Pay Equity and Access to Justice: UN Tells Canada to Act on Women's Rights

Wednesday, March 5 2003
Pay Equity and Access to Justice: UN Tells Canada to Act o­n Women's RightsThe United Nations Committee o­n the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) has confirmed what the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) and other women's organizations have been saying for years: the Government of Canada's cut to social programs have exacerbated women's poverty and further decreased their quality of life.
In a highly critical report, CEDAW recommends that the government take action o­n a whole series of issues, ranging from maternity benefits and childcare, to socially assisted housing, funding for crises centres and women's shelters and proactive measures to increase women's participation in the political process. In particular, it recommends that Canada accelerate its implementation efforts as regards pay equity, and that it ensure sufficient funding for family law legal aid across the country.
Despite Canada's assurance that women are enjoying unprecedented economic and social growth, the UN Committee expressed its concern for the high percentage of women living in poverty, in particular Aboriginal women, women living alone, women of colour, immigrant women and women with disabilities, for whom poverty persists or even deepens. It has recommended that Canada systematically proceed with gender-based impact analysis for all law reform and program initiatives.
CEDAW made these remarks after reviewing Canada's 5th Report o­n its compliance with the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which Canada has been a signatory since 1981.
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. It urges the federal government to take concrete steps to ensure that women have access to justice, and that it provides sufficient legal aid for family law and poverty law issues to women across Canada.
CEDAW also recommends that funds be available for equality rights test case litigation, which could be done by expanding the mandate and the budget of the Court Challenges Programme, which currently provides test case funding for cases that challenge federal law, but not provincial legislation. The Committee also urges the government to hasten its efforts in implementing equal pay for work of equal, and adopting effective pay equity measures at all levels of government.
NAWL requests that the government of Canada provide women with the assurance that it will fully implement the recommendations put forth by CEDAW. "Canada, as a signatory of the Women's Convention, has the moral, political and legal obligation to ensure the full promotion of women's equality rights," says Andrée Côté, director of Legislation and Law Reform at NAWL. "We hope that the federal government show the political will and actually commit the resources to ensure women's access to legal aid in family law cases, and the adoption of a pro-active, stand alone pay equity legislation. The government needs to put women's equality back o­n the political agenda".
NAWL is a national non-profit women's organization that promotes the equality rights of women through legal education, research and law reform advocacy. NAWL is a member of Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, an alliance of 40 Canadian women's group, which submitted a report to the CEDAW Committee entitled Canada's Failure to Act: Women's Inequality Deepens. This report can be found at http: www.fafia.org. The Concluding Comments of the CEDAW Committee can be found at:www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/28sess.htm#sstmts.For more information:Sharmila Biswas-Mistry ,communications officer 613-241-7570 ext. 26sharmila@nawl.ca, www.nawl.ca

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