Women have reason to fear another Harper government.
Straight Goods, Tuesday, October 07, 2008
*by Linda Silver Dranoff*
Women have a lot to fear from a Harper government, whether he gets a majority or a minority. The polls show that in battleground ridings across Canada, the Conservative party leads among women voters. How can this be?
How can we have forgotten?
Just because Harper's stylists and public relations advisors have tried to soften Harper's tough image by putting smiles on his face and sweaters on his back does not change the fact that women's interests have suffered at the hands of Stephen Harper and his government's misguided policies in the two years since he has been Prime Minister. Everything he has done indicates that women's interests will continue to suffer if he is re-elected.
In only two years, the Harper government has done a great deal to dismantle major advances won by the women's movement, working with woman-friendly governments, over the previous 30 years.
Soon after taking office, Harper broke the promise he made during the 2006 election campaign to "take concrete and immediate measures... to ensure that Canada fully upholds its commitments to women." By a simple stroke of the pen (and without parliamentary involvement), he removed "the pursuit of equality" from the mandate of Status of Women Canada (SWC).
Before that, SWC's role was to protect the equality interests of women in government policies and programs. Harper ruled that SWC could no longer fund any organization that did research, advocacy or lobbying to promote women's equality. Then he financially crippled their ability to do the part of the job he had not excised, by cutting $5 million from a $13 million budget.
Twelve of the agency's 16 regional offices were closed. Any available funding was short-term and for projects; there was no core funding and no funding for administrative costs.
Many organizations lost their financial underpinnings. Because advocacy was no longer eligible, the National Association of Women and the Law was a casualty. For more than 30 years, NAWL's lawyers did advocacy and research to support legal improvements for women. Under Harper's government, it had to close its office and terminate its paid staff.
The Court Challenges program, in place since the early 1980's, was another fatality. This program subsidized test cases to interpret and clarify the1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It financed some of the work of the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund ("LEAF"), founded in 1985, which has intervened in over 150 constitutional equality cases on a wide range of issues including violence against women, sexual assault, workplace inequities, socio-economic rights and reproductive freedoms.
LEAF's goal is to ensure that the law guarantees substantive equality for all women in Canada. It now relies on donations.
The Women's Future Fund closed, another victim of the 2006 government funding cuts. The WFF had raised money for national women's organizations that fostered equality rights for women and girls, like the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, National Congress of Black Women Foundation, and the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women...(more)