Policies that concretely address women’sequality in Canada vary greatly within and across the major partyplatforms, according to a comparative analysis by theCoalition for Women’s Equality (CWE).

“In some instances, we were pleasantly surprised to find a strong verbalcommitment to addressing the chronic gender inequity that persists in thiscountry. Unfortunately, the promises don’t necessarily add up to aconcrete action plan,” said Kathy Marshall, Executive Director ofWomenspace.

In other cases, women scarcely rate a mention in the platforms.

“From child care to anti-violence initiatives, women directly bear thebrunt of most policy decisions. Yet even where they make an appearance inthe platforms, the issues are still largely framed in deceptive,gender-neutral language. Given the scale of what’s at stake, it’s hard tobelieve that in 2006 we would still be fighting for simple recognition,” said Marshall.

The Liberal Party platform document, Securing Canada’s Success, does not have a section devoted expressly to women or women’s equality issues. In fact, one would hard-pressed to find the word “women” except in very few places — preferring the gender neutral term of “people.” Small wonder then that key issues raised by the CWE, such as pay equity and strengthening government mechanisms to deliver substantive equality are given short shrift. One had hoped that the party, which one of its own women ministers has proclaimed as “woman-friendly,” would have thought women merited a few paragraphs in the 78-page document.

The NDP contains elements in its platform of interest to women. However, too often women are not specifically mentioned in the platform, which makes it difficult to analyse whether or not women’s needs specifically will be addressed by the initiatives suggested.

Remarkably, the Conservative Party platform mentions women only twice, once in the context of increasing the penalties for perpetrators of violence, and once in reference to women immigrants who come to Canada “seeking freedom, democracy and opportunity for themselves and their families.” Aside from that, the worldview of the Conservative Party is largely one of “families,” a word that appears 24 times in the 27 pages of their platform. The platform is introduced by a preamble by Stephen Harper in which he asserts that “our plan will help individuals, families, seniors and small business.” While it is obviously the case that in many instances, these “individuals,” “families” or “small businesses” are women, or women-led, the absence of the word “women” reveals that in the view of the Conservatives, the specificity of women’s lives does not deserve their attention.

The Bloc Québécois platform is divided into six themes: democracy, sustainable development for Quebec, the people of Quebec, the land of Quebec, globalization and foreign affairs and fiscal management. The Bloc does not use a gendered analysis in the construction of its electoral platform. However, although the word “woman” does not appear, a number of issues of concern to women’s groups are mentioned.

The Green Party of Canada has expanded a great deal on its social policy agenda since the last election. Women’s equality issues are definitely covered in this platform. Unlike the other platforms, one does not need to read between the lines to seek out mention of equality issues.