By Michael Asiffo
Over the past decades, the global debate surrounding marginalization of black women of African diaspora has been running strong. One of the most pressing topics in our society today is the gender pay gap between women and men.
In this VIBE TALKS interview Correspondent Michael Asiffo speaks with Gertrude Mianda – Faculty, School of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at York University. We discuss the issues such as unequal pay, the immigration system, education and the continuous need to find a way around marginalization.
Michael: How serious is this issue because it’s one of the more underreported and least talked about issues today?
Gertrude: It’s very serious. I think the situation of black women around the world is very serious. If we focused only in North America, we can go back to the history of slavery until now. We now have the issue of ‘Black Lives Matter’ in America. That gives you an indication of how the situation is for black people and if we took it very narrow, and talking about those who are the most marginalized in our society, we get to the situation of black women. Since the question is broad, I would like to focus on one dimension. Like the economic dimension about the employment of black women in let’s say Ontario. Here in Ontario, you can look at which activity sector black women are being highly represented. It is the precarious and low paying employment in which black women are just experiencing more discrimination.
Michael: Where you hear a case about gross marginalization from the employment and economic perspectives when it comes to women and black women, like the pay gap for example, you kind of roll your eyes and say ‘obviously’ as a casual observer. But a lot of times we tend to not look towards our own society in Ontario. You mentioned earlier about precarious labour in terms of the white collar jobs and the guaranteed jobs, how hard it is for black women to get these jobs.
Gertrude: There is the question of qualification. To be more qualified, you need to have a high education. It does not mean that black women are not in the position of higher education. Let us take the situation of immigration. One of the criteria is having the professional qualification. We found out that black women immigrants who are coming in the north, like in the global north, are even more qualified than people born in the country in which they (black women) are coming. So even with having those high qualifications, they are experiencing more obstacles getting into the labour market because of the colour of their skin because they are a visible minority. So if we think about having high qualifications and cross that with the stats, we see that black women are being marginalized.
Michael: So what youre saying is this starts even before the unemployment issue am I right?
Michael: Is there anything that our government has done to try to bridge the gap to getting these qualifications and going into these sectors because like you said, there are black women who are qualified?
Gertrude: I think there is all these anti-discrimination policies but it is one thing having those anti-discrimination policies but the other thing is how do we apply those anti-discrimination policies? I am not being pessimistic here, but the reality is that despite these anti-discrimination policies, there is always a way to navigate through it to still discriminate those women of colour.
Michael: Do you have any examples of industries that manoeuvre around anti-discrimination policies?
Gertrude: That will be very difficult but I can take an example in the health system and education system. Let’s say in the education system, at the lower position. In the kindergarten system in education, you will find more and more black women are in very low paid positions in that activity sector. Then in the health care system, I cannot say there are not many black women there, they are there but in the lower position(s) we have what they call the PSW. You will see that more and more PSW are women of colour, are black women. You know that this is one of the very precarious and low paid employment in that sector.
Michael: So why does this happen? Is it still chalked up to the fact that we as a society are still not getting over the discrimination and racism that was rampant in the 70s mixed with the fact that gender issues are still a thing in our society and combine the two and here we have this issue of black women being marginalized or is there something else to it?
Gertrude: it’s a structural problem. It is there from a long time. Even if we have all the anti-discrimination (policies) the problem is rooted in the structure and we need to educate more people and I think more black women should come out and talk about this. It is the way we can fight against this discrimination.
Michael: The thing about this, as you mentioned, its being happened for a long time and when I was looking at some of these stats and stories, it was alarming. So why has this been so underreported in our society?
Gertrude: To be reported, people should speak out. To be in a position to speak out, you need to be informed. So I think we need to have more and more black community organizations out there to educate black people, educate black women. (Tell them) That they have rights, they can seek for that right instead of not speaking up.
Michael: So I guess my question on behalf of the listeners is where can we go to get this information so that they can be informed and fight this issue?
Gertrude: Through your union maybe. If you are working through your union. If you are experiencing some kind of discrimination, do not shut your mouth. You need to come out and talk about it. Maybe the government website, there are so many websites to get information and like I said, to be in a position to look for information, you need to be informed and to be alerted by like, community organizations.
Michael: Final question. I understand that you are doing research on this topic. In particular, the economic issue. Where can we see the fruits of your labour and where are other resources we can see similar research.
Gertrude: (to find resources) By Reading Books?
But I think we should not be limited only in the academy. We should go out and talk to the community. If we have my research come out, I would like to have the opportunity to go within the community, present my research talking with the activist(s) in the community. I think activist(s) must have an important role to inform and educate people. We should have this link between academy and our activist(s) within our community.