While Woman Abuse Prevention Month rapidly draws to a close, the United Nations 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence is ramping up its efforts to keep issues of gendered violence in our hearts, minds and actions.
This makes it the perfect time to look at how well the Canadian government is tackling the epidemic of violence against women and girls. After all, your international credibility is enhanced when your own house in order.
This week the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) called on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to establish a comprehensive National Gender Equality Plan addressing the barriers to women’s equity in Canada.
Canada was instructed to immediately address the gender wage gap, high rates of poverty among women, sex discrimination in the Indian Act, insufficient affordable childcare, inadequate civil legal aid and violence against women.
Within two years, Canada must provide a report to the committee detailing implementation of the CEDAW Inquiry's recommendations, as well as progress made in developing and implementing an effective National Gender Equality Plan.
Unfortunately, the adoption of a working plan for Gender Equality has been 21 years in the making -- so far.
"Governments and other actors should promote an active and visible policy of mainstreaming a gender perspective in all policies and programmes so that, before decisions are taken, an analysis is made of the effects on women and men, respectively," From the Beijing Platform for Action, 1995.
The Government of Canada adopted the Federal Plan for Gender Equality in 1995 as a response to the Beijing Platform for Action created at the Fourth World Conference on Women (1995).
The key commitment of the Federal Plan was to “implement gender-based analysis throughout federal departments and agencies.” The Conservative government paper goes on ad nauseam so suffice it to say the bottom line is that individual departments were given discretionary powers whether to investigate how policy may impact women and men differently.
Reality is, Canada effectively has no National Plan for Gender Equality. However, the Liberal government has declared a renewed commitment to Gender Based Analysis and is working to strengthen its implementation across all federal departments.
According to the GBA Plus web site, “GBA+ is an analytical tool used to assess the potential impacts of policies, programs, services, and other initiatives on diverse groups of women and men, taking into account gender and other identity factors. The ‘plus’ in the name highlights that GBA+ goes beyond gender, and includes the examination of a range of other intersecting identity factors such as age, education, language, geography, culture and income.”
The site acknowledges that equality gaps remain. Women in Canada still earn only 73.5 cents for every dollar that men earn. Women are most often the victims of domestic and sexual violence. Women continue to be under-represented in leadership and executive positions, occupying only 10 per cent of positions on corporate boards and a paltry 26 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons.
Women experience a variety of oppressions that tangibly impact their lives. Women from northern and rural communities are more likely to experience poverty, Aboriginal women are far more likely to experience sexual and intimate partner violence and immigrant women experience higher rates of unemployment.
Being a person who hates to lament an issue without a plan of action to put in place, here’s a few suggestions to help kick start the Liberal governments laudable initiative of crafting a National Plan for Gender Equality that will ensure women’s rights are considered before policy and laws are crafted and implemented. After all, gender equality is protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is part of the Constitution of Canada.
Establish gender parity across all parties and within Parliament in time for the next election. Truth is, on October 19, 2016, the federal government had the opportunity to accomplish this task by voting in favour of NDP MP Kennedy Stewart’s private member's Bill C-237: The Candidate Gender Equity Act. This act would have implemented a minor amendment to the Canada Elections Act by slightly altering established financial enticements in order to incentivize parties to ensure gender parity during elections.
After every election, political parties are partially reimbursed for election expenses. Taxpayers reimburse political parties for up to 80% of funds spent on research, advertising and other election activities. Bill C-237 proposed some of that money be withheld should a party fail to put forward a gender-balanced candidate list.
Stewart's act stated, "The systemic underrepresentation of women in politics is not caused by a lack of willingness to stand for elected office, but rather by barriers within the process used by political parties to select candidates."
Just ask Alberta MLA Sandra Jansen. While running for the leadership of the federal Conservative Party, Jansen became disillusioned with the direction the party was taking. When Jansen crossed the floor to join the New Democrats a torrent of misogynous vitriol rained down on her. Jansen has since been assigned a security detail after receiving violent, sexist and threatening comments.
Misogynous behaviour like this not only impacts women currently in politics, but also women and girls still dreaming of entering politics. Women’s voices are once again silenced and their interests left unaddressed because they have been robbed of the opportunity of serving their constituents, their country, and their fellow sisters.
Implementing Bill C-237 required Elections Canada to include gender on all nomination forms. This small change would have allowed transgender and non-binary individuals to self-identify and provided political parties the ability to recruit candidates from another marginalized segment of the population. Stewart suggested using the 45 per cent male, 45 per cent female, and 10 per cent unspecified formula in his bill.
Unfortunately, our feminist Prime Minister whipped his party and voted down this important piece of legislation that would have advanced 52 per cent of Canada’s population.
The best way of preventing this dictatorial behaviour from finding a home in Parliament is to ensure majority governments become a thing of the past -- segue to true proportional representation.
Many of you probably attended an electoral reform town hall this fall. I was at one hosted by Oakville North-Burlington Liberal MP Pam Damoff and Canada’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Mark Holland.
Damoff, who was supportive of Bill C-237, and Holland both touted the fact that the Liberal government was committed to instituting proportional representation before the next federal election.
Among the benefits listed was the fact it’s virtually improbable that any one party could form a large majority government as Harper did and Trudeau has done. And, that is incredible because it means the different parties would have to work together to create policies and laws.
The benefit for Canadians? We could stop perpetuating the ‘us versus them’ conflict that we currently have in Parliament. Instead, parties could work toward a greater good rather than voting against practical, much needed changes that would have impactful implications simply because the opposition came up with the idea first.
If a small majority, or heaven forbid a coalition government, were in Parliament, then Bill C-237 would be in place today. The ripple effect of this bill would be that more women could enter political races, get voted to represent constituents, bring a female voice to Parliament Hill and ensure a gendered lens was in place to filter all Parliamentary activities.
Having more women in Parliament would mean issues that are fundamentally basic to establishing a truly equitable society for all women, men and children would gain momentum. The grassroots issues could be addressed instead of politicians picking the issue of the day to support based on anticipated voter support or backlash in the next election.
Canada urgently needs to create:
- A National Affordable Child Care Program
- A National Housing Strategy
- A National Food Policy
- A National Pharmaceutical Strategy
- A National Guaranteed Income
- A National Action Plan to Address Violence Against Women
Look closely at this list of policies and strategies. These issues are important to women and must be created and implemented with the assistance of a gendered lens. These are also strategies and policies that Canadians working and volunteering in the gendered violence sector have long advocated for.
Without these essential policies and strategies in place the cycle of violence will continue unabated.
It’s admirable that gender equity and the empowerment of women and girls is at the core of Trudeau’s international development strategy. I applaud the government’s efforts. However, Canadian women and girls are also waiting for their voices to be heard, their worth validated, and their needs met by a federal government that reflects the gendered make up of our society and creates policy through a gendered lens.
There’s no time like the present because the world is watching and waiting too.
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