Informal Feminism

{February 27, 2011}   Stephen Harper’s Setbacks to Womens Rights

As Canadian’s I find that we are inundated with American politics. They are all over the news stations and often when I speak with people they can give me the latest update on what is happening in the American government. While I don’t feel that being educated about international politics is a bad thing, in fact I would say that it makes you a well-rounded person, when I ask the same people about their opinions on the Canadian government they are at a loss, unable to maintain a conversation with me that is not based on hearsay. This is not true of all Canadians but it is often the case when I speak to someone about politics. As well I find that very few of these people know what is happening in our country in regards to women and women’s issues within our government. This week I want to talk about some of the different ways that women have been affected since we elected Stephen Harper into office.

      Harper was elected in 2006, since his election there have been many different changes to women issues in Canada. One of the first things that Stephen Harper did when he became Prime Minister was to slash the budget to Status of Women Canada. Status of Women Canada is a government organization that promotes equality for women. They tackled issues of violence, pay equity and reproductive rights. It is one of the only government funded women’s organizations. Alongside Harper cutting their budget in half in 2006, they were forced to close down 12 of their 16 locations. This was a serious blow to women in Canada because it had been an integral source of information for many women in crisis. To look at Status of Women Canada now, it is currently a group that no longer deals with reproductive rights and is being headed up by a conservative member of Harper’s party, who appears to have made little effort in challenging the issues facing women in Canada. The women who are currently at the head of this organization have little to no background in women’s issues, which is problematic when they are being asked to run one of the only governments run women’s organizations. This is not to say that Status of Women Canada is not helping women, they do still deal with violence against women in a large way. This is helpful because it is an issue that constantly needs to be addressed and we need to find ways to put an end to it. However, the budget cuts and the change in ministers isn’t a positive change for Status of Women, it represents how repressive our government is in regards to women’s issues. The shift away from reproductive rights is troubling because it is one of the large issues that women in Canada face.

      Another large change that Harper made was to cut the plans for a government funded daycare program. This is a program that had been in the works before Harper was elected to office, it allotted 5 million dollars to fund a government run daycare program for Canadian families. Harper pulled this plan from the table and replaced it with a 2.6 million dollar plan, which instead sends $100 dollars a month to Canadian families with children under six.  This change in the plans was very dramatic and is another way that Harper’s conservative views are affecting women in Canada. By getting rid of the 5 million dollar plan it makes it harder for women to return to the workforce full-time if that is what they want or need to do. Sending families 100 dollars a month is not enough to help with day-care, a 100 dollars a month doesn’t cover one week of day-care for many people. The move to get rid of the government day-care was supported by such groups as Prowomenprolife and Institute of Marriage and Family in Canada. Both of these groups are conservative groups that are opposed to things like abortion and divorce, they envision everyone being part of the nuclear family. They are against the daycare program because they do not feel that women should be outside the home when their children are young. They see women working outside the home and sending their children to daycare as having someone else raise their children. While this nuclear family model might work for some, the reality of the situation is that many women need to return to work because of financial reasons. It is also true that 1 in 7 women in Canada live in poverty. So when these women try to return to work they are faced with having to pay huge fees for daycare. A government funded daycare would have hopefully taken these families into account and ran daycare centers that were affordable to all families. But Harper cut the plan backed by his own moral belief that women should remain in the home, without factoring in realistic situations where women have to return to work.

      Alongside Harper’s initiatives against the daycare program and Status of Women, he also helped make some troubling decisions at last years G8. Before the G8 was held Harper released this statement,

As president of the G8 in 2010, Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world’s poorest regions. Members of the G8 can make a tangible difference in maternal and child health and Canada will be making this the top priority in June. Far too many lives and unexplored futures have already been lost for want of relatively simple health- care solutions.

This statement brought some hope about Harper’s stance on women’s issues. He was willing to help women in some part of the world in their quest for safe reproductive health. This dream was shattered when he announced that he would not be including abortion services in Canada’s funding. Originally Harper planned to cut out family planning services as well, or access to birth control, but was met with such an outcry that it was added into the plan. He would not budge on abortion services though. Almost every other country involved in the G8 has pledged to give funding to reproductive services. It is a setback to Canadian policy that our leader refuses to give aid to abortion services in countries that badly need it. This stance on abortion services is one that he could easily try to implement in Canada and that is frightening to think about.

             These are a few of the ways that Harper has made changes to policies involving women in Canada. He has forced setbacks to things that women worked hard for years to get access to, such as the daycare program. Under his conservative leadership women will slowly be pushed back into a separate sphere model, in which women are meant to stay in the home. By limiting the scope of groups like Status of Women Canada, he is making it harder to women to access information on their rights. It also limits the voice of a government funded women’s group, which is problematic because there are very few government funded women’s groups. This group, a voice for women, was almost silenced. Finally his stance on reproductive services in other countries is harmful. It does not provide for the women in those countries, as well it is something that could change quickly in our own country. His stance on abortion services is blatant and he could easily attempt to implement it in Canada. These are all things that have to be acknowledged about Stephen Harper’s reign as Prime Minister in our country. He has made huge setbacks to women’s issues and rights since being in office. The ones I listed here are just a few of the issues if you do some research it is easy to find more.


Laura says:

Great article. Thank you for this!

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