This is a good time to review the agenda and accomplishments of the Coalition for Women’s Equality. Formed in the fall of 2003, the Coalition for Women’s Equality (CWE) works with all political parties to create mechanisms that will ensure that the government delivers on the equality guarantees for women set out in the Canadian Charter, the Canadian Human Rights Act and in international agreements such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The Coalition’s members are the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action, the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, the Fédération des femmes du Québec, Mediawatch, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the National Association of Women and the Law, the National Organization of Immigrant and Visible Minority Women of Canada, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, Womenspace and the YWCA-Canada.
The Coalition has been working for:
– adoption of an Act for Women’s Equality;
– a parliamentary standing committee on the status of women;
– a full-time minister on the status of women, with relevant experience;
– an adequately funded status of women ministry with a full deputy minister to oversee implementation of the Act;
– a requirement that the Auditor General regularly conduct an audit of government performance in the area of women’s equality;
– an increase in the budget of the Women’s Program of Status of Women Canada (SWC), and the restoration of the core funding component of this program.
The Coalition and other women’s organizations successfully secured the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women shortly after the 2004 election. This Committee then confronted the Government, inviting it to adopt measures to ensure that women actually attain the equality they are guaranteed by law. The Minister Responsible for the Status of Women, Liza Frulla, commissioned an Expert Panel on Accountability Mechanisms for Gender Equality to recommend actions towards this goal. In November 2005, she tabled the Panel’s report in the House of Commons. Amongst other recommendations, the report calls on the Government to:
– Recognize that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women has an authoritative, ongoing role of leadership and oversight;
– Ensure that overarching policy priorities and key departments (such as the Department of Finance) include gender-based analysis;
– Introduce accountability mechanisms;
Make NGOs an ongoing and important part of efforts to achieve equality for women;
– Strengthen the role of Status of Women Canada;
– Adopt an Act for Women’s Equality, intended to guide the Government in setting up internal government mechanisms to help achieve substantive equality for women;
– Set up a complaints mechanism overseen by an authority with powers comparable to those of the Canadian Human Rights Commission or the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages to act as a Commissioner for Women’s Equality or an Ombudsperson for Women.
The Government fell the day after the report was tabled. And while Minister Frulla made public her intentions to increase funds to the Women’s Program at SWC and to reinstate core funding to women’s groups, these ministerial commitments remain unfulfilled.
The CWE is employing two electoral strategies that were successfully used in the 2004 federal election campaign: a website (canadaelection.net) and a document called Still in Shock. Both of these tools empower women to question candidates about the issues and concerns of women in Canada. The latest version of Still in Shock will help women question candidates on their will – and that of their parties – to deliver on the commitments made by Minister Frulla.
Charlotte Thibault is chair of the Governmental Relations Committee of the Feminist Alliance for International Action.