Two girls for every boy at GN

Inuit women surge ahead in education, government jobs

By NUNATSIAQ NEWS

SARA MINOGUE

Visitors to the second floor of Iqaluit’s Trigram building will notice two things when they enter the Government of Nunavut’s human resources department.

First, the huge windows that fill the room with light, and second, that almost everyone in the office is female, including the receptionist, a woman giving her a message, and another woman rushing past with a notebook in hand.

“You can count the number of men in this department on one hand,” says assistant deputy minister Tom Thompson, who is now part of the GN’s male minority.

Human resources departments are usually dominated by women, but statistics show that seven out of 10 Inuit employees throughout the entire GN are female.

The 2003-2004 Public Service Annual Report show that, as of March 2004, there were 304 Inuit men employed compared to 775 Inuit women. Among non-beneficiaries, women made up slightly more than half of the workforce.

The disparity is part of a larger trend visible in schools and workplaces across the country, where more women are joining the workforce. Among Inuit in Nunavut, however, the numbers are striking.

Last week, this newspaper ran a photo of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut graduating class on its cover. The photo showed 17 girls and just three boys, all of whom are beneficiaries.

The program had a similar imbalance last year, said instructor Murray Angus, with 15 women and only two men.

Angus, who’s been with the program since its launch in 1985, recalls a fairly even number of boys and girls for the program’s first 17 years.

“It’s really gotten out of balance in the last three years,” Angus said, without speculating why that might be the case. “All we can confirm is that it is definitely a trend, and quite a marked trend.”

The divide is less dramatic at the high school level, but still there.

In the 2003-04 school year, 56 per cent of Inuit graduates across Nunavut were female, according to statistics from the department of education. In the first five years after Nunavut was created, 11 per cent more women than men finished Grade 12 annually.

That distortion shows up even more dramatically in the registrar’s records at the Nunatta campus of Nunavut Arctic College.

At April graduation in Iqaluit this year, there were 64 women and just 27 men. And that’s not including the Nunavut teacher education program, the nursing program, or the Akitsiraq law school, all dominated by women who will graduate in June.

In pre-employment training, there were 12 women and just two men. The Akitsiraq Law Program has 10 female students, and one male.

National income figures from Statistics Canada show another interesting trend. In 1995, women in Nunavut earned an average $326 more per year than women nationally, while men earned an average of $3,169 less than men nationally.

By the 2000 national census, women in Nunavut were earning $974 more per year than Canadian women as a whole, while men were earning $7,099 less than the Canadian average for men.

At the GN’s HR department, Thompson is not surprised by the numbers.

The gender imbalance at the GN has come up again and again, he said, in meetings, in standing committees, and in discussions with Louis Tapardjuk, the human resources minister.

“It’s on the radar for us,” Thompson said.

Yet nobody knows – or cares to speculate on – why that might be the case.

Instead, the HR department is working to gather new information that might provide clues as to why fewer men are working for the territory’s largest employer.

Starting on April 1 of this year, the GN is recording the number of Inuit males versus females who apply for job openings at the GN. Those numbers will show whether men are applying and not getting jobs, or whether they’re just not interested.

Kathy Okpik, deputy minister of HR, said it’s an open question that she would like to see men asked in a survey: “Do you aspire to work in the government?”

What would happen to that information is a political decision, Thompson said, but both he and Okpik have considered policy implications, one of which is an affirmative action program for Inuit men.

“If you can demonstrate statistically that you have a group that’s somehow disadvantaged, you have an obligation to correct that,” Thompson said.

That could mean amending the GN’s priority hiring policy, which gives qualified Inuit beneficiaries priority over other applicants, based on Article 23 of the Nunavut land claim.

“An employment equity program for men would be a pretty contentious thing,” Thompson said.

The department already has someone researching to see if this problem has occurred in other regions. So far, there doesn’t appear to be a precedent.

“Once again, we may be on the cutting edge.”

Okpik points out the irony of women succeeding in government following the gender parity debate that went on before division, when Nunavummiut considered passing legislation that would force more women into seats on in the legislative assembly.

This article is the first in a series on gender imbalances in Nunavut. Next week, a look at women versus men in the education system.

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