Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak in support of the motion.
Fifteen years ago at the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, the clarion call was that women's rights are human rights and there are no human rights which do not include the rights of women. Indeed, the women's movement energized the conference, not only with their advocacy of women's rights, but with their compelling concern for human rights as a whole.
Fifteen years later, on the eve of International Women's Day, it is regrettable to note that not only are women's rights not seen as human rights, not only is the promotion and protection of women's rights not a priority on the national and international agenda, but discrimination against women remains, as UNESCO characterized it then, as a form of gender apartheid, while violence against women is a pervasive and persistent evil.
Accordingly, what I would like to do in support of the motion is to identify the indices of this gender inequality which, taken together, constitute this gender apartheid, so that we can thereby monitor, combat and redress the gender equality at both the domestic and international levels.
The first index or measure of gender inequality is the absence of an equal voice in our parliaments, governments and public decision making. For example, women make up 50.4% of the Canadian population, but occupy only one-fifth of the seats in this House of Commons. Indeed, as the UN demonstrated, Canada ranks 30th in the world in terms of the representation of women in parliament.
Indeed, the current governing party fielded the fewest women candidates in the last election. Only 10% of its candidates were women. This is a policy choice, for while in the 1970s 15% of Norway's parliament was made up of women, Norway then undertook active measures to increase women's active participation and it is now 40%. Simply put, women's political participation is a policy determinant that countries and parties can make and influence. Moreover, empirical studies have also demonstrated that increased female participation results in greater parliamentary attention to gender equality, family policy and an enhanced social policy, such as a national child care strategy.
The second index is the mainstreaming of gender analysis in public decision making, a case study of which is the mainstreaming of gender analysis in the budgetary process. Yet a gender analysis of the budget is utterly absent. The budget, along with the fall economic and fiscal update of the government, simply ignores the needs of Canadian women. Even in notional terms, the word “women” is mentioned only six times compared with 119 times for corporations.
Moreover, while the centrepiece of the budget is the tax-free savings account, this emerges more as a gift to the wealthy rather than securing the needs of women, most of whom will not be able to take advantage of this program. Simply put, of the 11 million women who filed taxes in 2005, 41% paid no taxes, while women working full time earned only 70% of what men working full time earned, a datum that the budget ignores, and a figure that is even worse for women of colour and aboriginal women.
In a word, the Conservative government's budgetary choices to use the surplus for huge tax cuts, debt reduction, a guaranteed annual increase for military security spending, which we are not necessarily opposed to in that regard, but with no budgetary gender analysis of the wage disparity between men and women, with no analysis of the prejudicial impact, particularly on vulnerable women, means there is less money for the government to provide the necessary government services that women need and demand. Indeed, $1 billion was cut with respect to the provision of social services.
This leads me to a third index, the gender disparity in income security, or insecurity, including the feminization of poverty. Over one-third of single women over the age of 65 live in poverty. Women not only earn less than men for work of equal value, but almost 50% of households are headed by single parents who are poor, mainly women, while child care remains beyond the financial reach of many.
Indeed, in terms of the ratio of male to female earned income, the wage gap, Canada ranks 38th in the world. Even in female dominated professions such as teaching, nursing and clerical work, men still earn more on average. Yet the government responded no to the recommendations of a multi-year federal task force on pay equity, and no to the endorsement of pay equity recommendations by the all party Standing Committee on the Status of Women.
The fourth index is the intersectional dimension of the disadvantaged situation of women. As the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women put it, “Proactive poverty elimination must be based on recognizing the interconnected barrier that makes certain groups of women more vulnerable than others”. For example, Statistics Canada reported that 37% of women of colour are low income, compared to 19% of all women.
Therefore, all policy initiatives to combat gender inequality in general and the incidence of poverty in particular must factor into consideration the phenomenon of intersectionality, the unique circumstances, and systemic inequality of ethnocultural, racialized and immigrant women.
In particular, the reality of aboriginal women often includes acts of racism and sexual violence, extreme poverty, lack of access to adequate housing, chronic health problems and the like. Simply put, aboriginal women are the highest at risk population in Canada. The systemic discrimination that they endure is based on both their aboriginal status and their gender.
