Midwives should be compensated & treated fairly

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Midwives’ unequal pay represents our refusal to fairly compensate women for their labour.

In September, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO) ruled the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care must settle with the Association of Ontario Midwives (AOM) to correct the pay gap between midwives and those in comparable medical professions, such as community health doctors and nurses.

Though the overall gendered wage gap is no secret, “feminized” industries largely consisting of or impacting women are still isolated, underpaid and undervalued.

Ontarian midwives deliver one in every six babies in the province, and must earn a Bachelor of Health Sciences degree, including a practical placement. They are accredited medical professionals that can operate in a clinic or a hospital. Their work delivering babies statistically results in fewer premature births, higher birth weights, and fewer required Caesarian sections and episiotomies, among other benefits.

Yet midwives still earn less than half the income of salaried Ontario doctors.

Midwifery is unique from a doctor’s work because it involves emotional labour. Midwives visit post-partum clients at home, providing consultation on a baby’s care. Where doctors solve strictly medical concerns, midwives take a nurturing approach to medicine—which is often stigmatized as feminine labour.

The undervaluation of an empowering female health field indicates our culture’s sustained and deep-seated prejudice against women.

There’s an insidious social expectation that the feminized experience of birth should be kept quiet. The AOM has described midwifery as a “gender trifecta of services provided by women, for women, in relation to women’s reproductive health.”

But reproductive health defines a society’s health—the safe birth of future generations impacts everybody.

Though unglamorous, the work female midwives do to perpetuate women’s health, safety, and comfort is noble and essential.

The unfair pay of midwives further speaks to the broader issue of unrecognised feminine labour in our society.

Most of the work women do isn’t only undervalued, but is completely unpaid. Women overwhelmingly volunteer for uncompensated work and do domestic labour such as cooking and cleaning.

Midwives’ lower pay reinforces the expectation that women’s work is done voluntarily, silently, and without complaint.

It’s hard to fix a society that undercompensates women’s work as a symptom of greater cultural sexism—especially when there’s no law to mandate it. But the HRTO’s call to value women’s work fairly is a step in the right direction.

It’s up to us to stay conscious of our biases. If our institutions recognize the ingrained attitudes devaluing female labour, they reinforce the concept people should be paid for their work equitably—and remind us we still have a long way to go.

Journal Editorial Board

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