The concept of formal equality between women and men is now universally recognized, at least in principle. When reality continues to systematically breach legal equality, the main challenge for improving the situation of women often remains in the implementation of public policies allowing real and effective rebalancing of roles in the family, access to the labour market and flexible work arrangements to support workers with family responsibilities. Since the 1980s, these two issues (maternity protection and work-life balance) have been at the heart of new social policies, endorsed by many OECD members as well as some developing countries, in order to offer women and families the opportunity to live in better conditions. In this regard, the ILO has devoted these new rights to two relatively recent conventions: the Workers with family responsibilities convention (No. 156, 1981) and the Maternity protection convention (No. 183 , 2000).
In the context of trade agreements, that recall the need to ensure equality between men and women, but also the need to ensure that such equality is possible through public action. Programs to reconcile maternity, family life and access to the labour market could be promoted.
Ways to enforce rights allowing maternity protection and reconciling work and family life
- Including a clause in the chapter on labour in trade agreements would emphasize the importance of accessing the labour market, in order to ensure real equality between women and men. It may also indicate that implementing public policies is necessary to ensure integration into the labour market. Lastly, it could also mention that maternity requires special protection and should never be a ground for discrimination in the labour market.
- Implementing cooperation activities to inform all contracting parties of the policies adopted regarding this matter. Each country has its own specific mechanisms to balance family life and the labour market. Its inclusion in trade agreements could provide an opportunity to exchange information on the different partners practices and consequently improve work-life balance in Canada.
- Making a mutual commitment to ratify the Conventions relating to maternity protection and workers with family responsibilities. Canada has not yet ratified these conventions. The inclusion of such commitment in trade agreements represents an opportunity to ratify them, in addition to encouraging trading partners to adopt them as well.