On International Women's Day, Canadian Women's Groups Seek Greater Accountability from their Governments

Monday, July 26 2010

At a global conference currently underway at the UN in New York, over 25 women's groups from Canada are presenting their views on Canada's progress on a major international platform of action for women's equality signed ten years ago in Beijing. One hundred and eighty-eight countries, and thousands of women are in attendance at the conference.

The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) is a coalition of women's and human rights organizations which monitors Canada's activity on its international obligations to women. We have prepared several reports that document the status of women at the national and regional levels in Canada.

These include:

The findings contained in these reports paint a less than flattering picture of Canada's progress in many areas of women's equality.

Some of the highlights include the following:

The depth of poverty has intensified for many women in Canada

While poverty rates for some women in Canada have moderately improved over the past decade, rates have either not improved or have worsened for many groups of women, despite Canada's strong economic performance over the past eight years.

In 2002 (the most recent year for which there are statistics), 51.6 per cent of single mothers, 41.5 per cent of unattached women over sixty-five, and 35 per cent of unattached women under sixty-five were living below the poverty line. Unattached men have significantly lower poverty rates.

Welfare incomes are far below the poverty line in all provinces and territories. The National Council of Welfare in their report Welfare Incomes 2003 concluded: "Welfare incomes which reach only one fifth or one third of the poverty line are unacceptably low and should be raised at the earliest possible date. Rates this low cannot be described as anything other than punitive and cruel."

The last ten federal budgets have overlooked most women's realities

In 1995, governments the world over committed to incorporating gender perspectives in the design, development, adoption and execution of all budgetary processes. South Africa, France and Sweden are now creating gender responsive budgets. Canada is not.

Despite the adoption in 1995 of gender based analysis in ten federal government departments in Canada, it has yet to be applied to any federal budget in Canada.

A ten year budget analysis (1995- 2004) written by award-winning economist Armine Yalnizyan released by FAFIA in February 2005 revealed that federal fiscal choices have done little to improve most women's economic security. This report also shows that massive spending cuts unduly hurt women in the deficit era (1995- 1997) and women's interests have been largely ignored since Ottawa began posting surpluses (since 1998).

Aboriginal women's human rights are ignored in critical areas in Canada

Aboriginal women do not enjoy the same protection in law, and from the justice system, that non-Aboriginal women do.

Aboriginal women living on reserves do not have the same matrimonial property rights as other women, nor can they seek protection and redress under human rights legislation when they are discriminated against by Band Councils and Band officials.

Amnesty International reported in 2004 that the disappearances and deaths of 500 hundred Aboriginal women have gone unnoticed, and unsolved, over the past twenty years. Many of these women were the likely victim of racialized gender violence, including rape.

Political representation of women in elected bodies remains low in Canada

Canada currently rates 34th in the world in terms of the political representation, despite committing to take pro-active measures to ensure higher levels of participation by women in elected bodies.

Nationally, since 1993, women's participation has stagnated at 21% and shows no sign of increasing. Provincial- territorial representation of women rages from only 11% (Nova Scotia) and 32% (Quebec).

In contrast, data from the the Inter-Parliamentary Union demonstrates that due to government action, including the introduction of party incentives and/or quotas, Rwanda has achieved 48% of elected women in its national Parliament, Sweden has 45.3% women, , Costa Rica 35%, Norway 38.2%, and Argentina 33.7%.

Women's access to justice in Canada has deteriorated

Despite the recognition among governments in 1995 that legal aid is critical to women's human rights, Canada no longer guarantees women's access to legal aid.

While the federal government in Canada provides specific and targeted funding to provinces for the provision of criminal legal aid (primarily used by men), in 1995 it specifically stopped funding civil legal aid.

It is widely understood that women's legal aid needs lie disproportionately in the area of civil and family law because of the lower rates of criminal activity among women.

The results of inadequate access to legal aid have been documented. For example, women in abusive relationships remain in unsafe conditions. Immigrant women whose sponsorship is withdrawn by a spouse (often an abusive spouse) are denied coverage for an application to vary the terms of their immigration status and as a consequence are deported.

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