The fifth index is the lack of provision for early learning and child care and its corresponding prejudicial fallout for social and economic gender inequality. As the 1984 Royal Commission on Equality and Employment put it, “Child care is the ramp that provides equal access to the workforce for mothers”. Twenty-four years later, that ramp is yet to be built.
What is needed is a reaffirmation of the Liberal government's commitment to provide a comprehensive system of early learning and child care across the country, including: honouring the bilateral agreements that the previous government signed with the provinces and territories; increasing federal funding for child care to 1% of gross domestic product; reinvesting the $1,200 per year in the universal child care benefit to the Canadian child care tax benefit; and directing the value of the spousal credit to the spouse who remains at home.
The sixth index is the need for a comprehensive, coherent and coordinated housing policy. Canada is the only country without a national housing strategy. Over four million Canadians are in need of affordable and adequate housing, a disproportionate number of whom are aboriginal women, single older women, single mothers and recent immigrants. Accordingly, any housing policy must address the needs of the most disadvantaged and poorest women in Canada, while advancing women's equality.
The seventh index is the persistent and pervasive phenomenon of violence against women, a multi-dimensional assault on women's equality and security. It can be physical, sexual, verbal, psychological, financial, including stalking as well, in that regard. I might add that women in a word cannot achieve equality if they are subjected to violence in their daily lives. The opposite is also true; women's inequality increases their vulnerability to violence and limits their options for leaving abusive relationships.
Accordingly, a sustained and coordinated effort involving all levels of government is necessary to successfully combat violence against women and the resultant inequality. Volume two of the Liberal women's caucus “Pink Book” sets forth measures that can be taken for an immediate and significant impact.
The eighth index is international violence against women. Indeed as women's rights leader Charlotte Bunch put it a decade ago, and the situation has only worsened since, vast numbers of people around the world suffer from starvation and terrorism, and are humiliated, tortured, mutilated and even murdered every year just because they are women.
In particular, we need to make the combating of the trafficking of women and girls, the new global slave trade and the fastest growing criminal industry in the world, a priority for us both domestically and internationally. We need to combat this pernicious, persistent and pervasive assault on the most vulnerable of the vulnerable, this commodification of human beings, where human beings are regarded as cattle to be bonded and bartered, and which only a comprehensive strategy of prevention and protection of the victim and prosecution of the perpetrators can combat.
We also need to protect against the growing violence against women in conflict situations, as dramatized by the targeting of women and girls in the genocide by attrition in Darfur, or the dramatic incidence of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A ninth index is the differential access to justice, in particular, the protection of the rights of the most vulnerable of women. Regrettably, the government has either dismantled the very initiatives which helped secure equal access and gender equality, or has absented itself from the initiation of programs that would promote and protect access to justice.
The government, for example, dismantled the court challenges program which constituted an attack on the charter of rights itself, thereby silencing the voice of women, for equality rights have no meaning if women cannot access and exercise them.
As the Canadian Bar Association president, J. Parker MacCarthy, put it:
For those who are too vulnerable and disenfranchised to obtain fair treatment from the system on their own, it's often the only access they have.
Regrettably, the government has not only dismantled a program to promote universal access to the exercise of charter rights in general, and equality rights in particular, but it has been silent on the need for a comprehensive and sustainable legal aid system for Canada, the absence of which prejudicially impacts the rights of women and those vulnerable among them.
Indeed for women the results of legal aid cuts have been devastating. A woman's need for legal services is overwhelmingly in the area of family and civil law, precisely where most of the cuts were made. Accordingly, in the absence of adequate legal representation, women are losing the right to custody of their children, giving up legal rights to support and assistance, and are victimized through litigation harassment.
Astonishingly, the government did not use its $13.5 billion surplus in order to alleviate the whole question of the absence of sustainable legal aid.
Number ten, and the final one, the government has compounded existing regional disparities with gender disparities. Since access to government services is essential in rural areas, the government's closure of--