Dear Prime Minister….

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The Coalition for Women’s Equality sent this letter to the Right Honourable Paul Martin in response to his government’s initial Throne Speech on February 2, 2004 and after he responded to that speech in the House of Commons on February 3, 2004.

February 13/04

Dear Prime Minister,

The Women’s Equality Coalition joins Quebec women’s groups in expressing disappointment with the Throne Speech and your response to it. We have found little evidence of support for the women’s equality agenda in either of these speeches that constitute your government’s debut.

The speech sets out the goal of government as achieving “a Canada with strong social foundations, where people are treated with dignity, where they are given a hand when needed, where no one is left behind.” Yet, there is little or no indication of investment in social architecture in either of the two speeches that would give women hope. There is mention of a “commitment to gender equality”; but, we have been given almost no indication that your government understands the complex nature of women’s’ equality and has any plans to address it. We are surprised to see the use of a neutral term, gender equality. This is not synonymous with women’s equality. Our concern is and continues to be women’s inequality and the fact that the two speeches have done little to assure us that your government will provide redress.

The stark facts are that over the last two decades women have become steadily impoverished. Today almost 19% of adult women are poor – the highest rate of women’s poverty in two decades. Fifty-six percent (56%) of families with children headed by sole-support mothers are poor; 47% of women under 65 who are on their own are considered low-income; 49% of unattached women, aged 65 or older have low incomes. Poverty rates are even more distressing among Aboriginal women, Visible Minority women, immigrant women and women with disabilities. The women of Canada need your government to show leadership, to engage with these shameful facts and to address them. Since the women’s equality agenda was not addressed in the Throne Speech and your subsequent speech, we fear that we women will be left out of the budget.

Mr. Prime Minister, in your response to the Throne speech, you asserted that in order to work, globalization and the trade agreements must benefit everyone. We urge you to recognize that globalization and free trade to date have had a negative impact on women’s employment and standard of living not only in Canada but also around the world. We are asking you to re-visit the question of globalization and develop a different, more Canadian vision of globalization that is open, transparent, democratic and conscious of our responsibilities to developing countries.

In the interests of women’s equality, we are also asking you to expand the grounds for granting refugee status under the Immigration Act to include: persecution based on sex, sexual orientation, violence against women, genital mutilation and what in some countries are considered “crimes against honour “.

We applaud your commitment to democratic reform in the Houses of Parliament. In this regard, there are two pressing points that we would like to bring to your attention. First and foremost, a means must be found to equalize the number of women and men elected to parliament. You had promised to make this a priority during your leadership campaign and we respectfully wish to remind you about it. Secondly, we ask you to consider the implications of free or conscience votes in the House of Commons for human rights issues. There is a potential that minority rights, never a popular subject, will be in jeopardy. An enlightened government has an obligation to protect and advance human rights.

The government, Prime Minister, has a considerable surplus. We will be watching the budget for an indication that you do recognize the problems of women’s inequality and are ready to allocate resources to alleviate women’s poverty and to support strong initiatives to diminish the incidence and impact of violence against women. We will be watching for funded initiatives that will breathe life into your promises to address quality childcare and to have Aboriginal people, Visible Minorities, newcomers and people with disabilities share fully in Canada’s relative prosperity. We will be watching to see that discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and disability are addressed.

We are very willing to meet with you and your officials before the budget is finalized to assist in fleshing out the details of a programme that would help the government move women in Canada forward towards equality. We are actively seeking a meeting with the Honourable Jean Augustine, Minister of State for Status of Women and will count on her to facilitate our meeting with you.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Thank you in advance.

Sincerely yours,

Anu Bose, PhD, Executive Director, NOIVMWC
On behalf of the Coalition for Women’s Equality:

Michèle Asselin, Presidente, FFQ
Melanie Cishecki, Executive Director, MediaWatch
Bonnie Diamond, Executive Director, NAWL
Lise Martin, Executive Director, CRIAW
Jo Sutton, Executive Director, Womenspace
Elaine Teofilovici, Chief Executive Officer, YWCA of Canada
Charlotte Thibault, Co-Chair, FAFIA