Since June, Doug Ford’s government has taken steps to systematically undermine women’s rights. On their own, the funding cuts to the Ontario College of Midwives, clawbacks to raises for early childhood educators, and the reversion to the 1996 sex-ed, would not seem as insidious. But taken together, Ford’s government is demonstrating it has an anti-women agenda.
The most obvious attack is the cutting of funding towards the Ontario College of Midwives. On November 8, 2018, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care advised the College that the government would no longer provide it with operational grants, which encompass over one-third of the College’s budget.
The College is instrumental in providing midwives with patient safety training. Midwives are a predominantly women-identifying workforce, compared to other primary healthcare providers who also provide low-risk pregnancy, delivery, and post-birth care to women. In 2018, the Association of Ontario Midwives won a landmark pay equity case, which declared that the government’s failure to monitor and address the extreme gender wage gap for midwives constituted discrimination. Not only is the Ford government now forcing midwives to pay more to the College through budget cuts, but it is also appealing the decision with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
This is not only an attack on a women-led profession, but on pregnant women and trans people who are being denied the prenatal care of their choice. Midwives provide prenatal care and birthing assistance, six weeks of aftercare to ease the burden on new parents, and breastfeeding assistance. Midwives are also often instrumental in detecting medical issues in mother and baby. They are more engaged with parents than the obstetrician-gynecologist, whom parents visit four to six weeks postpartum. Moreover, not all hospitals provide breastfeeding assistance. Approximatley 2.5 per cent of North American women have home births, something only midwives are capable of overseeing.
In Ontario, “there is already far greater demand for services than the province’s 956 registered midwives can provide … upward of 25 to 40 per cent of people who want to have a midwife can’t currently access a midwife.” If the Ford government truly wishes to save money, it should put more emphasis on midwifery, to suggest that women with low-risk pregnancies give birth at home. This could save hospital beds, the cost of drugs, and the time of doctors and nurses. Instead, the government has simply slashed funding for something they don’t believe is important — the lives and careers of women.
In 2016, 96 per centof early childhood educators (ECEs) and ECE assistants in Canada were women. ECEs have specialized training in designing curriculums and assessing children’s developmental needs. The Ford government, as of January, is planning on clawing back the $2-hour wage enhancement grant for these workers. ECEs currently make only $15 to $20 an hour. Lowering fees for a profession that is overwhelmingly comprised of women is a direct attack on women in the workforce.
The recently repealed 2015 Sex Ed Curriculum is disastrous for everyone and dangerous for women. Consent is deemed no longer important by the Ford government. This is either negligence or pure disinterest in the safety of women and transgender people. From 2004 to 2014, the numbers for sexual assault have not gone down, where other violent crime has dropped. Eighty seven percent of reported sexual assault victims were women, according to recent numbers. One in four were children under 13. Sexual assault is a major crisis at university campuses in Canada.
In the repealed 2015 Sex Ed Guide, consent was to be discussed from primary school through high school. The Ford government has reverted to a curriculum that doesn’t even touch on consent. Similarly, girls will not be taught about the different kinds of sexual activities, various types of contraception, and remediation techniques for accidental pregnancy. Denying youth access to this information is dooming them to make complicated choices out of misinformation, fear, and lack of knowledge.
Rolling back the curriculum also leaves out any information about trans and LGTBQ+ rights. Refusing to normalize non-cis sexual orientations and gender fluidity creates a social environment where these people are more likely to commit suicide, report psychological distress, and self-harm. A sex-ed curriculum that teaches what it means to be gender non-conforming can help to protect young children from guilt, bullying, and suicide.
What’s next? Ford gained election momentum appealing to anti-choice groups, so is Mifegymiso soon to be recalled? Will other women-dominated professions have their budgets revoked? Will women’s health be further backburnered? Let’s hope not. But what can you do to prevent this from happening?
If you are an organization or already active building tools to fight these changes, we can amplify your work and research through the Activist Toolkit. The Toolkit is focused on content collaboration and sharing what you are doing with readers who may be interesed.
As an individual, please do feel free to sign some of the many petitions circulating on Change.org, Care2 Petitions and LeadNow opposing these changes. You can select which topics are important to you and will receive email notifications of petitions you might wish to sign. After you sign one petition, you can select the option to have it automatically fill your data for subsequent petitions, making it a 30-second way to be active.
You can also volunteer. Not all volunteering requires marching, attending events, or even leaving the house! There are many activist websites that require writing or research, which you can do from home. A quick Google search of a topic that you want to get involved with should bring you to a selection of websites. Volunteer Canada and Charity Village are also good places to find volunteer postings.
Another way to help is to donate (money or items) to your local women’s shelter or women’s activist group. You can also donate to support the research and advocacy work of Ontario-based or national women’s advocacy groups who are working on specific issues you care about.
An even easier way to get involved is to monitor the news and send a letter, email and/or phone call to your MPP if you see something concerning. The Greenbelt in Southern Ontario was under threat by Ford’s Bill 66, but citizens called their MPPs, signed petitions, and made yard signs to protest it. And it worked!
You can also do simple things, like share articles on your social media to spread the word. You can write letters to your local newspapers. You can attend protests or meet with like-minded people. Whether you join a group or simply sign as many petitions are you can, every bit helps to keep women’s rights protected.
Tina Beier is a freelance writer and a member and volunteer with Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. She is passionate about reproductive justice, animal welfare, and the environment.
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