Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to respond to the motion put forward by the leader of the Bloc Quebecois regarding the World March of Women, an event that our government welcomes heartily.
The march is bringing together over 5,000 groups in 157 countries around the globe to tell governments and international institutions, such as the World Bank, the IMF and the United Nations, that we need to do a great deal more to end poverty among women.
I want to congratulate every group in our country that has played a major role in organizing this march, particularly the Fédération des femmes du Québec, which played a leading role in making this march a reality.
The Government of Canada shares the goals of the World March of Women 2000 and has been doing what it can to help make it a success. For example, on Wednesday the Canadian ambassador to the United Nations will host a meeting at the conclusion of the march to allow the women to present their resolutions to the secretary general of the United Nations.
I am also very proud of the fact that the federal government has been able to contribute $700,000 to the international march and $200,000 to the national march, for a total of $900,000, in support of women speaking out on this issue.
The reason we support women is that in spite of the fact that we talk about tax cuts, flat taxes and debt reduction, there are still people in this country who live in poverty, and most tend to be women. We still have violence, which tends to be directed mostly at women. We believe NGOs and volunteer organizations play an important role in bringing this to the attention not only of the public but of governments.
We want to continue to ensure that governments in Canada and around the world focus on the issues of the march that these women are bringing to the fore. Our government agrees with the issues. We know there is more to be done both on the domestic front and on the international front, but we need to do this in a consistent and co-ordinated way.
We believe that this is an area in which we can work more closely with women and other equality seeking organizations to see that those goals are met in a way that will ensure that the day to day realities of women and their families are addressed.
Yesterday the Prime Minister met with representatives from the women's march. This is the first time in 15 years that a prime minister has met with women's organizations and spent almost an hour listening very clearly to the issues that were brought to his attention.
Meetings between representatives of the march and some of my cabinet colleagues will be taking place within the next few days to discuss the very specific issues that the women are bringing forward and some of the very specific solutions that they are bringing forward.
We fully support the approach taken by march organizers to initiate a constructive dialogue to get the priorities and the design right as we build for the future. In the last federal budget the government committed an additional $20.5 million over five years to Status of Women Canada to develop and establish an agenda for gender equality. This agenda will expand on the 1995 federal plan for gender equality so that we can further advance the goal of gender equality in the 21st century. That means we will continue to develop gender based analysis which will take in the realities between men and women and how policies and legislation affect them. We will work horizontally to ensure that every single department does gender based analysis on every single piece of legislation and policy that it brings forward.
All governments have a responsibility to take a lead in bringing about changes that affect the lives of women everywhere. This government believes that it is important for women to play their role to the fullest in the economic, social and political life of the country. We want to give them the tools they need to be able to do that.
In 1996, 88% of domestic violence victims in Canada were women. A majority of the persons killed in a situation of domestic violence are women. It is sad to realize that violence remains largely unreported. This is mainly because women are too afraid to seek support from the outside or because they feel intimidated.
Action has already been taken in these areas. These are the building blocks. The actions the government has taken to date on violence against women are the building blocks upon which we hope to advance women's equality and to decrease violence against women, each year addressing those in accordance with the plan that we are going to develop with women.
With the shelter enhancement program, we have committed $43 million to build and improve shelters for women, children and youth who are victims of family violence. Because we want to get at the root causes of family violence, we recently added $7 million to an already over $40 million initiative supported by seven departments in the government to deal with the family violence initiative.
The Minister of Justice has also put $32.5 million toward a crime prevention strategy, $32.5 million over five years. One of the core pieces in that puzzle, on which she is working with community groups, is to specifically address the issue of violence against women.
At the last meeting in August in Iqaluit, our Minister of Justice brought to the table, to the other justice ministers, a project to deal with advancing and improving legislation on peace bonds and against those who commit violence against women. That result will come up by the end of this year.
We know that to strengthen our response to the tragic reality of domestic violence, jurisdictions have to work together. We have to work with women to make this so.
