Mr. Speaker, I move that the first report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, presented to the House on Wednesday, February 11, be concurred in.
I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak about the issue of violence to women. Ever since I have been in this House, the women members of my party, those who have sat on the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, and myself, have been the staunch defenders of the campaign against violence toward women. I will take a few moments at the start of my speech to quote an excerpt from an information pamphlet prepared by the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women. It was first written at the time of the Women's March in 2000, and was updated in 2002.
What is violence against women?
Violence can be physical (such as punching, kicking, choking, stabbing, mutilation, disabling, murder), sexual (such as rape, any unwanted touching or act of a sexual nature, forced prostitution), verbal/psychological (such as threats to harm the children, destruction of favourite clothes or photographs, repeated insults meant to demean and erode self-esteem, forced isolation from friends and relatives, threats of further violence or deportation if the woman attempts to leave), stalking (such as persistent and unwanted attention, following and spying, monitoring of mail or conversations), financial (such as taking away a woman's wages or other income, limiting or forbidding access to the family income), and other forms of control and abuse of power). Violence against women is about the control and coercion of women. It is a significant problem in Canada and around the world, also including female genital mutilation, child marriage, dowry-related murder, honour killings, female infanticide, and trafficking in women. Mass rapes and enslavement of women are also used as an instrument of war and genocide.
My colleague from Laurentides—Labelle has often spoken about this, particularly concerning women in the Congo, who are currently facing a terrible situation.
We have seen, in the excerpt I just read, different forms of violence against women. There are threats of deportation, for example, but we can also talk about violence against women who have chosen to live elsewhere with a spouse because he promised eternal love, and then cannot go back to their home country. That is the case with Nathalie Morin, who is being held by her husband in Saudi Arabia like some sort of hostage. Her husband is not allowing her to return to Quebec with her children.
We also saw that other types of violence against women include taking away a woman’s rights and her wages. I will focus on this type of violence because it is a direct consequence of the guidelines, laws and rules that we are developing here in Parliament, and which are being demanded by the current government.
Transforming pay equity into a game of negotiation is a form of violence against women. Taking away a woman's right to defend herself, to protect her rights, by cutting funding to groups that defend her is a form of violence against women. Cutting the court challenges program and therefore keeping women who have been victims of violence and have had a difficult time appealing their case is a form of violence, violence against women. Preventing women from lobbying to put the spotlight on certain challenges, their needs and their current reality is a form of violence against women. Cutting subsidies to these lobby groups as this government has done is yet another form of violence against women.
Another form of violence against women is preventing women's groups that do research from doing feminist research. That kind of violence against women is almost pathological. Since coming to power, this government has been attacking women, its apparent goal, as the text I just read put it, “to demean and erode self-esteem”. When the government claimed that equality had already been achieved to justify depriving women of the tools they have had at their disposal for years, tools that have helped them move forward and make progress, it made a big mistake. That is violence against women on a grand scale, institutionalized violence.
Everyone knows that this government has had it in for women since coming to power. We did not hesitate to fight to make the government see reason, to try to make it understand that a step forward for women does not mean a step back for men. On the contrary, as long as women can assert their rights, there will be greater equality in the world and more opportunities to move forward together, to go farther and to ensure that every person's rights are respected.
We are talking about violence against women, and this government has taken a more or less institutional approach to perpetrating violence. Every one of this government's bills affects women directly. That includes employment insurance bills because we know that women have limited access to employment insurance. The same applies to social housing bills. Tax cuts benefit only the highest income earners, when we all know that 37% of women earn less than $20,000 per year. If that is not violence against women, then I do not know what is.
Violence against women means preventing women from reaching their full potential, preventing them from being all they can be, preventing them from moving forward and giving their children what they need to one day become enlightened members of a free society.
The government's repeated attacks reflect a near obsession. And every time we have the misfortune to get up in this House and ask the government why it is obsessed, we are told that 52 million people are wrong and that the government is right. Every day we get thousands of emails, notes and letters from women, telling us about what they are going through and imploring us to help their cause. They ask us to defend their cause, because they say they do not understand why this government has it in for them. All these women need an answer today, and they are entitled to one. All these women have the right to know why this government is choosing to set women back 30, 40 or 50 years in some cases.
Mr. Speaker, I know that if it were up to you, you would likely tell me that I am right. As the father of several children, you know how important it is for your wife to be able to make the best life she can for your children. I, too, want to make the best life possible for my children. I want my colleagues to be able to do the same for their children. But as long as we condone the violence that is being perpetrated here in Parliament, we will never be able to discuss and address the violence being done elsewhere. We need to start with what is going on in our own backyard.
