonton Transit Service’s first woman bus driver and member of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569.
Susan Parcels, a member of United Nurses of Alberta, fought for the rights of women to maintain their benefits during pregnancy and maternity. In 1992, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench established the basic rights of entitlement to pregnancy and maternity benefits.
Despite these milestones and our continued activism, wage inequality and occupational discrimination still exists. According to 2019 Alberta Labour Force statistics, the number of women entering the workforce is increasing, but Alberta still has the second lowest percentage of women working among the 10 provinces.
Women in Alberta are also underrepresented in the trades, with only 8.7 per cent of trades, transport, and equipment operators reported to be women. Comparatively, more that to 81 per cent of health care workers are women.
“Women in Alberta are more empowered than they ever have been, but we cannot take this for granted,” says Azocar. “Many systems that were designed by men and for men have influenced corporate culture and given rise to blind spots when it comes to meeting the needs of our women on the job site.”