Stephen Harper is the most “sexist and antiwoman” prime minister that this country has seen in the past 50 years, according to Vancouver feminist and human-rights activist Shelagh Day. “In my view, this is a particularly bad time,” Day told the Straight in an interview at a Cambie Street coffee shop. “I’ve never seen government in Canada as bad as they are now.”
Since taking power in 2006, the Harper government has scrapped plans for a national child-care program and eliminated the Court Challenges Program—a national nonprofit organization set up in 1994 to provide financial assistance to those mounting court cases that challenge federal laws and policies that violate a person or group’s constitutional equality rights. In addition, his government axed jobs at Status of Women Canada and removed the word equality from its mandate.
“Sometimes I think prime ministers do a lot of antiwomen things, but it’s somehow less overt,” Day said. “This one [Harper], I’d say, is pretty clearly antiwomen. Some of the attacks he’s made on programs and services that are vital to women are astounding.”
Day, who served as B.C.’s first human-rights officer in 1973, believes government should play an integral part in creating a balanced playing field for women. She says the recent federal budget exemplifies blatant sexism, asserting that a disproportionate amount of funding was allocated to male-dominated sectors such as construction.
“Fine, you’re going to solve the recession; why not put money into soft infrastructure as well?” she asked. “Why isn’t this a time to put money into jobs in daycare or health care? I think the whole question of how government spends money is increasingly important. The issue of human rights is about putting rights and money together. That’s essential to solving the problem of inequality.”
Day said the word feminist has been stigmatized, and that women who call themselves feminists are ostracized. She said this has created a hostile environment in which young women aren’t given the opportunity to understand that being a feminist means “believing in themselves and recognizing that they hold up half the sky”.