Coalition Demands that Federal Government Prioritize Social Investment in Upcoming Federal BudgetMonday, July 26 2010
A coalition of women's and human rights groups is demanding that the federal government take its own admissions seriously and prioritize social investment, not tax cuts, in the upcoming federal budget.
At an international meeting of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (ECE) this past week, Canada reported that poverty among women in Canada is unacceptably high, particularly among single mothers, Aboriginal women and immigrant and refugee women.
According to the National Council on Welfare's most recent report on poverty in Canada, the poverty rate for single-parent mothers in 2001 was 42.4%. For unattached women under 65, the rate was slightly lower at 40.3 percent (compared to 29.8% percent for unattached men under 65) but higher for unattached women 65 and older (45.6%). Poverty rates for Aboriginal single mothers exceed 75%.
Nuzhath Leedham, Executive Director of the Riverdale Centre for Immigrant Women in Toronto has seen first hand the effects of this poverty on newly immigrant and refugee women in Canada. As a member of a non-government delegation in Geneva, she and others have called on the Canadian government to tackle women's poverty by re-investing badly needed monies in critical programs such as child care, social assistance and housing.
In an upcoming report on the last ten federal budgets to be released by the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), it found that women have borne a disproportionate burden for the government's two biggest financial initiatives in the past decade: tax cuts (a value of $152 billion) and debt reduction ($61.4 billion).
Of the $42.1 billion devoted to new departmental spending in this period, too few resources have gone to programs to alleviate women's poverty, such as social housing , improved access to employment insurance, better employment opportunities, and care-giving supports for the sick and persons with disabilities. The largest allocations have been for Defense, and the Canada Opportunities Strategy, a fund for research, innovation, and limited education and training.
To reverse this trend, monies are also badly needed to support the core operating expenses of women's groups which often provide front line and advocacy services for women. This is particularly important for the Native Women's Association of Canada, which urgently requires funds to undertake research and awareness-raising regarding an estimated 500 missing Aboriginal women in Canada whose disappearances have gone under-investigated, according to a recent Amnesty International study earlier this year.
"Women have paid dearly so that the Canadian government could eliminate the federal deficit, pay down the debt and lower taxes" said Muriel Smith, a non-governmental delegate with the International Council of Women and former deputy Premier from Manitoba. "It is ironic that Canada is presiding over a meeting to discuss countries' progress on a set of international commitments to women's equality at the same time that it has refused to use its own wealth back at home to keep women out of poverty" added Shelagh Day of FAFIA which has coordinated the participation of the non-governmental delegation in Geneva.
In 1995, Canada, along with over one hundred and eighty countries, agreed to an international platform of commitments, the Beijing Platform for Action, on women's inequality in twelve critical areas, including the economy, poverty and health. At that time, Canada agreed to undertake a gender analysis of all of its macro-economic policies and its budgets.
To date, no federal Minister of Finance in Canada in the past decade has fulfilled this commitment, despite the fact that the Canadian government is funding gender budgeting work in some developing countries.
"Minister Goodale must take the reality of women's poverty into account in his forthcoming budget. Without federal monies for improved social assistance rates, affordable and reliable housing, women's centres and other groups, women's poverty will remain embarrassingly high," said Gwen Wood, a delegate from the National Anti-Poverty Organization .