Mr. Speaker, on this International Women's Day, I wish to honour women from all walks of life, from all occupations, from all cultures, from all faiths; mothers, single women, women with partners; in short, all women who make up our society.
The main purpose of International Women's Day is to take stock of women's progress toward equality and of what remains to be done.
The fourth international conference on women, which was held in Beijing earlier this year, was quite helpful in achieving this goal. An action plan was established, which participating countries vowed to implement at home.
As far as Canada is concerned, the Secretary of State for the Status of Women just gave us an overview of her government's efforts to achieve equality for women. This is very good, and I applaud her government's declared commitment to the issue of equality between men and women.
Before outlining some of her government's policies, the secretary of state paid tribute, and with good reason, to a great Canadian, Florence Bird. Needless to say, we wish to join in this tribute. As for myself, I would like to remind the House of the work done by a great Quebecer, Simonne Monet-Chartrand.
This staunch and tireless militant feminist was known throughout Quebec and Canada. Yesterday, the award created in her honour was given to Danielle Fournier, who has been involved with various community-based organizations over the past 16 years.
I would now like to come back to the Canadian policy on the status of women and raise a few questions about the impact it will have on women. The secretary of state said earlier that equality was a basic Canadian value. Very well.
However, this statement raises a few questions and comments as far as I am concerned. First, there is the cost issue. How much is the government prepared to pay to promote equality for women? Let me phrase the question differently: On this International Women's Day, will the government undertake to invest as much in helping women enter the job market as it has already invested and will invest in all its initiatives to promote Canadian unity? If indeed equality for women is a basic Canadian value, is it worth at least $14 million, or the amount the government plans to spend on propaganda this year?
Women's groups have seen their meagre grants cut by 31 per cent over the past six years, and would certainly be delighted to learn that they can expect to receive $14 million instead of the $8,165,000 currently allocated to them this year in Status of Women Canada's estimates. I agree with the principle, but what about the costs?
I have another question, on the same subject. How are equal rights to be interpreted and the sexual equality plan to be used in the context of the three budgets tabled to date by this government?
One might be tempted to adopt a cynical view and wonder if this right is not, in fact, a right to unemployment insurance, to poverty and to income supplements, given that the government did not propose any job creation initiative.
I remind the secretary of state that, in her speech, she referred to economic equality. This raises another issue: how can one achieve
economic equality when one does not have a job and must fight with the government to keep the few miserable dollars that one gets from it to survive? I am anxious to discuss this issue with the secretary of state.
I do not want to use International Women's Day as a pretext to give a negative report on the government. However, I want to stress the importance, in the current context, of solidarity between women, and also between men and women.
It is by working together that we will gradually eliminate the obstacles that still prevent women from enjoying true equality. These obstacles are violence, pornography, poverty, unemployment, pay inequity, sexual exploitation and genital mutilation, to mention just a few.
I believe a great deal of solidarity is required to build a just and fair society. Governments will have to promote that solidarity through every means at their disposal.
In conclusion, I want to remind the House of the conditions in which women from other countries live. This morning, Taslima Nasreen reminded us that, today, elsewhere, many women will be raped, sold, forced to engage in prostitution, repudiated, strangled by their husband, brutalized, disfigured or lapidated because they gave birth to a girl.
I would ask this House to observe one minute of silence for all these women.