IWD reflections, 2019

International Women’s Day has dawned bright and sunny in San Miguel. I am choosing to interpret that as a sign of a more positive year ahead for women than the one just behind us.

This year, I want to reflect on just a few of the recent news stories that relate to women’s equality in Ontario, Canada and across the globe.

Just six countries

A recently released report from the World Bank examined 35 indicators of legal equality (such things as property ownership, inheritance laws, job protections, pension policies, rules related to marriage, movement and travel, pay equity and personal safety) in 187 countries.

What did the study find? In just six countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, Latvia, Luxembourg and Sweden – are women and men legally equal, meaning women have all the same opportunities as men and there are legislative protections such as equal pay and parental leave in place to promote gender parity.

The good news is that this is an increase from zero countries in 2009; but overall the report notes that women around the world have only three-quarters of the legal rights of men.

For all of Justin Trudeau’s lauding of Canada as an upholder of women’s equality and rights, Canada did not score 100 on this survey. With a score of 97.50, we were high on the list, ranking ahead of the United States, with a mark of 83.75.

Countries in sub-Saharan Africa had made the greatest strides towards women’s equality over the past decade.

Lowest scoring countries, from the bottom up, will come as no surprise: Saudi Arabia (25.63), United Arab Emirates and Sudan (both at 29.38).

The Ford nation continues to exclude women

The impact of Doug Ford’s government on women’s equality; in particular, on violence against women, continues to loom large.

In late February, the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) announced that funding levels for victim service programs – including those aimed at survivors of gender-based violence – will be maintained at the same level for the next fiscal year. Community-based sexual assault centres will receive a one-time infusion of $1 million to address long-standing underfunding.

This might sound like good news, but it is not. In 2018, the Liberal provincial government’s budget introduced a gender-based violence action plan, with long-term dollars attached for many programs and services.

One such program, the Family Court Support Worker Program, has been underfunded since its inception in 2011. It was promised money in the GBA action plan, but that money has not materialized and was not part of the recent announcement.

The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres noted, while acknowledging its appreciation for this one-time funding, that it

“will not fundamentally shift the reality of wait times . . . We also note that other victim services under the Ministry of the Attorney General portfolio will receive no funding increase.”

Perhaps of even greater concern is that MAG plans to use the next year to conduct a comprehensive review of all the victim services it funds, moving towards a more integrated and effective system by eliminating so-called duplication and overlap.

This is government-speak for forced amalgamations and spending cuts, which will have a serious and negative impact on the highly specialized services that are needed by survivors of gender-based violence.

The national picture

Many of us continue to celebrate Jody Wilson-Raybould’s courageous and dignified appearance in front of the Justice Committee, in which she spoke truth to power. This week, Treasury Board President Jane Philpott resigned from her cabinet position, saying that under the present circumstances relating to SNC-Lavalin “it is untenable for me to continue.” She also said:

“There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”

Another woman Liberal MP, Celina Caesar-Chevannes, announced last Saturday that she will not be seeking re-election in the fall. Following Philpott’s resignation, she tweeted:

“When you add women, please do not expect the status quo. Expect us to make correct decisions, stand for what is right and exit when values are compromised.”

Looks like Canada’s first (self-proclaimed) feminist Prime Minister has a bit of a mess on his hands.

And around the world

Ten women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia have been detained since last June because it is alleged their aim was to undermine “the kingdom’s security, stability and national unity.” They were arrested just as the country gained international acclaim for its decision to allow women to drive.

According to Amnesty International, the women have been tortured, including sexually, throughout their detention. Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty’s Middle East Research Director recently said:

“We are extremely concerned about the wellbeing of these activists, who have been in arbitrary detention for around nine months, simply for standing up for human rights.”

The Pope, under intense scrutiny for his action (or lack thereof) on sexual abuse by priests, bishops and cardinals, organized a Vatican summit on sexual abuse, to which survivors were invited. However, he has not won any new friends as a result: he failed to appear at a meeting set up between survivors and senior members of the Catholic church.

As Evelyn Korkmaz, a survivor of Canada’s residential schools system who went to the summit with the hope of persuading the Pope to issue an apology for the abuse directed at Indigenous children in Catholic-run residential schools, said:

“The Pope didn’t show up. He sent bishops instead. How disrespectful. This shows where he stands concerning this issue.”

Happy IWD!

There is lots to mourn and rage about on March 8, 2019.

As the PEN International Women’s Manifesto says:

“Humanity is both wanting and bereft without the full and free expression of women’s creativity and knowledge.”

So, along with our mourning and rage, let us make time today to celebrate our voices, knowledge and creativities, the successes we have helped create and those that we will create in the year to come.

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