BC Women's Centres Demand Federal Accountability on Women's EqualityWednesday, July 28 2010
The BC Coalition of Women's Centres is joining the voices of other groups to sound the alarm bells on Steven Harper's speedy erosion of women's equality in this country, and to call for the immediate resignation of Status of Women Canada Minister, Bev Oda.
The Federal Conservative Government recently announced a $5 million funding cut to SWC, the federal government agency that works to promote gender equality. In addition to eliminating funding for independent research studies and removing "equality" and "advocacy" from their group project funding criteria, Minister Oda revealed on November 30th that SWC would now be closing 12 out of 16 regional offices, including the BC/Yukon provincial office, thereby cutting 61 positions and removing direct access to the agency for millions of women.
Minister Oda proclaims that these cuts are intended to "eliminate waste", create "efficiency" and even "modernize" SWC. "The dismal irony is that the cuts and guideline changes will actually have the opposite effect," says Michelle Dodds, of the North Shore Women's Centre. "Instead of moving SWC forward, what the Harper Government is doing is taking women's equality backwards to even before SWC's creation in 1976."
A November fact sheet from the Canadian Institute for the Advancement of Women illustrates that equality has never been achieved for all women in Canada and is still very much a far-away dream. The fact sheet shows that in
2003 women with high school degrees earned 71% of what male graduates earned and women with post-secondary degrees earned only 68.9% of their male counterparts. Federal incarceration rates for Aboriginal women increased 74.2% between 1996 and 2004 while the overall federal inmate population went down by 12.5%. Also notable is the fact that women make up 50.4% of the population in Canada, but have only 20.8% of seats in the House of Commons.
"This government doesn't even begin to understand the realities of women's struggles in this province," says Benita Bunjun of Vancouver Status of Women. In BC, women's groups relied on funding from SWC to take on projects such as investigating the sexual exploitation of girls in rural communities, finding out about barriers for women in Canada's immigration policy, and coordinating action on the feminization and racialization of poverty. "With the changed guidelines that eliminate equality, research, lobbying, and advocacy, these important projects are in jeopardy," says Bunjun.
Micki Smith of the Kelowna Women's Resource Centre explains, "with the regional office closing, we won't even be able to communicate with someone who knows what the specific situation is like for women in BC and can assist in our project development. In addition, the closure will increase the lack of communication, accountability and transparency to women in BC by the government. By closing down the regional office, the federal government sends a clear message that 'we don't want women's equality to have a presence in this province', pushing women in the margins and back 30 years.
Women in BC and across Canada are in trouble.
On this National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the BC Coalition of Women's Centres is demanding accountability from the federal government by calling for:
- the immediate resignation of Minister Oda,
- the reversal of the $5 million cut to the SWC budget,
- the reinstatement of "equality and advocacy" in the funding guidelines,
- the allocation of funding for independent research studies, and
- the cancellation of regional office closures in BC and across the country.
"Minister Oda is simply not acting in the best interests of women, and is certainly not promoting women's equality," says Dodie Goldney of the Kamloops Women's Centre Society. She should be ashamed that on this National Day to take action on violence against women, she is actually creating the circumstances for women's experiences of violence to deeply worsen."
The Coalition is encouraging women across BC to communicate their disapproval of SWC's direction to Minister Oda, Prime Minster Harper, and their local MP.
The BC Coalition of Women's Centres is a provincial network of rural and urban Women's Centres seeking an end to the violence, poverty and other human rights abuses experienced by women in British Columbia.