Harper Government Working to Silence Women

OTTAWA – Effective today, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) is being forced to close its office, lay off its staff, and cease major consultations and advocacy on women’s legal issues as an outcome of the Harper government’s devastating changes to the mandate of Status of Women Canada. This closure is a grave blow to the continuing struggle for women’s equality.

“The Harper government is trying to silence women’s groups who speak out against its right-wing agenda,” according to lawyer and NAWL Board member Pamela Cross. “These are ideologically driven cuts that demonstrate a defective concept of women’s equality and democracy.”

NAWL is closing its office because the new funding guidelines implemented by the Harper government for the Women’s Program specifically exclude law reform, advocacy and research from its funding criteria. These are the core functions of NAWL which have yielded many landmark decisions on women’s equality over the past three decades. NAWL will now have to rely solely on volunteers, with greatly reduced capacity as a result.

NAWL has identified many issues on its law reform agenda that need to be addressed in order to ensure real equality for women. These include working to achieve proactive pay equity legislation, improved maternity and parental benefits, funding for universally accessible child care and early learning initiatives, funding for civil legal aid, reform of the Divorce Act, family reunification for domestic workers, equality rights for lesbian mothers, improved living conditions and respect for the matrimonial property rights of Aboriginal women living on reserves, improvements to the Canadian Human Rights Act and equality in the workplace and in the family.

Many of these issues have also been identified by the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee as areas where the federal government needs to take action in order to fully respect the Convention.

“Minister Oda, who was responsible for these changes to Status of Women Canada’s funding priorities on behalf of the Harper government, has repeatedly stated that she considers that women in Canada are already equal,” says Louise Riendeau of the NAWL Board. “This demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the challenges that continue to confront women, particularly women who are most vulnerable, such as Aboriginal women, immigrant women, poor women, and others from historically disadvantaged groups.”

NAWL has written to the new Minister responsible for Status of Women Canada, Josée Verner, asking her to provide emergency funding for NAWL and to reinstitute the previous funding criteria which acknowledged the need to fund advocacy work on behalf of women.

NAWL is a feminist non-profit organization that has worked to promote the equality rights of all women in Canada since 1974. It is governed by a regionally representative Steering Committee elected by its membership.

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September 20th: About the Press Conference

(?) Related pages:

(?) Mot de la direction – L’ANFD et l’égalité des femmes au Canada, Katherine McDonald, Action Canada for Population and Development, September 27, 2007

Statement on the Closure of the Offices of the NAWL, Canadian Federation of University Women, September 20, 2007

(?) Statement in support of the NAWL and all equality-seeking organizations, National Council of Women of Canada, September 20, 2007

(?) The need for justice and equality survives the shutting down of the NAWL/ Le besoin de justice et d’égalité survit à la fermeture de l’ANFD, Alliance des femmes de la francophonie canadienne, September 20, 2007