What I am saying is that we need to start coming together and making this government understand the risks it is taking as it continues undermining women, day after day.
Yesterday, this government unveiled a poster about strong women, a strong world, equality and women's leadership. But where is the leadership by the Conservative women? Where are these strong Conservative women, where is this strong world?
Conservative women cannot even defend the women of Quebec and Canada. They cannot even get up in this House and in their caucus to talk to their cabinet colleagues and make them understand that their position on pay equity makes no sense. What can we expect from them but doubletalk?
Today too, I suppose, we will not get much of an answer. It is the same week after week. We have been asking questions about pay equity for weeks now and all that the President of Treasury Board can say is that it is the best thing in the world for women. I think he should go and do some work on this because if there is a critical kind of violence against women, it is preventing them from earning a decent living and having the same considerations as their male colleagues. That is a huge violence against women because they struggle and work every day just as hard as their male colleagues.
Why do the Conservatives refuse them the same advantages, the same benefits and the same salary on the pretext that they should have to negotiate equity and are not simply entitled to equal pay?
In 1929, five women fought to have women recognized as persons. Their statues can be seen on Parliament Hill. These women would be furious today to see how the government makes a farce of everything to do with women’s rights. All the women in this chamber should try to emulate the courage of those women in 1929 who went all the way to the English courts to insist that women should be recognized as persons. Now the government is trying to do the opposite. They slowly nibble away at the rights of women and eliminate the advances that were at least giving them the impression they were making progress.
Nellie McClung would be very disappointed today at the extent to which the government has failed to keep its word. In January 2006, the Prime Minister said he would give women equality. He has broken his promise and goes on breaking it every day. If this sort of violence is endorsed by Parliament, why would people in civil society bother getting caught up in all these niceties?
If the government itself does not recognize the violence it does to women, how in the world can our criminal lawyers, police officers and groups that work with women who have been abused hope to make them understand that they are right, we are listening to them and we will do something for them? It does not make sense.
When our own government does the opposite of what it should to protect women from violence, it does not make sense. Nor does it make sense to think that civil society will do any better.
And yet, many groups continue to defend women daily.
The government has just cut funds for Africa. These funds were essential in helping women with AIDS, the grandmothers looking after children with AIDS and women in refugee camps, who are assaulted and raped daily and used as weapons of war. It is cutting funds for these countries. That is abominable.
It is more evidence of the lack of respect of this government, evidence that this government does not want to see an end to violence against women. It is further evidence that this government is in fact exacerbating violence against women. Everything it does points in this direction. Everything this government does is currently to the detriment of women and causes them distress.
I received an email this morning from a woman in Nova Scotia. She would not vote for me, but she asked me to do something. She does not know who to ask anymore. She cannot ask the Conservatives to help women or the Liberals, who have chosen to support the Conservatives on the matter of pay equity. She asked me to do something and told me that she and thousands of women were suffering.
Suffering is violence against women. Being unable to feed the children or pay the rent and having to choose to send a child to school without a meal so as to have milk for a younger child is what violence against women is about.
I hope that my Conservative colleagues will be open-minded enough today to listen instead of closing up as they usually do. Perhaps a crack will appear through which they will understand that, if they wanted it, it would be so easy. The employment insurance fund contains some $54 billion. It would be easy to eliminate the two week waiting period. Women would thus have much better access to employment insurance. It is all very well to take courses or training, but when you have no job waiting for you, it does not mean much. Denying women access to employment insurance amounts to violence against women.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask for your solicitude. I would also ask you to please understand and have all our colleagues in this House understand just how much we must do to end violence against women. Violence occurs against women in other situations and circumstances as well.
Violence is done to women with firearms. The government wants to abolish the firearms registry, as we know. We also know, though, that this government does not consider long barrelled firearms dangerous. However, the firearms that destroy the most lives and kill the most women are long barrelled firearms--not little revolvers. They are used, of course. There are sidearms as well. However, these firearms are almost legal for the government, although they spread the greatest violence in their path.
I have only a minute left to close—a very short time. I had prepared texts, but am not managing to keep to them. I have a hard time doing so. I am an emotional and passionate woman. The women contacting us each day to ask us to support them can count on all of the members of the Bloc to defend their cause and continue to work hard to end all violence against women, especially the violence initiated by this government.