Canada takes long-overdue steps to meet commitments made in 1995 Beijing Declaration
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights welcomes Canada’s first “gender sensitive budget.” We acknowledge the expertise and capacity that has gone into creating the Gender Results Framework and are pleased that the Budget will be accompanied by accountability measures, gender-sensitive data and Gender Based Analysis+ Legislation. In doing so, Canada is taking a strong step towards meeting its commitments from the 1995 UN Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. We look forward to the Government of Canada taking further steps to ensure all public spending promotes the equality of women and other marginalized peoples.
Funding towards the creation of a national universal childcare strategy is missing from this self-described gender equality budget. While the framework of “take it or leave it” spousal parental leave supports shifting gender norms, we know from examples in other countries that this initiative does not go far enough to make a substantive dent in the gender wage gap or create environments in which individuals are supported to raise their families with full respect for their economic and social rights.
Safe, accessible, and affordable daycare facilitates a holistic approach to sexual and reproductive rights in that it seeks to address power structures to enable individuals (particularly marginalized individuals) with the ability to make decisions about their lives – including whether to have children, and when parenting, the ability to do so in healthy environments. Universal childcare is also necessary for alleviating poverty and promoting gender equity. In developing further policies that seek to meet the needs and rights of individuals and families, further measures are required to enhance the eligibility criteria for Employment Insurance to ensure single and other marginalized parents will equally benefit from the proposed changes to parental leave policies.
There is mass evidence to support the need for proactive pay equity legislation. Wage inequality in the public sector has been proved in the Human Rights Tribunal and through two separate studies conducted by the federal government. We are pleased to see the government taking steps to implement concrete measures to ensure that all federally regulated workplaces will be required to demonstrate equal pay for equal value work. Efforts to address the pay gap must include an intersectional analysis, which recognizes the ways in which black, Indigenous, and people of colour experience disproportionately higher gaps in pay. Looking forward, we encourage the Government of Canada to actively engage private sector, provincial, territorial, and municipal workplaces to develop the same standards of wage equality.
Action Canada congratulates our colleagues in the labour and anti-violence against women movements whose tireless advocacy has succeeded in achieving 5 days of paid work leave for survivors of domestic violence who work in the federal sector and investments in legal aid for people who experience sexual assault and harassment in their workplace. Efforts are still required to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence. We therefore call on the Federal Government to play a leadership role in engaging all provinces and territories towards legislative changes to ensure all workers are able to exercise their right to live and workfree from violence.
We are pleased to see the announcement of a National Advisory Council on the Implementation of Pharmacare, led by former Ontario Health Minister Dr. Hoskins. Alongside our health sector colleagues, Action Canada defines pharmacare as universal, accessible, and single payer cost-coverage for prescription medications. International law guarantees all people the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, which includes the delivery of accessible, available, acceptable, and quality sexual and reproductive health information and services. We are therefore encouraged by Dr. Hoskins repeated statements in support of universal pharmacare and take the word “implementation” as a promise that Canadian healthcare will soon include universal cost-coverage for medicines.
Action Canada knows first-hand that access to medications is often unaffordable for those who need it most, especially those suffering from intersecting marginalization and discrimination. The ability to manage your own fertility, have healthy pregnancies, affirm your own gender, and prevent, treat, or manage sexually transmitted infections should not be dependent on income, place of residence, or immigration status. People in Canada who require vaccines, medication, or contraceptive devices should not need to rely on insurance or personal savings to afford the resources needed to maintain or realize the best possible sexual and reproductive health outcomes.
Status of Women Canada will now be a freestanding department within the Government of Canada, supported an increase in modest funding, in part to support projects that promote equality for women. We are pleased to see Canada taking steps to recognize the importance of this mandate by elevating its status alongside other governmental departments. Looking forward, we expect to see concrete measures to ensure the department invests in initiatives that reflect core feminist priorities, processes, and principals.
This Budget includes a badly needed, yet modest, investment in overall Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending: $2 billion over 5 years. While this is a significant investment, in real terms it amounts to only a 2% increase/year – barely ensuring ODA keeps up with inflation. This investment will keep Canada’s ODA at 0.26% ODA to GNI spending, well below the international target of 0.7% ODA/GNI agreed to by OECD countries in order to effectively fight discrimination, poverty, and inequality around the globe.
Within the ODA envelop, Budget 2018 does not include new money for global sexual and reproductive health and rights, despite this being one of the core policy areas of the Feminist International Assistance Policy (stated priorities of the Minister of International Development and areas in which Prime Minister Trudeau has committed to invest to address Canada’s past failings). While Canada’s 2017 commitment of $650 million over 3 years is a strong step in the right direction, with no new commitment of funding beyond 2020, it falls short in establishing Canada as a global leader on sexual and reproductive health and rights, particularly in light of the $8 billion funding gap created by Trump’s Global Gag Rule. A meaningful commitment requires a sustained political and financial commitment to realize substantive change in the most neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights – safe abortion care, comprehensive sexuality education, advocacy, and adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights. It requires the creation of an institutionalized approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights within our development agency (Global Affairs Canada) through a Canadian global sexual and reproductive health and rights policy that can’t be swept under the rug with a change in government. It requires modernizing government funding mechanisms so that grassroots feminist organizations working to achieve legal and policy gains are able to receive financial support.
An investment of $1.5 billion over 5 years was made to support “innovation” in Canada’s international assistance, including to expand innovative development financing options and a sovereign loans program. Action Canada encourages the government to find new and better ways of engaging new partners in development financing and strengthening existing mechanisms to facilitate collaboration with small and medium size organizations (ensuring less onerous and more inclusive mechanisms for grassroots partners), while ensuring feminist principles and human rights remain at the center of policy-making in this area. We are however concerned that this new funding will not only remove emphasis from the importance of official development assistance as a primary source of funding for development initiatives and global commitment, but also promote the leveraging of public/private partnerships. Governments must continue to be the duty bearers in meeting human rights obligations. If private corporations are to assume greater responsibly for the delivery of development assistance, we risk losing the ability of individuals to hold their governments accountable to its human rights obligations. We urge the government to heed historical experience, particularly related to the delivery of family planning programs and initiatives in the extractive industry. Action Canada will be monitoring this area, pushing for transparency and accountability.
 Sister Song: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice.