Tuesday, March 02, 1999Women need more power at work: poll
Canadians say wives have the upper hand in divorce courts
Canadians of both sexes agree women deserve more power in their workplaces but when it comes to divorce courts, many men say women have an unfair advantage.
A National Post/COMPAS poll conducted last month suggests 25% of Canadians believe feminist lobby groups hold too much power. That contrasts with the 29% who said the groups are not powerful enough, and 46% who said the balance is about right.
But when asked if women have too much sway in divorce courts, the number who said "yes" rose to 36%, with just 22% saying they believed they did not have enough power.
Not surprisingly, the respondents were divided along sexual lines. Fifty-one percent of men surveyed said women had too much control, compared with 20% of women themselves.
When it comes to beliefs about how divorces are handled, "there's a real polarization," said Conrad Winn, the president of COMPAS.
A special parliamentary committee on custody and access submitted a report in December urging the federal government to accept a new legal concept of shared parenting that would give mothers and fathers equal rights after divorce.
That report came after intense lobbying by men who felt they had been discriminated against by the courts.
Danny Guspie, the executive director of Fathers' Resources International, a support organization for divorced men, said many of those who come to him have been broken by support payments and legal fees.
The polarization demonstrated in the poll is "a natural reaction," he said. "When one group in society pushes for expansion of their rights, it's going to be at the expense of someone else's rights."
While just 9% of men surveyed said they believe women do not have enough power during a divorce, a full 44% of women said they needed more clout.
And the chasm between the two sides increased when the survey measured those who had been through the process themselves.
In contrast, only 7% of male respondents and 3% of females said women had too much control over the workplace.
And on the issue of taxation, there was also consensus. When asked if the government should channel more financial support to working mothers or those who stay at home, a large majority of both men and women said the two groups should be treated equally.
"I find those results quite consistent with the general portrait I have of where the Canadian public stands on a lot of issues," said Mr. Winn. "The vast majority of Canadians follow a live-and-let-live attitude."
One intriguing finding was the large support for feminist causes in Quebec. In that province, the respondents who said feminist groups had too little power outnumbered those who said they had too much by nearly four to one.
"I think that Quebec versus non-Quebec difference in attitude on women's matters is very interesting," said Mr. Winn. But, he said, it is consistent with Quebecers' more secular and liberal views on matrimony and sexual relationships that have been demonstrated in previous COMPAS research.
It is also interesting that a quarter of all Canadians surveyed said feminist lobby groups have too much power at a time when the largest of such organizations -- the National Action Committee on the Status of Women -- has been forced to lay off most of its staff because of grant reductions.
Another surprising result, said Mr. Winn, is that younger Canadians between the ages of 18 and 27, who tend to be more left-wing than older people, were much more likely than those over 68 to say that women had too much pull in divorce courts.
"I think that probably reflects the younger generation's experiences. They are more exposed to uncloseted homosexuality and don't feel discomforted by it. But they have also been more exposed to the reality of divorce and are more troubled by it," said Mr. Winn.
The poll of 1,014 Canadians conducted between Feb. 11 and Feb. 16 is expected to be accurate to within 3.2 percentage points 19 times in 20 if the results were applied to the entire Canadian population.
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