February 24, 2012

The Harper majority vs. women's equality

Protesting violence against aboriginal women
This article is the third in a series of feature stories RY magazine is presenting before International Women's Day on March 8th.

By Helen Kennedy

As we celebrate International Women's Day this year, let's take a look at the Stephen Harper's continuing agenda to roll back equality rights. How much more damage have the Tories inflicted in the first year of their new majority?

The anti‑woman policies of the Harper Tories have been well documented since they came to office as a minority government in 2006. The first move was to back‑pedal on the national childcare program and offer a stingy $100 a month tax credit. Dismantling support for advocacy around legislative and constitutional change was next, with the cancellation of the Court Challenges Program, the closure of most Status of Women offices across the country and cancellation of research and advocacy funding for women's organizations.

Despite statistics showing crime rates are flat or declining, the Harper Conservatives declared law and order a top priority. Legislation supported by both the Liberals and the NDP introduced mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes. Bill C‑10, the Safe Streets and Communities Act, is currently in Senate hearings. If passed, C‑10 will greatly reduce and/or eliminate rehabilitation programs and recast the criminal justice system towards punishment and vengeance.

Harper's "law and order" legislation will result in huge increases in criminal justice budgets ‑ more policing, courts and prisons. Ignoring early childhood and school age supports that could be delivered through a childcare program, the Tory priority is to invest instead in jailing poor, aboriginal and racialized youth and adults.

The Harper government has rolled back supports to help eliminate violence against women. The Tories are close to realizing their goal of eliminating the Long‑Gun Registry, a core platform of the party from their Reform‑Alliance roots. The Registry was created in 1995 as a direct result of the Montreal Massacre. It is estimated to have saved 300 lives per year and is supported by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

Violence against women is not a priority of the Harper government. The United Nations has announced an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada. The inquiry will investigate serious violations of the Conventions on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women. Harper's failure to take effective action in connection with the murders and disappearances led directly to the request to the UN.

The large scale attack on public services began during the Harper minority, but his majority status has upped the ante. After eliminating pay equity as a basic human right in the 2009 budget, the Harper government is now looking at cutting up to 60,000 public sector jobs ‑ most of them good jobs with decent benefits that are held by women. The push to downsize the civil service is mirrored across the country, provincially and municipally.

The Harper Tories continue to favour two‑parent families with a stay‑at‑home mom for tax credits, not childcare. Tiny tax rebates for children enrolled in arts and recreation programs disproportionately aid stay‑at‑home moms who are also likely to benefit the most from the $100 a month tax credit. At the same time, the corporate takeover of childcare is gaining a foothold in Canada ‑ after decimating the public, not‑for‑profit sector in Australia.

Laws protecting women's right to an abortion may be in danger. Most recently, MP Steven Woodworth filed a motion in the House of Commons asking for a review of medical evidence about when a child can be considered a human being separate from the mother, and the legal impact of denying full human rights to an unborn child. Tory MPs have also fought to deny funding to Planned Parenthood, and to restrict international aid for maternal health to groups which are anti‑abortion. Women's fears are well‑grounded.

It is clear that the Harper government continues to erode women's equality rights while allowing social programs to be cut or cancelled. This International Women's Day, women need to stand up and expose the misogynist policies of the Tory government. Women's rights are human rights ‑ we want our fair share!

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