That the House call on the government to reinstate women's equality as the goal of the Women's Program at Status of Women Canada.
Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to bring this motion forward, but I am also saddened by the reality that in this day and age I still have to stand up and fight for equality for women in our country.
A few months ago, on October 18, the country celebrated Person's Day, a day recognizing the historic victory women won in Canada when they were declared persons under Canadian law. That was 1929. Almost 80 years later, women are still striving to achieve true equality with their male counterparts in society, in the workplace, in the household and even in Parliament.
Equality is not a word to use lightly. Fundamentally for most Canadians, the word “equality” describes a set of values, more important, a vision that Canadians have fought hard for. A vision alone will not create equality. Hard work through research and advocacy is necessary and this is not yet changed. We may have de jure equality rights, but we need substantive equality in Canada. After all, using the word “equality” without adding any substance to the terms and conditions of the women's program is frankly a very deceptive and dangerous road to take.
The history of the politics behind the women's program is a very interesting one.
In 2006 the Conservative government chose to ignore its own officials and removed the word “equality” from the terms and conditions of the women's program at Status of Women Canada.
After two years of concerns expressed by many across the country, including members of the Standing Committee on Status of Women and my caucus, I tabled this motion in November 2007 to bring the goal of equality back into the women's program.
Recently, without any fanfare, or notification or any press release or no notification to the committee, which originally highlighted this issue, the minister revised the wording of the home page of Status of Women Canada's website to include the word “equality”. The minister did not mention any change to the mandate in her opening remarks to the committee this past Tuesday. In fact, it was soon discovered that this change was meaningless as the funding guidelines for the women's program did not reflect this so-called changed position.
Today, after two media releases which highlighted this error, our office has just observed the magical changing of the mandate on the website of the women's program. We must be one effective opposition and that must be one desperate government. Nevertheless, women's groups and organizations are still being ignored because nothing has really changed.
The Conservative government ignored the valuable work that was being done by countless women's groups and organizations, which relied upon funding from Status of Women Canada to do research and advocacy. The government ignored the fact that the tireless work of these groups and organizations had an impact on women's rights in many ways.
For example, it was women's advocacy groups that helped bring about change, including the introduction of maternity benefits in the Unemployment Insurance Act in the seventies, family law legislation which would ensure economic justice for wives and improvements in child support guidelines and amendments to federal and provincial human rights and justice legislation to prohibit and prosecute acts of sexual harassment.
When the government removed the word and the concept of equality from the funding guidelines of the women's program, it turned back the clock. Without any changes to the funding eligibility requirements, the word “equality” has little meaning for the groups and organizations.
Instead of maintaining the original mandate for the women's program and continuing the work that needs to be done to advance women's equality, the government closed 12 of 16 regional Status of Women offices across Canada. It totally eliminated the policy research fund, which supports policy research on gender equality issues, and it changed the rules of eligibility for funding. This is what matters most.
Today, while not for profit organizations across Canada have either closed or downsized because of the punitive measures taken by the Conservative government, these changes have paved the way for Canadian tax dollars to go right into the coffers of for profit organizations.
Recently, several of my colleagues on this side of the House revealed the incredible disparities that existed with pay equity and economic security for Canadian women. The disparities do not stop here.
A federally commissioned report entitled “Equality for Women: Beyond the Illusion”, released in July 2006, reveals the following facts: girls are the victims of more than four out of five cases of sexual assault on minors; four out of five one parent families are headed by women; the employment income gap between male and female university graduates has widened; and women still only earn 71¢ for every $1 a man makes. The list goes on. We know the House has only one in five female members of Parliament.
A lot of work does need to be done, and despite what the Conservative government would want us to think, we cannot do it alone. We need the knowledge, the dedication, the passion and the results that advocacy and research organizations provide. We need the grassroots.
Now that these organizations are no longer eligible for the funding that they used to get for research and advocacy activities because of this unilateral change two years ago, how can these organizations contribute in the ways that they have in the past? How can we achieve the full participation of women in the economic, social, they said cultural, and political life of Canada without the work of these groups that research and advocate for equality? Equality is important.
