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Reality Check: Women in Canada and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Fifteen Years On

Posted: Monday, 22 February 2010

Part One: Overall Achievements and Obstacles

There has been a sharp decrease in institutional and political support by the Government of Canada for the promotion and protection of the human rights of women and girls during the period 2004 - 2009. This is true of Canadian government policy on women’s human rights in the national and the international context. Examples of this shift include:

  • The elimination of the phrase "gender equality" from the mandate of Canada’s primary institution responsible for gender equality in Canada: Status of Women;
  • The closing of twelve of the sixteen Status of Women offices, on the principles that women’s and men’s issues do not need to be separated;1
  • The reallocation of funding from organizations that support advocacy for women’s human rights to organizations that provide front-line services only;
  • The elimination of funding to the court challenges program, a program created to provide assistance to court cases related to equality rights guaranteed under Canada’s constitution;
  • The elimination in 2006 of the funding agreements that had been negotiated with provinces and territories to provide five billion dollars for childcare and early learning programs;
  • The decrease in levels of financial and human resources specifically committed to gender-equality projects in the Canadian International Development Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs;

Canada’s achievements towards women’s equality, over the past decades have been considerable. For example, women’s participation in higher education has increased since the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in 1995. However, during the period of 2004-2009, women’s achievements in all twelve areas of critical concern outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action have slowed or been turned back. Canada no longer compares favourably against other nations in assessments of gender equality and the gender gap. For example, in 2004 the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, Canada was ranked 7th. In the 2009 Gender Gap Index, Canada ranked 25th. In 2009, Canada was ranked 73rd in the UN Gender Disparity Index. Canada has been strongly criticised by several UN human rights bodies on the issues of women’s poverty and the endemic violence against Aboriginal women and girls.

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