There is an extremely important piece of the strategy in defeating and dealing with violence against women. We know that 88% of the people killed in domestic violence are women and about 75% of them are shot. We know that the gun control legislation brought out in 1996 is an absolutely key piece in decreasing the shooting of women, especially when we know they are shot with guns that happen to be in the house.
Spousal violence is a key factor underlying homelessness. Single women and families headed by women account for an increasing proportion of the homeless population. The government is taking action to address this problem. The 2000 budget confirmed a $735 million strategy to combat homelessness.
A piece of that strategy is specific work with women's organizations, because we know that many women who are homeless are homeless because they are running away. They are the invisible homeless. They do not want to be found because they are running away from violent spouses and partners and they know that if they are found someone will take their children away from them. These women tend to move from place to place. Confidentiality is a key component. We are working specifically with women's organizations to address that confidentiality component.
We also know that a key component of homelessness is not only violence but women's inequality. The face of poverty in Canada and around the world is female. More than two-thirds of the world's population lives on as little as one American dollar a day. Poverty is still a reality in Canada. We accept that this is truth. In 1997, 13% of all Canadian children under the age of 18 lived in low income families headed by a single female parent. This figure represents 40% of all low income families. In 1998 60% of homeless runaway children aged 12 to 17 were female.
Actions that the government has taken are the building blocks. I want to stress that we are not going to do everything in one year. We are beginning with strong building blocks. The actions we have taken are building blocks upon which we will continue to build, working closely with NGOs and women's organizations.
Significant resources have been committed to assisting poor families with children. We know there is an additional $2.5 billion a year for the Canada child tax benefit, which brings the annual investment of new money by the federal government to more than $9 billion, to address the issue of low income and poor families, which we know are mostly headed by women.
There is the early childhood development agreement which, under the recently signed action plan for health, provides another $2.2 billion to help ensure that all Canadian children get the best possible start in life.
We have made changes to the employment insurance program to extend maternity and parental leave from six months to a year to allow new mothers to spend more time with their newborn or newly adopted children. We know that one of the chief stresses on women today is balancing the paid work they do with their family responsibilities, because women still bear the disproportionate burden of caregiving in our society.
We know that further changes to EI, announced recently, will ensure that parents who leave the workforce to remain at home with young children will not be penalized the next time they find it necessary to apply for EI benefits. This is a positive step for women's equality since most of the parents who do remain at home with their children are women.
The government has also introduced several programs to assist aboriginal women whom we know suffer disproportionate discrimination and multiple barriers that prevent them from having access to some of the things that other Canadians take for granted. We are investing $22.5 million annually, plus an additional $100 million over four years on the aboriginal head start program for children living on and off reserves. We have created or improved 7,000 quality child care spaces under the Inuit and first nations child care program because that is a federal jurisdiction. We know that in many other areas in the provinces child care is a provincial jurisdiction.
The future in Canada can belong to women but they need an education to get them there. Enhanced support for students by increasing the amount of tax free income from bursaries, fellowships and scholarships, such as the $2 billion Canadian millennium fund, will help women. It is direct assistance that the federal government is moving to this area.
We have heard questions asked about money from HRDC. That has been specifically used to forgive loans, especially for people who cannot afford to pay them, and we know that those persons tend to be women with dependants, women who are trying to get an education so that they can have a better chance of supporting their children with pride and dignity. The Canada studies grants for high need, post-secondary students with dependants, students with disabilities, high need, part time students and women pursuing doctoral studies is a grant program, not a loan.
I have been talking about actions we have taken for Canadian women but Canada has also taken a leadership role internationally in promoting gender equality and the diversity of women in a number of international fora such as the Francophonie, the United Nations, the Commonwealth and the Asia-Pacific because Canada has written the book on gender based analysis.
If we are to move forward and ensure that the steps we take will actually benefit women, we have to know the figures on the status of women at the moment. We have to be able to set clear strategies within each department so that looking at women's needs will not be only a ghettoized place in Status of Women Canada but so that at the end of the day we will be able to evaluate the strategies and see what worked, what did not work and what we need to do better.
We will continue to reach out to women as we do on our research policy, where many grassroots women's organizations in partnership with academia work on particular grants and particular research projects that help us to understand what are the next steps we need to take.
