We’re still here!

It goes without saying – or at least it should – that the climate crisis is the most pressing issue facing society today. It should be an important issue in the federal election and, indeed, we have heard much from party leaders and individual candidates about it. Whether or not we believe what we are hearing is another matter.

The importance of this topic should not, however, shove into oblivion other critical political and social issues. Women, for instance, despite the promises of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, continue to face significant and serious economic, political and social inequalities and face extremely high levels of violence in their intimate relationships, at work, at school and in their communities. (Really, how can it be that, in 2019, a city councillor thinks it is okay to ask women in a job interview whether they would be willing to come to work bra-less?)

And yet, the last federal leaders’ debate on women’s issues was 35 years ago, on August 14, 1984, when John Turner, Brian Mulroney and Ed Broadbent tackled such topics as inequality, day care, abortion, pornography and the arms race: all issues that remain alive and largely unaddressed today. (Abortion may have become legal in Canada over the past 35 years but it is hard to access in much of the country and, as I recently wrote, some party leaders still consider it a subject for debate.)

In 2019, the leaders of the five major parties were asked if they would participate in a women’s issues debate. The NDP and the Green Party said yes; the Liberals, Conservatives and Blog Quebecois have not responded.

I don’t think many of us were surprised by this; after all, women’s issues have never been election issues. Nonetheless, it was disappointing to see that the CBC’s list of 17 key election issues, including the environment/climate change, the economy (including jobs), Indigenous, immigration and health care, did not list women’s equality or violence against women.

Up for debate

More than 30 women’s equality organizations from across the country have come together as Up for Debate to make sure these issues get talked about, even in the absence of a federal leaders’ debate.

Key on the list of demands is a repeat from 2015: the establishment of a National Action Plan on violence against women. While Canada has a formal strategy to address gender-based violence, that only deals with federal institutions. A National Action Plan will ensure that women in all areas of the country have access to comparable levels of services and protections.

Other barriers to women’s equality and safety that Up for Debate wants the parties to speak to include:

  • Persistently high rates of gender-based violence
  • Lack of affordable housing and institutional support for women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
  • Precarious work and low wages, including substantial and ongoing gender wage gaps
  • The high cost of child care
  • Lack of stable funding for women’s organizations and other social movements

“Up for Debate 2019 is advocating for federal leadership to create a world where social movements and women’s rights organizations are supported, poverty is eliminated and women, trans, non-binary and Two-Spirit people live free from violence.”

What you can do

On the Up for Debate website, you can find a petition which, while it won’t result in a women’s issues leaders’ debate, will send a message that we expect this topic to be taken seriously, between elections as well as during election campaigns.

Women’s Shelters Canada has produced a list of questions about violence against women that can be used at all candidates’ meetings or when a candidate comes to the door looking for support. The questions focus on such topics as murdered and missing Indigenous women and the need for a national action plan to end violence against women as well as on the candidate’s own knowledge about gender-based violence.

The Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres has developed an election toolkit that focuses on issues related to sexual violence.

A complete election kit on women’s equality/gender-based violence is also available. It includes background information on violence against women, social media tools and responses from the federal leaders to questions about women’s issues.

You can use these resources to raise questions about women’s equality and gender-based violence in your riding. Ask questions at all candidates’ meetings. Send the questions — along with some about issues in your community — to your candidates and publish their responses or non-responses. Have a conversation with candidates or their workers who come to your door looking for your support. Talk about women’s issues and gender-based violence with your neighbours, colleagues, families and friends. Write an op-ed for your newspaper.

While women’s issues are not the only thing we need to be thinking about when we decide how (or if) to cast our ballots on October 21, they must be among the factors we consider.

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