Three days away from my computer and the news on Status of Women Canada (SWC) funding changes gets even worse. Two fine feminist activists, Judy Rebick and Linda McQuaig, offer their thoughts on the drastic changes and cuts at SWC. From Rebick, founding publisher of rabble.ca and a former President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women:
…Another potentially even more significant change is that for-profit groups are now eligible for funding. In other words, the Royal Bank of Canada could apply for funding to Status of Women Canada to increase the number of women managers at the bank.
This should have the corporate sector salivating — yet another trough from which to feed. Rebick continues:
…Politically motivated cuts to the program began in the ’80s under Brian Mulroney, at a time when the women’s movement was one of the most important opponents of free trade. The Liberals continued the cuts and quietly changed the program so that it was no longer funding operations but mostly research. This had an even a more devastating impact on women’s groups.
In one way, the Harper changes are the nail in the coffin, which may be why they are receiving so little attention. But we should not underestimate their significance. On the one hand, they are a sign of the anti-feminist, social conservative direction that the Harper government will take should it win a majority. On the other hand, they are another deeper stage of a dramatic restructuring of the Canadian state that will further marginalize those who have the least political power in society.
Last May, the Prime Minister told Parliament that ensuring equality rights for women was one of the key reasons Canada is waging war in Afghanistan.
Certainly Harper’s claims of championing the rights of burqa-clad women have helped him sell that unpopular war to Canadians.But when there’s no war to peddle, Harper doesn’t give a piffle about women’s equality. Indeed, he seems downright opposed to it. In a recent move that got relatively little attention, the Harper government actually removed the word “equality” from the list of goals of Status of Women Canada, ending decades of advocacy for equality on the part of that federal agency.Such advocacy itself is now under attack. The Harper government has cut off funding for advocacy done by women’s organizations, which have fought hard to overcome discrimination that has, for instance, left women earning substantially less than men, regardless of occupation, age or education. Canadian women earn 72 cents for every dollar a man earns.
This pay gap exists despite federal and provincial pay equity laws, and would undoubtedly be bigger if it weren’t for women’s groups pressuring governments to enforce and strengthen these laws, despite opposition from business. The Conservatives have also stopped funding women’s groups that carry out research about women’s status. Evidently, the less women know about their inferior status, the better. These moves are aimed at appealing to Harper’s base of social conservatives and religious right wingers, but are wildly out of sync with the Canadian mainstream.
Many are left wondering what Harper is up to. As both journalists point out, this hard right turn is what Canadians can look forward to should a Harper Conservative majority ever come to fruition. Yet, this turn is alienating Harper from the support he needs in Quebec. Women’s groups are now forced to take a lead role in the struggle against this right wing extremism.