In my letter I shared my concerns with the policy shift this government has taken, away from equality and toward a paternalistic approach to women and the inequalities we face. I said I was not a proud Canadian at the moment, given the changes and cuts they have implemented. I also decried the fact that the Women's Program no longer funds projects which promote the political participation of women, although women represent just over 20% of elected parliamentarians in Canada, for example. The statistics are not much better at the provincial level. Along with many other women, men and women's and nonprofit organizations, I asked the Prime Minister to reverse his decision and reinstate the Women's Program as it was, with the original mission and budget.
I received a short acknowledgment of my letter, informing me that it had been forwarded to the Minister in charge (Bev Oda). Then - fast forward to this week, when her response was sent to me. Let me quote some of the best parts, followed by my comments:
"It is important to be clear on the recent changes the federal government has made to Status of Women Canada and the benefits this will bring to women across the country."
--> She thinks it is not clear to me or to other women in Canada? The meaning of these changes is very clear: the Conservatives mean to phase out Status of Women altogether and this is only the first step. As for the "benefits" the changes will bring: what are they? So far we have seen nothing but regression and cuts. The Minister says the 5$ million cut will be allocated elsewhere, to provide "concrete" resources for women in need (the poor dears!). Yet almost five months after this announcement, we stil have not been told what those 5$ million will be used for, exactly. I imagine the upcoming federal budget will tell us how those monies will be used.
"We have actually made Status of Women Canada services more accessible. For the first time, funding applications will be available online to women's groups and other organizations that undertake projects to benefit women directly. With this change, Status of Women Canada services are now as accessible as the nearest computer with Internet access."
--> More accessible? Who is the Minister kidding? Three-quarters of Status' 16 regional offices are scheduled to close on March 31st, leaving only four offices in all of Canada. The staff in these offices will be so overworked - they already are, with 16 offices! - that they will be unable to speak to or provide any help to women who need support in completing the application process. And as for the Internet making things more accessible for women - the Minister is laughing at women in saying that. We know that women are less online than men, are more intimidated than men by computers, and that the poorest women of all - those in rural areas, those from minorities, Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, etc. - are most often nowhere near able to access a computer, let alone one with Internet access. Never heard of the digital divide, Madam Minister? The world just held an international series of conferences on the subject, in case you didn't know...
I realize that in her response, the Minister does not directly address two of the facts I had questioned in my letter: the policy research program is cut, and advocacy is no longer fundable through the Program. She stressed over and over how "concrete", "direct", "real" services will be provided to women (if I hear her say those words again, I will scream), as opposed to monies being used for administration. But what does she include in what she calls "administration"? Lots of elements that have nothing to do with administration, just see for yourself:
- the policy research fund (completely closed down), which produced close to one hundred publications and useful policy and organizing tools for women;
- ceremonies surrounding the Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case;
- International Women's Day celebrations, March 8th of every year: theme, promotional material, toolkits and other resources to help women organize activities in the community
- and probably more of which I am unaware...
It is misleading to citizens to say that Program overhead was very high, when it actually included all the above items.
The final straw in the Conservative government's changes to the Women's Program? For-profit organizations (i.e. private companies) can apply for funding! It is absolutely incredible, nonsensical and unjust to women. The Royal Bank of Canada, Merck-Frosst or Bombardier now have as much right to apply for some of the paltry Program funds as your local women's shelter or women's centre... That is completely unacceptable!
To find out more about the cuts and changes to women's programs, including what you can do to participate in the different campaigns, check out these feminist Websites:
- Status Report
- The Women Are Angry
- FAFIA (English) / AFAI (en français)