Canada taken to task for ‘systemic erosion’ in gender equality – Metro US

Canada taken to task for ‘systemic erosion’ in gender equality

OTTAWA – Canada won’t be winning many medals next month when the United Nations takes stock of women’s equality around the world, according to a new report that charts “systematic erosion” in the status of Canadian women since 2004.

Citing backward progress in everything from pay equity to child care in Canada, an alliance of feminist and labour activists has sent the UN a stinging, detailed report on the statistical decline in Canadian women’s equality and rights.

“There has been a sharp decrease in institutional and political support by the government of Canada for the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls during the period 2004 – 2009,” says the report, which is intended to counter the more flattering picture the federal Conservative government presented to the UN for the big assessment next

“There has been a systematic erosion of the human rights of women and girls in Canada.”

The UN is convening a special session in March to mark 15 years since the huge, Beijing conference on women in 1995, which laid out plans of action for all participating nations — including Canada.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, in its own report card submitted for this session, argued that “there are many positive stories” to tell about “women and their place in Canadian society.” It argued that real progress had been made in getting more women into universities and the work force, for instance.

Harper has also said that women’s issues will be front and centre when Canada hosts the big G-8 and G-20 meetings later this year. A UN indictment of Canada’s own record on women’s issues could cast an embarrassing shadow over that goal.

Kathy Lahey, a professor of law and gender studies at Queen’s University, whose research is part of the report sent to the UN this week, says that Canada can’t claim many boasting rights at next month’s session or on the international stage at large. She points out, for instance, that while more women may be the work force and at post-secondary institutions, their wage gap with men was actually worse in 2001 than it was in 1981.

In 1981, there was a 15.6 per cent gap between the wages of men and women who had attended university, according to Lahey. It then declined to an all-time low of 12.2 per cent in 1991. But 10 years later, it was up to 18.4 per cent, Lahey says, and there are few signs anything is improving at the moment.

“This backing-off has been going on for quite a few years,” Lahey said.

The report was released Monday by Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action and the Canadian Labour Congress and was billed as a “reality check” on the Harper government’s submission to the UN.

The report notes that Canada has been steadily declining in international rankings of gender disparity over the past few years, at the UN and at the World Economic Forum. In 2006, Canada placed 14th out of 115 countries in terms of the World Forum’s “gender-gap index” – a complex calculation that takes account of wages, education, health and political power. In 2009, Canada had slipped to 25th place.

Even among 22 OECD nations, Canada is lagging in measurement of the gender gap in wages, the report notes – in fifth place, behind the United States.

Lahey says that the loss of a national child-care program – put in place by Paul Martin’s Liberal government from 2004 to 2006, dismantled when Harper came to power – has represented another backward step for women and their economic security in Canada. The Conservatives’ $100-a-month universal child benefit is not an adequate substitute or a realistic alternative for
impoverished mothers, especially single ones, who need to work to support their families, Lahey said.

Though the report is harshly critical of the Harper government – for cuts to women’s advocacy and equity programs, Lahey says that the blame for the decline stretches beyond the realm of the political. She says that the slashing of government revenues, by political parties of all stripes, has made a real, negative impact on the status of Canadian women. She also says
that there are “deep, cultural” forces operating against women’s equality – as evidenced by the fact that any progress is difficult to maintain.

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