Man's work lasts til set of sun; woman's work is never done.
Some years ago, I was given a poster with the above inscription, with additional words added: "...nor recognized, nor appreciated, nor valued." The concept of "woman's work" has become something of an anomaly. Woman's work is housework, woman's work is unimportant, women's work is unpaid, woman's work is a "woman's" work.
It must have been quite a shock for Sherry Dunkley, who recently lost the position of procurement clerk at the Canadian Forces Base in Chilliwack, B.C., to learn that her ten years of experience as a housewife is not considered by the Public Service Alliance of Canada to be "work experience". The work she did in the home and the skills she developed there were not valued and did not provide the proper credentials for her to perform the work of a supply store clerk. What she had learned through her day-to-day experiences in running a household, shopping for the groceries and managing the family budget did not count.
It is time that women's skills learned in the unpaid labour force were accepted and that women's prior learning experiences considered to be work experience.
In order to make "woman's work" count, we need a better understanding of the ways in which women learn, what we learn and what kinds of skills we acquire through our life experiences. This is particularly important when woman's work is being eroded by technology and women are being encouraged to train for non-traditional jobs. As work transforms and labour market needs shift, women must be trained for jobs that have a future.
Each of us can reach back into our memories and recall some of the ways we learned and what we were taught. Those of us born in the 1950's, the baby boomers, entered a world of single income families where the man of the house was the breadwinner and the woman of the house stayed at home and raised the children.
In the 1960's, the women's movement emerged, and with a healthy economy, more and more women entered the paid labour force. The 1970's brought a recession and the two-income family became the norm, not the exception. With the 1980's, we have experienced a tight economy, high unemployment and the demand for equal pay for work of equal value. Concurrently, we have witnessed a resurgence of family-values and a movement to return women to the home.
Similar experiences to those of Sherry Dunkley have been recorded by women attempting to re-enter the paid labour force or entering educational institutions as mature students. The knowledge and skills women have developed in the unpaid labour force -- the home and the voluntary sector -- are simply not considered to be applicable to the paid labour force.
We know that systemic and structural barriers hinder women's access to education and training programs. We also suspect that women's learning styles are not being accommodated. We need more research on how women learn and we need to talk to women currently receiving education and training in Canada. We need to develop new theories and models to evaluate existing programs to determine whether women's learning styles are taken into account.