By Claire Trevena
Across Eastern Europe, International Women’s Day is a day of celebration of women. It is a day when women are recognized, by each other and by men. Women are given flowers; in some countries, there are parades.
In British Columbia in 2009, there is more of a sense of mourning than of celebration. Women in B.C. have had a tough decade since the Liberals came to power.
The visible and visceral determination to relegate women’s rights to a distant place in the public psyche began as soon as Gordon Campbell became premier and funding to women’s centres stopped.
The money that went to these centres was not great in relation to the wider provincial budget. But it was important. Women’s centres were a vital heartbeat in the contemporary women’s movement and their closure was indicative of what the Campbell government intended to do to women in this province.
The subliminal message of Campbell and his government is that a woman’s role is not a public role. Better to be tied to the kitchen and the children.
The continual erosion of childcare in this province—the only province in the country which did not try to make up for lost federal dollars when the Stephen Harper Conservatives dismissed child-care agreements—pushes women into the background. If a family can’t afford childcare, it is more often than not the woman still at home bringing up baby.
Women are the public and private casualties of nearly a decade of neo-con government in the province the rest of the country looks to for liberalism.
The less public face of Campbell’s realities are women living in poverty. We all quote the fact that one in four children are in poverty; that means one in four women is in poverty. What sick mind decided that a woman with a three-year-old child would not be entitled to welfare? Who put the rubber stamp to the decision that women on welfare could not try to access postsecondary education? People who want to leave women permanently living below the poverty level.
A woman in this position is likely soon going to find herself homeless (because of the disgustingly small amount of money available for housing for those on social assistance), and once homeless, childless. Because social services believe the woman is incapable of looking after her own child if she can’t find a home, and so will apprehend her children.
This leads to a sad spiral of continued problems, often including mental-health problems.
And a woman in British Columbia can no longer look to the legal system for assistance because cuts to legal aid mean that people who cannot afford a lawyer have to try to navigate the legal system themselves. That hits poor women, women who are victims of violence, women who want justice anywhere in the civil court system.
Getting women to a position of equality is not expensive, but it is a matter of political will and political commitment.
Canada, and by extension B.C., is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. As the title explains, it looks at all forms of discrimination. And it finds Canada, and B.C., failing. Failing badly.
Included in UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women’s judgment and recommendations is the access to legal aid for women; our failure to ensure First Nations women are not discriminated against; the lack of equality of women in the workforce; the lack of legislation dealing with domestic violence specifically; the lack of funding of nongovernmental organizations working with women; the lack of access to child care; failures in the treatment of women in detention.
B.C., the province that prides itself in being progressive fails on all counts. It fails its women.
And despite this judgement, this International Women’s Day women will be celebrating the sisterhood— celebrating shared experience and insight.
We are at a time when change can happen; when the situation has reached rock bottom, and when we are approaching an election in two months’ time.
Now is the time to use this International Women’s Day as the start of the next stage—when we not only celebrate the sisterhood, but celebrate the cementing of our rights and ending discrimination against women at all levels.
Claire Trevena is the NDP critic for women’s issues and the MLA for North Island.
The Straight is publishing a series of International Women's Day-related commentaries on-line in the lead-up to March 8.
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