Women's rights record in Canada disappointing says UN committee

"How much more evidence does our government need to prove that women continue to face inequality and discrimination? We need a government that will not just talk about improving equality but one that will actually act." — Elisabeth Ballermann, NUPGE Secretary-Treasurer

Ottawa (02 Nov. 2016) — The federal government has recognized that "poverty is sexist" yet according to a new report from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) very little is being done to improve conditions for women in Canada. 

Canada falls from 1st to 25th on the UN Gender Equality Index

CEDAW, an expert body established in 1982, is composed of 23 experts on women's issues from around the world. The Committee's mandate is very specific: it watches over the progress for women made in those countries that are the States parties to the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. A country becomes a State party by ratifying or acceding to the Convention and thereby accepting a legal obligation to counteract discrimination against women. The Committee monitors the implementation of national measures to fulfil this obligation.

CEDAW's most recent report from its 65th Session reveals that Canada has fallen from first place to 25th place on the UN Gender Equality Index. It cites decades of regressive legislation and budget cuts as major factors in eroding women's rights. 

In a press release, the Committee stated, "Canada needs a comprehensive and holistic national gender equality plan that addresses all forms of discrimination against women and girls. It must take an intersectional apporach, recognizing that particular groups of women and girsl — including First Nations, Inuit, Métis, racialized, disabled, refugee, immigrant, transgender, lesbian, bisexual and single parent women and girls — experience particular forms of discrimination and deepened disadvantage. 

The Committee has great concern over the inadequacy of the Terms of Reference for the National Inquiry on Murdered and Missing Women and Girls and their 37 outstanding recommendations that have not been implemented yet. 

Gender wage gap

CEDAW's report points out that the "Canadian gender wage gap is twice the global average, patterns of job segreation by sex remain unchanged with women concentrated in traditionally female and lower-paying jobs, and women are disproportionately represented in part-time, precarious work." 

As Kasari Govender, executive director of West Coast LEAF said, "Due to the 'motherhood tax,' Canadian mothers earn 12 per cent less than women without children. The gap increases as the number of children goes up. It is also larger for single mothers and mothers who have taken longer periods away from paid employment."

Austerity measures are a double-whammy for women

"Over the last 10 years, we've seen governments and employers use the global financial crisis to restrict wage increases, as well as cut the benefits women access in their communities," said Elisabeth Ballermann, Secretary-Treasurer of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "These austerity decisions ensure that women who are already economically disadvantaged bear even more of the consequences."

"We need a government that will not just talk about improving equality but one that will actually act on it," said Ballermann. "How much more evidence does our government need to prove that women continue to face inequality and discrimination?"

Other major obstacles stand in the way of women's equality

The committee is equally concerned with several other issues:

  • lack of protection of women's social and economic rights
  • accessible housing
  • access to support systems such as social assistance
  • violence against women
  • closed work permits
  • access to abortion
  • lack of a pharmacare program

The report concludes that "it is time for our federal government to take leadership and work with province and territories to implement the CEDAW, and launch a comprehensive national initiative so all women in Canada can enjoy the equality CEDAW guarantees."

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The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE