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December 8, 2006 eulogy for equality in Status of Women Canada

by Marianne Cerilli | December 11, 2006

On a balmy Friday in Winnipeg, about 150 people held a mock funeral for the assault on Status of Women Canada’s mandate and funding. This is the eulogy.

We are gathered here together only two days after commemorating the 14 women murdered in Montreal on December 6, 1989 to mourn another loss: the mandate of Status of Women Canada for advocacy to ensure women’s equality in our country. A loss I can assure you, that is already being felt in our communities. We are also here my friends to celebrate the life of equality in the mandate of the federal government’s Status of Women Canada programme.

Friends, Status of Women Canada and her mandate for equality for women was born in 1971. She arose out of the hopes, dreams and hard work of grassroots women of Canada through the Royal Commission on the Status of Women that toured the country for three years, receiving 468 briefs, and about 1000 letters. At the time in the late 1960s and early 1970s, women were seeking a national programme for affordable, publicly funded child care, rights to marital property upon divorce, equal pay for work of equal value, freedom of reproductive choice and the right to birth control, a minimum wage for domestic workers, education and inclusion for Aboriginal women.

It was our dear friend Status of Women Canada that was tasked with ensuring that the Government of Canada make real the 167 recommendations from this Royal Commission. Recommendations in 30 areas from media fairness, to homemaker's pensions, housing to immigration, crown corporations to maternity leave, poverty, fair taxation, to sport, and women's agencies in government. This included establishing a Women’s Secretariat and Programme. Status of Women Canada was established as a bureau within the federal government.

The mandate of this bureau is to:

  • advise on matters pertaining to women and report annually to Parliament on the progress being made in improving the status of women in Canada;
  • undertake research on matters relevant to the status of women and suggest research topics that can be carried out by governments, private business, universities, and voluntary associations;
  • establish programmes to correct attitudes and prejudices adversely affecting the status of women;
  • propose legislation, policies and practices to improve the status of women and;
  • systemically consult with the women’s bureau or similar provincial organizations and with voluntary associations.

Today, a focus has become gender and diversity analysis of policy and programmes.

For 35 years, Status of Women Canada carried out this work. Our friend Status of Women Canada funded and supported the rights of Canadian women to seek equality, to do research on gender disparity and exclusion, to advocate for the full participation of women in the economic, political, cultural and social life of our country. During that time there have been numerous projects across the land and in Winnipeg.

Initiatives such as:

  • the Women and Money Project at the North End Women’s Centre,
  • the Women, Income and Health at the Women’s Health Clinic,
  • the Gender Budget Work of The United Nations Platform for Action,
  • the Manitoba Child Care Coalition study of the economic and social benefits of childcare,
  • and work at the West Central Women’s Resource Centre mentoring women in systemic advocacy for changes to address poverty, childcare and safety needs.

The staff at the 12 centres who have been given their pink slips have been our allies. We want to thank them and let them know that we will work on. We, Canada and the Harper Government need the work of the expert staff in these offices.

Now I know that you feel like we lost the mandate for equality at Status of Women too soon. Some of you may say, but we need her, we still don't have equal pay, women are still more likely to be poor. You may say that this government has also seen to it that we still don't have a have a national childcare programme or universal access to reproductive health services, or an end to violence against women. You may say that women still only have 20% of political representation even though we are over 50% of the population. Yes my friends this is true. She has been taken from us too soon.

That is why, my friends, this is not a time to lay down in our sorrow and outrage; no, this is a time to rise up. This is time for all women and all men who support the equality of women in this country to remember that we decide who the government is. We must recommit ourselves to working to ensure democracy and indeed a femocracy is alive and well in Canada. We can recreate and restore the Status of Women Canada to her rightful place, as advocate, as researcher, as equity seeker, as leader. We have been patient long enough. We must ensure that Canada is a leader internationally in advocating for women and advancing the rights of women not only in our spirit and history but also in practice and action today.

That is why we are calling today for:

  • The immediate resignation of Minister Oda, the minister responsible for the Status of Women.
  • The reversal of the $5-million cut the Status of Women Budget.
  • The reinstatement of "equality and advocacy" in the funding guidelines.
  • The reinstatement of funding for independent research studies.
  • The cancellation of the closures for 12 of 16 regional offices across Canada, including Winnipeg's where we are here today.

With a $13-billion surplus there is the money to invest in women.

The girls and women of tomorrow are counting on us to be successful in these actions. As well the boys and men of the future are counting on us as they realize our equality is their freedom. We know that freedom for all of us, that peace and economic security for all of us is tied to women's equity. We know that women are bearing the burden of globalization and balanced budgets, and privatization and tax cuts, and all of the government programme cuts laid out in the tombstones before you.

In the space of 8 short months, the Conservative (minority!) government under Stephen Harper has:

  1. ripped up the federal-provincial agreements laying the groundwork for a national childcare programme;
  2. actively decided to not adopt pay equity legislation, as against the Expert Task Force report and the recommendations of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women;
  3. eliminated the Court Challenges Programme, which supports costly legal challenges of discriminatory laws using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
  4. de-funded (in order to dismantle) the Law Commission of Canada, which engages in research-based, law reform that is forward-thinking and cutting-edge;
  5. cut the budget of Status of Women Canada by 40%, leading to the closure of 12 regional offices across Canada, and eliminated “equality” as the foundation of the Status of Women Canada departmental mandate;
  6. changed the funding guidelines at Status of Women Canada so that the government can refuse funding (through to 2011) to progressive women’s groups engaging in democratic debates, political advocacy and awareness-raising. Only groups promoting women’s “participation” in the social, cultural and economic life of Canada is now eligible and notably, the new funding criteria will allow religious-right groups (AKA: Real Women) and also for-profit organizations access to public funds to advocate THEIR back to the cave message.

So contact your MPs sisters, contact the media, talk with your friends, family, neighbours and co-workers. It is time to stand up, to speak out to assert our rights as citizens of our country. We will not return to the dark ages of silence and subservience. We will not rest until our government represents us equally and every policy and budget item supports the equality of all women.

Thank you.

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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