Thursday, March 8

YWCA - not a lot to celebrate

Today is International Women’s Day, a time to celebrate the achievements and advancements of women around the globe. But there is not a lot to celebrate in Canada this year according to Paulette Senior, CEO of YWCA Canada, this country’s largest multi-service women’s organization.

Ms. Senior has just returned from New York where she attended the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, an international gathering of governments devoted to women’s equality. This year the Commission focused on the elimination of all forms of violence and discrimination against girls.

Ms. Senior was deeply disappointed that Bev Oda, the Minister Responsible for the Status of Women did not attend the meetings. She was also disappointed by the statement presented to the Commission by the federal government which gives a clear indication Canada is falling behind as an international leader on women’s issues. “There was little substance from the Canadian government to indicate what the global community should be doing to protect the rights of girls to quality public education, health care and other public services, and to be free from violence, poverty, and the many barriers to full equality,” says Ms. Senior.

The statement mentions “close partnerships with women’s organizations, non-governmental organizations and other sectors of society” and states that “the voluntary sector has played a crucial role in raising public awareness and combating violence against women and girls.” Yet the Canadian delegation included only one women’s organization.

This same government has eliminated funding to women’s organizations like YWCA Canada who do crucial research and advocacy work on key issues such as violence against women. Last year, YWCA Canada released the second phase of a ground breaking national study on violence against women shelters that was heralded at both national and international forums. The study made significant recommendations to the federal government on how to help women fleeing violence.

“Violence against women is not a private matter but a world issue that requires concerted research and advocacy efforts if we are going to achieve any results,” says Ms. Senior. Yet, recent changes to Status of Women Canada’s mandate and funding criteria have created a setback for YWCA Canada in completing this critical research and policy development work.

In just over a year in public office the federal government has cut $5 million dollars from Status of Women Canada, closed 12 of its offices, cancelled the national child care program and the Court Challenges Program, refused to make advancements on pay equity, and imposed a no research and no advocacy rule on women’s organizations receiving federal funding.

It all adds up to a blatant disregard for Canadian women, young girls and their families, despite the fact Prime Minister Harper pledged in the last federal election that his government would respect Canada’s international obligations to protect and respect the rights of women. It is clear from the government’s record it is not fulfilling this commitment. This seriously impacts Canada’s ability to maintain its reputation and credibility as a world leader on women’s issues.

Were it not for the tenacious advocacy efforts of women such as the late Doris Anderson, Canada would not have gained a reputation as a role model on the issue of women’s equality. Canada could not pride itself on having a Charter of Rights that enshrines equality rights, and being a leader in research on women’s issues. As the world looks to bolster equality through the UN Women’s/Gender Equality Architecture initiative, our government is dismantling Status of Women Canada, an internationally recognized institution.

We urge the Canadian government to put this country back on track by reversing closures of regional Status of Women offices and ensuring core funding for women’s equality seeking groups and independent research on women in Canada, reinstating government funding for the Court Challenges Program, establishing pro-active and effective pay equity for women, reinstating the cancelled national child care program, and implementing the recommendations from Canada’s 2003 review under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women

Give us something to celebrate on International Women’s Day!

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