Awareness: Gender and Social Justice

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Awareness leads to Action: Awareness is the ability to perceive, to feel, or to be conscious of events, objects, thoughts, emotions, or sensory patterns. In this level of consciousness, sense data can be confirmed by an observer without necessarily implying understanding. More broadly, it is the state or quality of being aware of something. In biological psychology, awareness is defined as a human’s or an animal’s perception and cognitive reaction to a condition or event.

Awareness is a relative concept. An animal may be partially aware, may be subconsciously aware, or may be acutely unaware of an event. Awareness may be focused on an internal state, such as a visceral feeling, or on external events by way of sensory perception. Awareness provides the raw material from which animals develop qualia, or subjective ideas about their experience. Insects have awareness that you are trying to swat them or chase after them. But insects do not have consciousness in the usual sense, because they lack the brain capacity for thought and understanding.

Popular ideas about consciousness suggest the phenomenon describes a condition of being aware of one’s awareness or, self-awareness. Efforts to describe consciousness in neurological terms have focused on describing networks in the brain that develop awareness of the qualia developed by other networks.

Brain5Neural systems that regulate attention serve to attenuate awareness among complex animals whose central and peripheral nervous system provides more information than cognitive areas of the brain can assimilate. Within an attenuated system of awareness, a mind might be aware of much more than is being contemplated in a focused extended consciousness.

The ability to consciously detect an image when presented at near-threshold stimulus varies across presentations. One factor is “baseline shifts” due to top down attention that modulates ongoing brain activity in sensory cortex areas that affects the neural processing of subsequent perceptual judgments. Such top down biasing can occur through two distinct processes: an attention driven baseline shift in the alpha waves, and a decision bias reflected in gamma waves.

Covert awareness is the knowledge of something without knowing it. Some patients with specific brain damage are for example unable to tell if a pencil is horizontal or vertical. They are however able to grab the pencil, using the correct orientation of the hand and wrist. This condition implies that some of the knowledge the mind possesses is delivered through alternate channels than conscious intent.

In general, “awareness” may also refer to public or common knowledge or understanding about a social, scientific, or political issue, and hence many movements try to foster “awareness” of a given subject, that is, “raising awareness”. Examples include AIDS awareness, Gender and Social Justice Awareness and Multicultural awareness.

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A new report on incomes, jobs and professions show women still have a long way to go.

The gender gap is much wider than is commonly believed – Women’s incomes are 61% of men’s, despite years of trying to close the gender gap. Two decades of women’s progress has resulted in marginal improvements. Women’s average incomes have risen by less than $3,000 – significant perhaps, but still far short of men’s. In 1998 (the most recent data available), women have average (or median) incomes of $13,806 while men’s incomes average at $22,673. The study reveals that this income gap persists across age, educational attainment, labour market situation and family type.

Women are over-represented in the ranks of the poor and under-represented among upper income earners. They are segregated by occupation, having too few good jobs and too many contingent jobs. They are additionally marginalized if they are women of colour, aboriginal, with disabilities, younger or older. For women raising children alone, they bear tremendous poverty rates. When examining how many women make it to the ranks of the wealthy, the study reveals that not many do.

Women are under-represented by almost a 3-fold factor in the top 20% of Canadian earners. Only 11% of women get into the top 20%, whereas 29% of men access upper incomes of $32,367 and beyond. Strongly related to this trend is occupational segregation.

Women also are still denied access to many of the prime high paying professions and jobs. Women made up only 5% of skilled trades, 10% of fire and police forces and a meager 21% of senior managers. The barriers to women’s employment must be significant to have such results. One such barrier is access to post secondary education where skyrocketing tuition and erosion of scholarships means women are denied such access.

Not surprisingly, women are over-represented among the contingent work force. This is the fastest growing sector for women’s employment, where the wages are low and the work is part-time, non-unionized and insecure. Women in this category earn median incomes of less than $11,000. This category also includes self-employment where women have median incomes that are only 59% that of men’s.

