Working Together for Women on Parliament Hill

Posted 2005-04-01 by Bonnie Diamond | Jurisfemme Publications – Volume 23, No. 3, Spring 2005

The Coalition for Women's Equality (CWE) is made up of autonomous equality seeking women’s organizations that came together before the last election to advocate for stable and effective federal mechanisms to achieve women’s equality. Coalition Members include the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), Womenspace, the Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA), the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW), MediaWatch, YWCA Canada, Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ), the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada (NOIVMWC) , and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC-CCA)

CWE and many women’s groups lobbied for a resolution passed at the 2003 FAFIA Assembly calling for the establishment of a Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women. The wide range of women’s groups at that meeting saw the establishment of such a committee as one means of holding the federal government to account for implementing Canada’s domestic and international commitments on women’s equality. In other words it was seen as one accountability measure of government performance against equality guarantees of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian Human Rights Act, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action. CWE is happy to report that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) was established and commenced its work in the Fall of 2004.

CWE and its individual members joined many other women’s organizations throughout Canada in briefing FEWO on the diminishing circumstances of women across the country. Deepening women’s poverty and persistent violence against women were dominant themes in the testimony. Groups were also very consistent in impressing upon FEWO that women’s services and advocacy groups were being severely challenged and in many cases choked by lack of government support. The abandonment of program (core) funding in 1996 was often cited as a pivotal reversal of women’s move toward equality in Canada. The overwhelming majority of witnesses expressed concern at the decreased prominence given to women’s issues and substantive equality, and emphasized the importance of preventing these issues from sliding off the public policy agenda.

The FEWO tabled a first report in the House of Commons calling for a 25% increase in the funding of the Women’s Program at Status of Women Canada for investment in women’s groups and equality seeking organizations. Its rationale for the increase is that these groups contribute to the development of innovative, healthy communities which ensure full access by both women and men. The FEWO failed to pronounce on re-instatement of core funding saying that members are awaiting results of an evaluation of the Women’s Program that is currently underway before making a recommendation on the nature of Status of Women funding. However, the FEWO did recommend that the disbursement of increased funds within Status of Women Canada should incorporate recommendations anticipated from the Women’s Program evaluation expected in the summer of 2005. There are some reasons to be optimistic in the FEWO’s Committee report but clearly there remain many problems to be solved not the least of which is the failure to stipulate that funding is exclusively for equality seeking women’s organizations.

The CWE also made a presentation to the pre-budget consultation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Finance in November 2004. A copy of our presentation and a supplementary submission on Employment Insurance is posted on the CWE website. The report of the Pre-budget consultation was issued in December 2004. We are very discouraged that the report entitled Moving Forward: Balancing Priorities and Making Choices for the Economy of the 21st Century, contains little on women’s poverty. The Finance Standing Committee continues to address children’s poverty as if children’s circumstances were totally unrelated to the poverty of their parents, who are mostly single mothers. There are some recommendations of interest to women including a recommendation on Child Care that points in the right direction. As we feared, the federal budget in February did not include and new funding for women’s groups and failed to address systemic issues women have been experiencing for two decades.

While Child Care was addressed, details are as yet far from clear. CWE continues to monitor the critical committee work on Parliament Hill that relates to women’s equality and is attempting to bring highlights of that work to women across Canada through its monthly feature Feminist Eyes on Ottawa. We invite you to visit the CWE website at www.canadaelection.net to read materials firsthand. Of particular interest will be the CWE briefs, the report tabled in the House by FEWO, the Pre-budget Report of the Finance Committee and CWE’s feature, Feminist Eyes on Ottawa. We hope that with increased information women can work more closely together to help return women’s equality to a central place on the federal agenda. By working together at this time we may make some progress by better taking advantage of a minority government. We believe that women must play a significant role in the next election to help stem further losses for women. The CWE continues to work together to that end.

Bonnie Diamond is NAWL’s Executive Director