In terms of international assistance for the women of the world, let us not forget that Canada is part of 155 countries that are marching around the world. We have set aside an additional $435 million for the international assistance envelope over the next three years. We have undertaken a $2.8 billion five year plan to strengthen social development in developing countries.
I know that Canada is one of the few countries to call for an immediate moratorium on debt repayment for the world's heavily indebted nations. In fact Canada, has done that. We have forgiven the debt to the heavily indebted nations.
When the Prime Minister was in Okinawa recently and talked to the G-8, he talked about having every country raise the amount of foreign aid it gives and dedicating it especially to housing, to drinking water, to health issues and to literacy for the women of the world. As members know, my colleague, the minister responsible for international development, has recently doubled the percentage of money in her budget that she has been spending to specifically target those areas in which women around the world need more help.
We can assist women around the world not only with talk, with rhetoric, with gender based analysis and with instruments of government, but also by putting money into the areas where we know women need help: to be able to read and write, to be able to know that their children will not die because the water they drink is unsafe, to know that they have shelter and housing.
Our priorities as a government over the past few years reflect our commitment to a focus on areas where outcomes will improve the quality of life for women. Federal initiatives are helping to combat violence against women and to reduce poverty in Canada and around the world. We know we cannot achieve the ultimate goals where women are absolutely equal, where they fear violence no more and where they are no longer among the poorest in the world, in isolation. We know that we have to do this in partnership.
That is why the Prime Minister met with the women on the march. That is why we have supported the march financially, with a large and substantive amount. We believe that organizations and NGOs have a real role to play in moving the agenda forward, especially when we see political parties talking simply and only about taxes and debt and not even considering and understanding the needs of poor women. We have heard members across the House talk about how changes to EI will help women to be on greater welfare. The reality of women's lives does not factor in with our colleagues in the Alliance who do not seem to understand anything about the lives of real women.
We also think it is extremely important that women move into the political process where they can help make those kinds of decisions. We know that by having a lot of women in our caucus who consider this issue every single week we have managed to push an agenda toward looking at gender equality in all the areas we talked about. Having women in political positions helps to move that agenda forward in a balanced way.
Our Prime Minister has done everything that he can to move women forward. We have the first female head of the Supreme Court Justices of Canada. We now have 31% women in the Senate, where the Prime Minister has been appointing women two to one. He has taken initiatives to name women in winnable ridings because we know that the nomination process has been difficult for women. It is because of this that we have the kind of government we have, one that has been paying attention to the issues of women.
The government understands that achieving gender equality not only enhances the economic, social and political participation of women, it benefits their families, their children and society as a whole. We have always recognized that economic and social progress go hand in hand. This is a government that knows this. This is something we are committed to.
We cannot have strong social programs without a strong economy and we cannot have a strong economy without the social supports that allow every individual to contribute to society and to have some kind of economic autonomy. This is a balanced approach. This is the approach of the government.
We believe that the dignity of all individuals is enhanced when everyone is treated fairly and equally. I want to stress that equality does not mean sameness. Equality means recognizing that different people and groups in society have different barriers to face, and we must have different strategies to address each one of those issues. That is something that I think our friends in the Alliance might be able to learn from us.
We continue to realize that diversity in the policies, plans and programs we put forward is completely important. To reach our goal we must work together in partnership. We must listen to non-government organizations and not treat them like special interest groups, as I know certain members across the way have been wont to describe women's organizations in the past.
I hope that every member of the House will agree with me that we must ensure as we move into the 21st century that no woman or girl is left behind as we move into this new millennium.
It is significant that 100 years ago, when we entered the last century, women could not vote, stand for public office or be appointed to the Senate. We were little more than the chattel of husbands in those days. We were pieces of furniture.
The past century has brought enormous change, but if we are to be competitive and strong the 51% of the population who are women must be allowed to play a very strong role in building the country and in playing a significant and equal part.
I am proud to be part of a government whose vision is based on a future where systemic discrimination against women will be something of the past, for the benefit of all Canadians and the future of our country.