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The 2018 federal budget, released in February, is all about gender equality. The word “gender” appears 359 times in the 367-page document. The federal government has seized on a cultural shift, catalyzed by the #MeToo movement, that has underlined gender disparities in all aspects of society.
Food is no different. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts children, one out of six of whom live in a household that has trouble putting food on the table, and this burden has largely fallen on the shoulders of their mothers.
While 12 per cent of Canadian households experienced food insecurity in 2014, this rate nearly tripled, to 33.5 per cent, in households headed by single mothers. Households headed by single fathers experienced a much lower rate of food insecurity, at 14.7 per cent. Even after their kids were grown, 13.8 per cent of single mothers were food insecure (compared to 5.2 per cent of couples without children or 7.4 per cent of elderly individuals living alone).
Mothers often have dietary intakes below recommended levels even when their children do not, which suggests they are cutting back on food in order for their children to get enough. A study of low-income single mothers in Atlantic Canada showed that women’s food intake was consistently poorer than their children’s.
This also impacts children, who studies have shown worry about their parents’ stress levels and monitor the availability of food in their homes, even taking it on themselves to cut back on food intake. Unsurprisingly, mothers and children who are food insecure are more likely to suffer from mental health problems.
All of this points to a need for better public policy. Single mothers attending Toronto food banks identified the lack of affordable child care as a significant barrier. Indeed, Canadian women are much more likely to be working part-time involuntarily, and half of them cite the costs of child care as the reason. In every province but Quebec, which subsidises most of the cost of child care, household economies worsen if mothers go back to work.
The federal government needs to put its money where its mouth is. While they announced significant funding for child care and other programs to support women, the budget’s gender focus is not adequately backed up with cash. In order to reverse the food insecurity gender gap, the federal government needs to work with the provinces and territories to increase incomes and create a universal child care program so that mothers can put good food on their tables.
Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N (2014). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2012. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from http://proof.utoronto.ca
Tarasuk, V, Mitchell, A, Dachner, N (2016). Household food insecurity in Canada, 2014. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from http://proof.utoronto.ca
McIntyre, L, Glanville, NT, Raine, KD, Dayle JB, Anderson B and Battaglia, N (2003). Do low-income lone mothers compromise their nutrition to feed their children? CAJ 168(6): 686-691.
Fram, MS, Frongillo, EA, Jones, SJ, Williams, RC, Burke, MP, DeLoach, KP and Black, CE (2011). Children Are Aware of Food Insecurity and Take Responsibility for Managing Food Resources. The Journal of Nutrition 141(6): 1114-1119.
Whitaker, RC, Phillips, SM and Orzol, SM (2006). Food Insecurity and the Risks of Depression and Anxiety in Mothers and Behavior Problems in their Preschool-Aged Children. Pediatrics 118(3): e859-e868.
Matern, R and Iman, H (n.d.). Who’s Hungry: 2017 Profile of Hunger in Toronto. The Daily Bread Food Bank. Retrieved from https://www.dailybread.ca/research-and-advocacy/whos-hungry-report/
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (2018). Getting there: Alternative Federal Budget 2018. Retrieved from https://www.policyalternatives.ca/afb2018
Petersson, B, Mariscal, R and Ishi, K (2017). Women Are Key for Future Growth: Evidence from Canada. International Monetary Fund. Retrieved from https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2017/07/19/Women-Are-Key-f...