Canada Must Address the Erosion of Women's Rights: UN Committee Delivers Strong Mesage to Federal, Provincal Governments that Cuts to Social Programs are Harming Women

Wednesday, March 5 2003
Canada Must Address the Erosion of Women's Rights: UN Committee Delivers Strong Mesage to Federal, Provincal Governments that Cuts to Social Programs are Harming WomenThe Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) is calling o­n the Canadian government to uphold its obligation under the United Nations Convention o­n the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and move quickly to reverse rising discrimination against women across the country.
The UN CEDAW Committee has issued a highly critical report o­n Canada, finding that a decade of cuts to social programs has harmed women and girls. The Committee noted that the most vulnerable women, particularly the poorest women, including Aboriginal women, elderly women, disabled women, single mothers, and women of colour are hit hardest by government policy shifts and programs cuts implemented since 1994.
"The Committee's concluding comments are an indictment of recent social policy decisions in this country," says Shelagh Day, o­ne of three women who represented FAFIA and the B.C. CEDAW Group at the UN Committee's recent review of Canada's 5th report. "In particular, the Committee criticizes the federal government's 1995 decision to remove conditions from the transfer of monies to provinces and territories. The Committee notes that this has meant the loss of consistent standards for social welfare programs nationwide, and has had a negative impact o­n women's situations across Canada." She adds, ""The Committee holds the federal government principally responsible for ensuring that the terms of the Convention are implemented, and sees backing away from attaching conditions to the transfer of monies as a neglect of its obligations."
The UN CEDAW Committee reviewed Canada's 5th Report o­n its compliance with the Convention during its 28th session, which was held in New York City from January 13 to January 31. Canada has been a signatory to the Convention since 1981, obligating the federal, provincial and territorial governments to comply with its terms and to report o­n their compliance every 4 years. "In their questioning of Canada, Committee members expressed shock about the poverty rates of women in Canada, and were particularly appalled by the numbers of single mothers, Aboriginal women and women of colour who are living in poverty," says Margot Young, who also represented FAFIA and the B.C. CEDAW Group at the review. "In a country as wealthy as ours, they found poverty rates of 54 per cent for single mothers, 43 per cent for Aboriginal women, 37 per cent for women of colour, and 48 per cent for women who are recent immigrants, astonishing."
"Committee members were also concerned that cuts to social programs have deepened women's social and economic vulnerability, eliminating their good jobs, increasing their burden of unpaid work, and making them less able to leave abusive relationships, " says Young. (para.33)
Aboriginal lawyer and women's rights leader Sharon McIvor who also traveled to New York says: "the CEDAW Committee were also shocked by the situation of Aboriginal women and expressed intense concern about 'the persistent and systematic discrimination faced by Aboriginal women in all aspects of their lives', including in employment, education, and in the criminal justice system."
"The Committee found that Aboriginal women are discriminated against overtly in law in Canada, specifically because Aboriginal women living o­n reserves do not enjoy matrimonial property rights, and because the residual discrimination caused by the "marrying out" provision of the Indian Act has not yet been corrected," said McIvor. "Aboriginal women have been lobbying for years to get these problems fixed. Now the CEDAW Committee has said that Canada's failures are incompatible with international human rights law,"(para. 37) she notes.
Fely Villasin, executive director of INTERCEDE says: "The CEDAW Committee also recommended that Canada grant permanent resident status to women admitted to Canada as domestic workers and caregivers, eliminate the requirement that they live-in the employer's household in order to minimize if not eliminate the abuses and exploitation they currently experience, and grant them adequate social security."
Cecille Ban-Ang, a member of INTERCEDE, said: "We have been crying and fighting for these changes. Now we expect to see them happen."
Andrée Côté, director of Legislation and Law Reform of the National Association of Women and the Law says that important attention is paid to women's inability to exercise their legal rights due to changes and flaws in government policy.
"The Committee found that the trend to cut funds for family and poverty law legal aid - as was recently done in B.C. - discriminates against women," says Côté. "Women are the principal users of civil legal aid in contrast to men who are the principal users of criminal legal aid. Making family law legal aid unavailable prevents women from accessing their rights." (paras. 31 and 32)
"The Committee also recognized that women must have full access to legal assistance in order to exercise their constitutional right to equality. This access is currently blocked by the restrictive mandate of the Court Challenges Programme, which provides test case funding for equality challenges to federal law, but not to provincial law," she says.
Day adds that Florence Ievers, the head of the Canadian delegation to the CEDAW Committee's review of Canada, promised that Canada would make its best efforts to implement the Committee's recommendations. "We are looking forward to working with Canadian governments to reverse the patterns of discrimination against women, says Day.
FAFIA, an alliance of 40 Canadian women's group, submitted a report to the CEDAW Committee entitled Canada's Failure to Act: Women's Inequality Deepens. This report can be found at http: The Concluding Comments of the CEDAW Committee can be found at:
For further information, please contact:Shelagh Day: 604-872-0750 (Vancouver)Margot Young: 604-822-9685 (Vancouver)Sharon McIvor: 250-378-5969 or 250-378-7479 (Merritt, British Columbia)Fely Villasin and Cecille Ban-Ang: 416-483-4554, ext. 24 (Toronto)Andrée Côté: 613-241-7570 (Ottawa)

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