Paid Internships: A Feminist Struggle

November 22nd, 2018
Bloc text

by Sophie Mederi for the Regroupement Naissance-Renaissance

As many of you know, over 50,000 students have been on strike to demand remuneration for their internships since the beginning of the week. Many university student associations in Montreal, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Trois-Rivières and Outaouais, as well as the student associations of the CEGEPs Saint-Laurent, Vieux-Montréal, Marie-Victorin and the Collège de Maisonneuve, have adopted strike mandates for the week of November 19-23. There are also whispers of a general unlimited strike during the winter semester if the government ignores the demands. In short, students are collectively fed up with the situation, with good reason.

At the Regroupement Naissance-Renaissance, we are well-positioned to understand what interns in social work and sexology, among others, must contend with when completing internships, as we’ve had the opportunity to welcome many of them over the past years. These interns allowed us to implement many projects that we would not otherwise have had the time to accomplish, due to a lack of funding―especially since the government soured on the community sector and has happily underfunded it. Do you know what? Every one of our interns was a woman.

"Unpaid internships are commonplace in professions that are traditionally and predominantly occupied by women. There is a widespread belief that, to be teachers, nurses, social workers, midwives or specialized daycare workers, you need to have a vocation and a natural propensity for selflessness. It's only normal then, that we have to accumulate hundreds of internship hours without receiving a cent before we can exercise our profession... a logic which somehow does not apply to students in medicine, engineering or law."
Source: Comités unitaires sur le travail étudiant (CUTE)

We believe that this is a feminist struggle of the highest order and the decision to pay for some internships over others based on profession is pure sexism. Let's take the example of midwifery students in Quebec. Midwives are frontline professionals, as are doctors. Over the course of their 4.5 years of university studies (small aside: it’s fair to wonder, or to deduce without much risk of being mistaken, whether the government limited the duration of their program to 4.5 years, or one semester shy of a PhD, in order to limit their salaries), undergraduate midwifery students will work 2,350 unpaid internship hours. 2,350 hours of unpaid time at all hours of the day or night. Not only is this a major concern for other health care professionals, it constitutes a barrier to access to the profession.

It's a fact that students in majority-female programs are especially affected by the devaluation of the work they do in their internships. An ultimatum was sent to the government on November 1, 2018, insisting that it offer a remuneration for all internships throughout all academic programs and at all levels of study as of the start of the 2019 winter semester. We wish to raise our voices alongside them to decry this injustice and call for change.

Co-signed by:
Fédération des femmes du Québec
Coalition pour la pratique sage-femme du Québec
Réseau des Tables régionales de groupes de femmes du Québec
Centre de lutte contre l’oppression des genres
Regroupement québécois des CALACS

Source (in French)