Companies need to radically change their hiring practices if women are to reap the benefits of the mining boom in Northern Quebec, says a report by the Quebec Council on the Status of Women.
And changes need to be implemented immediately if women are to obtain the skills and be given access to the same job opportunities as men in the so-called Plan Nord, a development project so huge it is expected to change the face of several Northern Quebec communities.
"There is no reason why mining companies and construction firms shouldn't be required to meet certain hiring targets of women," said Julie Miville-Dechêne, president of the Quebec Council on the Status of Women.
"A change of culture is needed and this can't be done in just six months. Young girls need to be convinced that they are wanted in these male-dominated jobs and changes are needed in the hiring practices."
In the meantime, the way women are perceived has to change, Ms. Miville-Dechêne said. Governments need to step in to improve social conditions for women, she added, citing the example of chronic shortages of housing in aboriginal communities.
Women are often hired in low-paying jobs in areas such as
housekeeping, secretarial work or waitressing, the report noted. It showed women make up only 1.2 per cent of the work force in construction, and less than 14 per cent in the mining sector.
Part of the problem, according to the report, involves the so-called fly-in-fly-out program, where workers are sent to mining camps for 15-day periods. Workers are flown in for two weeks and then fly back to their communities, often located in a southern region of the province, for two weeks. Those workers have no ties to the communities where they work, living as outsiders and spending their paycheques back home where their families live.
The social impact from this has been devastating: There has been a rise in prostitution as young women quit school and seek money to pay for high-priced housing caused by shortages. The problem has become even more urgent in native communities, the report stated.
"A lot of people are benefiting from northern development but the North isn't necessarily profiting from this boom," said Martine Michel, who works at a women's help centre in Sept-Îles, in Quebec`s North Shore region.
"There is a huge inequality in the salaries between men and women. And there are a higher number of young girls who drop out of schools."
Ms. Michel supports the recommendations in the council's report that call for those involved in Plan Nord to respond to the need for more training, employment and housing for women in the North.
The council will soon table another report that will propose ways to improve the integration of women in male-dominated jobs in areas such as the construction industry, basing part of its study on what Newfoundland and Labrador were able to successfully accomplish in tackling this issue.