Half the population

Now is certainly a better time than ever before to be a girl or woman in Canada. It is also better to be a girl or woman here than in many other parts of the world; the present situation in Afghanistan serving as just one of countless possible examples.

However, better than before and better than elsewhere is not the same is good enough. Equality is one of those absolute words like perfect or unique: it either exists or it doesn’t, it can’t be modified. Living in a country that offers privileges not enjoyed by people in other places is great for us, but it does not make the inequalities and inequities that women experience here meaningless.

And yet, we are well into a federal election campaign where women’s equality issues are hard to spot.

What’s on offer?

One of the challenges when talking about “women’s issues” is understanding what the term covers. In some ways, everything is a women’s issue — housing, the climate crisis, health care, the economy, foreign policy, the military — all of these matter to women and have an impact on our lives. However, certain topics have come to be seen as attached to women: reproductive choice, child care, equal pay, violence against women. By separating out these issues from the rest, women are doubly dis-served. Anything labelled as a women’s issue gets put low on the priority list, especially during an election, when candidates want to focus on the “big” topics, which are seldom looked at through a gendered lens.

With less than three weeks to go until the federal election, we haven’t heard much about the issues that have a significant impact on women, and the platforms are largely silent in terms of any meaningful exploration of or commitment to addressing them. I spent about an hour looking at the major party’s websites (except the Bloc Quebecois, because I don’t live in Quebec and so I can’t vote for them). Here’s what I found and didn’t find.

The Green Party did not have a platform as of the time I wrote this article, instead telling its followers to watch google for updates. Few of the issues it identifies as key for the party – climate change, housing and long-term care – are tied to their impact on women. The party’s position in support of a guaranteed livable income is well buried. I found no mention of a national child care strategy or plans to address gender-based violence.

The Conservative Party of Canada, headed up by Erin ‘Mr. Clean’ O’Toole, has a policy book stretching to more than 160 pages. There are a lot of words on those pages, but not a lot of substance or specifics. Women pop in and out, but mostly as part of rhetoric-filled statements that have no actual plans attached to them:

“Our policies will get women back to work and help combat gender inequality.”

The CPC commitment to addressing gender-based violence is to say the party will “stamp out sexual harassment.” It plans to deal with intimate partner abuse by imposing tougher sentences on offenders, even though it is well established that a law and order approach is not the solution to intimate partner abuse.

The Liberals, after presenting a strongly feminist budget with a big nod to addressing gender-based violence through a National Action Plan, have very little to say about women in their platform.

The only platform I found that offered any substantive commitment to women’s equality and to addressing violence against women was that of the NDP:

“We’ll deliver a National Action Plan to end gender-based violence, backed by funding to ensure that shelter services and other programs are available in all regions of the country.’

The NDP also says it will bring in 10 days of paid leave for survivors of intimate partner abuse and improve police training on sexual assault; increase access to abortion services in all parts of the country; implement a national child care system, and move towards electoral reform with a focus on getting more women elected.


Canada needs a national action plan to end gender-based violence. This is something that should be raised at all-candidates meetings and when candidates come to our doors looking for support. Women’s Shelters Canada has produced excellent resources to assist anyone wanting to advocate for the NAP, and I encourage you to check them out.

Key issues are:

  • An independent oversight body of experts to ensure that the NAP Secretariat within government stays on course
  • Harmonization between the NAP and the separate, ongoing efforts to end violence against Indigenous women and girls
  • A stable and sustainably funded VAW/GBV sector

Up for Debate, a campaign coordinated by an alliance of women’s rights and gender justice advocates from across Canada, has produced a Toolkit to assist those who wish to raise gender justice issues in this campaign. It’s full of practical ideas and tips, suggested social media posts, key dates and everything you need to know to organize a successful all-candidates meeting. Check it out and follow the campaign on FB, Instagram and Twitter.

Hope vs fear?

As I was writing this, I got a phone call from the NDP election office in my community, After asking the usual questions about whether I would take a lawn sign and whether the NDP could count on my support on September 20th, the caller told me to think of this election as one in which I could “vote in hope not fear.”

I still don’t know what I am going to do on election day, but right now, it doesn’t feel as though there will be much hope involved. And that’s a bad thing.

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