This month marks the 5 year anniversary of the ascent to power of Canada’s exceptionally charismatic (cough*cough) and calculating Conservative PM Stephen Harper. It’s surprising that Stephen Harper has lasted so long in a minority government, but for a minority PM, he sure has accomplished a lot- if by accomplishments, one is referring to the insidious erosion of women’s rights that has occurred in the last 5 years. Let’s take a look back at what Harper has done to increase gender inequality, shall we?
1) Scrap Universal Day-Care
One of the first moves made by the Harper government was to cancel a national child care program, which most Canadians supported. In its place was offered the Canada Child Tax Benefit, which provides parents the paltry sum of a taxable $100/month per child- you can’t pay a 12 year old to baby-sit more than a couple times for that amount, let alone access quality day-care
According to Sharon Gregson of the Coalition of Childcare Advocates of B.C, as reported by the Tyee
“Other countries are able to provide childcare for up to 100 percent of children between the age of three and six. Other countries, like Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Sweden, England and the United States invest more per capita in early childhood development services than Canada does.”
This move was supported, however, by right-wing group REAL Women- a truly terrifying conservative, anti-feminist, anti-choice, homophobic, judeo-christian group hell-bent on turning back the clock on women’s rights.
2) Drastically Cut Status of Women Canada
Next up, Harper dramatically cut the funding of what was Canada’s most important body for promoting gender equity, Status of Women Canada. Status of Women Canada provided advocacy, research and lobbying on behalf of women’s groups. The government closed 12 out of 16 regional offices of SWC and their operating budget was cut by 38%. Changes were imposed to the criteria for funding for the Status of Women Canada’s Women’s Program that essentially barred advocacy and lobbying groups from receiving funding. Many women-run NGOs no longer receive funding because they combine advocacy with other services — like women’s rape crisis centres advocating for an end to violence against women. The icing on the cake? The word equality was removed from the Status of Women Canada mandate.
With Status of Women gutted and many women’s advocacy groups silenced, who do you think the government takes its cues from when it wants ‘women’s opinions’? That’s right. REAL Women, who had this to say about the $5- million budget cut handed to SWC.
“This is a good start, and we hope that the Status of Women will eventually be eliminated entirely since it does not represent ‘women’, but only represents the ideology of feminists.” (emphasis theirs)
3) Cancel the Court Challenges Program
Up next on the docket- the court program that provided funding to women’s and minority groups to challenge court rulings that violated equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Sounds like a good program, doesn’t it? And it was- it changed the way sexual assault complaints were reported in the media, when in 1988 the Supreme Court ruled that publishing victim’s names discourages reporting of sexual assault and does not allow privacy for victims. And, in 1995, when a gay couple from BC challenged the definition of spouse in the Old Age Security Act, during which the the Supreme Court of Canada for the first time ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited, leading the way for future cases against discrimination.
There have been many, many other important cases brought forth with the court challenges program to further equality and human rights. It seems only fitting that a government that seeks to reduce women’s rights would want to stifle it.
4) Axe Women’s Right to Pay Equity
It’s well known that across the board, women do not earn as much money as men. Harper has taken steps to make sure it stays that way.
5) Leave Abortion out of Canada’s G8 Maternal Health funding
Let’s start with this fact:
“Complications due to unsafe abortion procedures account for an estimated 13% of maternal deaths worldwide, or 67,000 per year. Almost all abortion-related deaths occur in developing countries.” (WHO)
How can a government that in 2009 stated it would champion maternal and child health in developing countries now declare its funding will not be used for abortion? When it is clear women in developing countries will die as a result?
Lack of access to safe abortion services is a serious health concern, and excluding it from Canada’s G8 funding is shamefully ignorant of good public health policy and does not support the rights and equality of women. Moreover, it speaks to a government that is socially conservative in its roots, and given the opportunity, might remove women’s ability to choose abortion in Canada, too.
6) Appoint Fewer Women to Cabinet than Previous Governments
Despite being half the population (really!) women are still under-represented in government in Canada. Women in Harper’s cabinet come in at a woe-full 26% down from the only-slightly –better 30% seen with the previous liberal government. Canada lags behind a lot of the world in terms of women’s representation in government.
That’s right, Canada is a ranked a pathetic 51 out of 135 nations. Rwanda has the highest representation of women in government, by the way.
A lot of damage has been done in the past 5 years under Harper’s conservative government, and though he has tried to silence our voices, we are still here. Still making up half of the population. It’s pretty powerful to imagine how much impact women could have if we demanded to be heard.
Harper may try to pacify us when the next election comes around- pose with kittens, dress in sweaters, smile occasionally- but the record of the last 5-years is very clear. Women’s equality in Canada is going backwards. When it’s time to vote, let’s change this.Tweet