September 8, 2014

Harper Vs. Women

by Marianne Breton Fontaine

Rape culture, discrimination, poverty, violence, etc.; the list of evils of patriarchy is long. One might think that every year, the status of women is improving in Canada. But it’s not, and it's not just women's groups and the left that say so. According to the World Economic Forum, Canada’s place on the international gender equality index has steadily declined from 7th place in 2004, to 25th in 2009. This is not a coincidence; it is the result of clear policies enacted against the advancement of women's equality. Yes, Harper is anti-women!

Funding for women's groups

Since Stephen Harper took power in 2006, the Conservative government gradually eliminated funding for groups that promote women's rights. For example, he has closed 12 of the 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada. The Conservatives have made significant changes to the funding criteria of women's organizations, saying that they will only fund groups that are “directly involved” with women. In other words, groups that were doing research on issues affecting women, defending feminist positions or lobbying on women’s issues are no longer considered eligible for funding. Harper did not stop there. He also removed the word "equality" from the ministry’s objectives. Thus, groups such as the Victoria Status of Women Action Group (SWAG) and the Coalition for Pay Equity in New Brunswick saw their funding cut drastically, and in some cases these groups have had to close their doors permanently.

In 2010, 12 women's groups including the Council of Intervention for Quebec's Women's Access to Work (CIAFT) and the Network of Regional Women’s Groups had their funding eliminated overnight. Many saw the move as punishment, since these groups were opposed to the anti-choice views of Harper. He also eliminated the 15 year-old Court Challenges Program, which supported the legal action on the part of the victims of gender discrimination.

Social programs and women’s poverty

We know that the economic and social policies of the Conservatives are devastating to the majority of the people. But we often forget that these measures preferred by the economic right (also enacted on behalf of global capital internationally by social democratic governments) disproportionately affect women. Women are poorer because of the patriarchal system in which we live, and tend to depend more than men on public services and the “social safety net” that was built through years of popular struggles. Canadian women earn on average 71 cents for every dollar made by a man. It's even worse for Aboriginal women in Canada who earned an average of 46 cents for every dollar earned by other workers, in 2006. Cuts in social services have also specifically targeted Aboriginal women since Health Canada has made large cuts to health care for Aboriginal peoples.

The Conservatives also prey on elderly women by imposing substantial cuts to public pensions. Older women already face a more difficult retirement since low wages and job insecurity prevents many women from earning decent pensions during their working lives.

Against workers

The possible abolition of the Rand formula; the mandatory disclosure of financial statements of unions to ensure that they do not finance 'political' groups; special back-to-work legislation; compulsory voting for unionization: Harper hates unions and these recent measures prove this beyond a doubt. Labour has long been a major player in the struggle for feminist demands. Unions have also helped to drastically improve living conditions for their members. Unionized women in Canada earn 39% more than non-unionized women. They are also twice as likely to receive a pension and have better benefits, greater protections for human rights and superior job security.

The Tory reform of Employment Insurance is another attack against workers, but especially for women. First, women work at part-time jobs more often than men because of family burdens and systemic discrimination in the labour market that predisposes women to insecure jobs and at lower pay. Women have less access to Employment Insurance and will be more prone to EI investigations, while with lower wages than men, they are already disadvantaged by the system. The EI system was already sexist; it is now even more sexist with the Conservative reforms.

Why stop there? The Conservative government has questioned the right to pay equity for workers in the public sector. That is to say, Harper has removed the right of women occupying positions in the federal public service to turn to the courts in order to demand equal pay for work of equal value. He also stopped recognizing the ‘invisible work’ of women by eliminating questions around unpaid work in the census. Thank you Harper!

The anti-choice agenda of the Conservatives

Harper stopped Canada’s funding of abortion services through international aid. Under his government the introduction of bills that have challenged women’s right to choose have increased. Fortunately, none of these bills have passed, but we are not fooled. According to a list of anti-choice MPs compiled by the Coalition for Abortion Rights in Canada, two-thirds of the Conservative caucus are anti-choice. While the Harper government is thinking of re-criminalizing abortion, many forget that the pro-choice struggle is far from complete. It's not all women in Canada who have access to abortion services. For example, on the island of Prince Edward Island, there are absolutely no such services.

Harper complicit in violence against women

Harper has implemented restrictions in the immigration system that penalize refugees and female victims of sexual and homophobic violence. He has worked hard to abolish the firearms registry. Remember that women are a minority among gun owners, the vast majority being men. At the same time, women are three times more likely to be victims of homicide committed by their spouses.
He still refuses to launch an inquiry into the 1200 missing and murdered Aboriginal women despite calls from the international community, requests for the Auditor General, demands coming from all directions, and the cries of Aboriginal families. To add insult to injury, in 2010, Harper eliminated funding for the database project of Sisters in Spirit, an Indigenous group that had supported these women.

Women with disabilities ignored

We saw all the measures the Conservatives have taken against women, but violence is also perpetuated by inaction when it comes to women with disabilities. The Harper government has ignored repeated requests for the development of a national strategy for people with disabilities who face serious problems of poverty, exclusion and marginalization. Harper’s restructuring of government funding criteria also endangers support for groups of people with disabilities.

Women, stay home!

First note that there are fewer women in politics in the Harper government. They represent only 17% of the Conservative caucus. This is not a coincidence. In the ideology supported by Harper, women’s place is in the home. He has supported income tax splitting for couples. Not only does this measure favour the rich, but it also provides a strong incentive for wealthy families to keep women at home. He also abandoned the national childcare program and replaced it with a taxable allowance of $100 per month per child under school age. Another incentive for women to stay at home.

REAL Women, religious and ideological influences

But from whom does Harper get his charming political advice when it comes to public policy effecting women? He relies heavily on a group called "REAL Women." To give you an idea of what this group stands for, they said they were very pleased with cuts of 5 million to Status of Women Canada:

"This is a good start, and we hope that the Status of Women will eventually be eliminated entirely since it does not represent ‘women’, but only represents the ideology of feminists."

This group believes that the nuclear family is the most important unit in Canadian society, and the fragmentation of the Canadian family is a major cause of social disorder. They lobbied the government for legislation to promote what they believe to be the Judeo-Christian model of family life, and for the support housewives. It is also opposes feminism, abortion, LGBT rights and same sex marriage. REAL Women was outraged when minister John Baird criticized the Russian anti-gay hate law.

This is a group advising Harper. But there are several others. For example, anti-choice lobbyists have privileged access to the offices of the Prime Minister. Lobby groups such as the religious Defend Marriage Coalition boast of their unprecedented access to the Parliament in Ottawa. How reassuring!


This article is published in Issue 17 of the new Rebel Youth!

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