One bright spot in terms of women’s equality is in the results found for women who work in unionized environments. Women make 82% of men’s incomes in such environments – even when comparing full time, full year employment. When assessing the impact of unionization, the study reveals that non-unionized environments create a wider gender gap – women make only 72% of men’s incomes in such environments.

Unionized settings do much for women’s equality – and, as such, are a recommended strategy for reducing inequality. Other policy recommendations include improving the minimum wage to levels above the poverty line, implementing a national child care strategy and providing free post-secondary tuition. Underlying these initiatives is the building of a core commitment to actively prohibit discrimination. Policies such as pay equity and employment equity are fundamental requirements.

Additional startling statistics:

The poverty rates for women in general is 20%, for women of colour is 37% and for aboriginal women 43%.

Women in couples with children under 16 had median incomes that were only 48 per cent of their male partners. Their median incomes were $13,153.

Women aged 45-64 made only 51 per cent of their male counterparts. Their median after-tax income was only $14,779. As retirement income is a function of lifetime earnings, women’s low income in this age group means they will be at great risk of poverty in retirement.

Women in the Atlantic provinces had the lowest incomes in Canada. Their median after-tax income was $11,235.
Thirty-five per cent of Canadian women have not completed high school and 72 per cent of these women had median after-tax incomes under $13,786.

Statistical studies of low income generally focus on the family. Using the family as the unit of measure hides the rate of women’s economic inequality as men’s higher incomes (due in part to men’s greater likelihood of having higher paid, fullyear, full-time jobs) is likely to raise the total family income above the Statistics Canada measures of low income. This report looks at the frequency with which women, whether they are in relationships or not, earn lower incomes in comparison with men.

The key to positive sustainable change is Awareness. Take Action!

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The Centre for Social Justice

conducts research, education and advocacy in a bid to narrow the gap in income, wealth and power, and enhance peace and human security.brings together people from universities and unions, faith groups and community organizations in the pursuit of greater equality and democracy.supports social movements in the struggle for social justice.offers a non-partisan perspective on political, social and economic issues.uses creative communications to educate Canadians about public policies

About the Centre for Social Justice

The Centre for Social Justice is an advocacy organization that seeks to strengthen the struggle for social justice. We are committed to working for change in partnership with various social movements and recognize that effective change requires the active participation of all sectors of our community. Although the Centre is based in Ontario, our work increasingly takes us across Canada and into the international arena. The programmatic content of the Centre’s work may change from year to year, but there is an on-going interest in working strategically to narrow the gap between rich and poor, challenging the corporate domination of Canadian politics, and pressing for policy changes that promote economic and social justice. The Board of Directors is drawn from our partnerships with community and faith groups, unions and universities.

Our History

The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) was created in 1997 to carry on much of the work of the Jesuit Centre for Social Faith and Justice. During its 19 years of operation, the Jesuit Centre had earned widespread respect for its work on Central American issues, for its support of refugees, and for its efforts to strengthen social movements here in Canada. In an effort to continue this work, a partnership of activists from unions, universities, faith communities and social movements approached the Jesuits, who agreed to help them in setting up a new independent centre.

In order to guarantee full compliance with Canadian charity laws, the Board of Directors decided to incorporate two entities: the Centre for Social Justice would conduct advocacy campaigns and the CSJ Foundation for Research and Education would pursue charitable activities.

As one of few programs of its kind in Canada, the Gender Equality and Social Justice program will teach you to think critically about who has the power in the world, and why, as well as how to resist, shape, and change power for social justice. This program is highly interdisciplinary with close links to Social Welfare and Social Development, Religions and Cultures, Political Science, and Philosophy, and is designed for those with interests in critical studies of popular culture; the politics of resisting inequality through the law; globalization and human rights; violent conflict and international justice; transnational organizing for social justice; histories of colonization; feminist philosophies; postmodernism; theories of justice; and the intersections of race, class, ability, sex and gender.

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Further Reading: A Holistic Approach to Gender Equality and Social Justice

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