I will now spend a few minutes focusing on what I believe are three critical areas where we need to achieve gender equality: economic, social and political. All three aspects are heavily intertwined. Economically, independent women are able to secure social rights for themselves and their children. Furthermore, those who fall behind economically and socially will not be able to find the time to be involved politically. Of course, as we see here, with a lack of political leadership, it will be that much harder to fight for economic and social rights for women.
On all three fronts, the Conservative government failed to address the incredible challenges that Canadian women face. For example, at every level of education women in Canada earn less than men. In 2003, women who were high school graduates earned 71% of what male high school graduates earned at full time work. Similarly, women with post-secondary degrees earned 68.9% of what their male counterparts earned.
In female dominated professions such as teaching, nursing and clerical work, men still earned more on average and the majority of minimum wage workers in Canada are women. These statistics are even worse for women of a visible minority or of aboriginal descent.
Today, women are finding it harder to keep up as the primary caregivers because of the rising costs of raising their children and finding the care for them that they need. Removing the word equality from the mandate of the women's program is one thing, but the government has also turned its back on Canadian women in other ways.
In 2006, the government ignored the recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women which endorsed the changes to pay equity legislation as stated by the federal task force on pay equity. To top it off, the government chose to deliver child care through the mailbox and Canadian women are still waiting for the government to fulfill its promise of creating thousands more desperately needed child care spaces.
There is no choice when there is no space and no spaces in Canada are being added by the government.
There are real issues of violence against women. In 2006, Canada had 553 shelters for women. These shelters admitted more than 100,000 women and dependent children than in previous years. Statistics Canada shows that three-quarters of these women were victims of abuse, 66% were feeling psychological abuse, 55% physical abuse, 41% threats, 37% financial abuse, 28% harassment, and 23% of these women were victims of sexual abuse.
There were close to 5,000 solved homicides between 1994 and 2003, of which 38% were family related. Spousal homicides accounted for about 18% of all solved homicides and almost half of all family homicides. The point here is that women are much more likely than men to be killed by their spouse. The spousal homicide rate against females is five times higher than the rate for males. Too often women stay in physically and/or sexually abusive relationships. Those who do get out of these relationships have difficulty finding affordable housing.
In 2003, 42% of renter families headed by single mothers had difficulty finding affordable housing. The government may say that it funds service programs, but in reality it is not really funding real change through the research of the advocacy that formally was fostered by the women's program.
In reality, removing the word equality is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this government's lack of action and disregard for Canadian women who need support the most. But it is indicative of its thought pattern.
In 2006, the government cut the budget for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation by $45 million. In the same year it also announced a $200 million reduction in federal contributions over the previous year toward creating new affordable housing through signed agreements with the provinces and territories.
Aboriginal women in Canada are also confronted by a number of challenges. The life expectancy of an aboriginal woman is 76.8 years versus 82 years for a non-aboriginal woman. Aboriginal women are more than three times more likely to report being victims of spousal violence than non-aboriginal women.
In 2004, 24% of aboriginal women reported that they had been victims of spousal violence in the previous five years. Outside of the home in 2001, 17% of aboriginal women in the labour force were unemployed. For non-aboriginal women this was 7%. According to Statistics Canada in 2000, the median income of an aboriginal woman was $12,300, about $5,000 less than a non-aboriginal woman. And these women are also more likely than aboriginal men to be working low-paying jobs.
In light of these statistics representing real people, the government refused to implement the Kelowna accord, an agreement with the first nations, Métis and Inuit communities across the country to improve their quality of life. These women are looking for leadership, yet when they look at the current Conservative government, they see very few women being put in leadership roles to enable them to play key roles in shaping our country.
In 2006, the Conservative Party fielded the fewest women candidates, a meagre 10%. Out of the 26 current cabinet positions, only five of them are filled by women. Today, while women make up more than 50% of the nation's population, women only comprise 20% of the seats in this House. The United Nations has ranked us 30th in the world in terms of representation of women in Parliament, behind countries like Norway, Trinidad and Tobago and others.
The Liberal Party, under the leadership of Stéphane Dion, is committed to ensuring that more women hold positions in the House of Commons.