It has been a long and winding campaign trail, but here we are with 2 weeks to go. To help keep track of everything that’s happened these last two months, we’ve put together a sexual and reproductive health and rights recap of the election to date.
Feminist and women’s organizations call for a federal leaders’ debate on women’s rights, the last of which took place 30 years ago. The Up for Debate campaign is now an alliance of over 175 organizations representing more than 4 million Canadians who want to see their parties leaders explain how they plan to build a more equal Canada for us all, and make meaningful commitments to advance gender equality, at home and around the world. Click here to find out more about Up for Debate
In early September, Action Canada launched a set of briefs outlining current realities and priorities for the Government of Canada to take in terms of sexual and reproductive rights, both in Canada and globally. A take action page soon followed, with ways that you can get involved. Click here to read the briefs and to show your support for sexual and reproductive health and rights at home and abroad.
On 15 September as part of Up for Debate, Action Canada, Oxfam Canada and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, organized Feministing Foreign Policy: a conversation with Nobel Peace Laureates, Canadian thought leaders and Ottawa-Centre candidates.
The expert panel discussed the adoption of the new global development agenda and its standalone goal on gender equality; women as critical actors in peace processes; meeting the needs of survivors of sexual violence; addressing the refugee crisis from a gendered perspective; creating enabling environments for civil society organizations – in Canada and globally; Canada’s role in advancing gender equality and women’s rights on the global stage; and support for multilateral institutions.
Representatives from three of the five main federal political parties also spoke to the need for Canada to re-engage in foreign policy, in part through UN processes.
The event was timely given the 15th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution on women, peace and security (UNSCR 1325) taking place this fall. When adopted, UNSCR 1325 signalled a shift in how the global community views war, how women are impacted by war and the role that women human rights defenders can play in ending war. Subsequent resolutions under the same theme have affirmed support a full range of sexual and reproductive health services, including regarding pregnancies resulting from rape, without discrimination.
The Government of Canada has prioritized the issue of sexual violence in conflict. In taking action on this issue, Canada must take meaningful steps towards the implementation of all UN resolutions on the theme of women, peace and security, by ensuring those affected by conflict have access to a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, which includes abortion services.
On 21 September, the Up for Debate campaign achieved a milestone with the hosting of a live event in Toronto to release one-on-one interviews with the leaders from four of the main federal political parties. A number of sexual rights issues were raised during the interviews, summarized below.
Bloc Québécois: Gilles Duceppe drew attention to a number of policies in Quebec that have contributed to advancing gender equality, namely policies on paid parental leave and child care. Duceppe also raised the need to address violence experienced by those with diverse sexual orientations, particularly young people. Duceppe discussed the importance of complying with international agreements, particularly those related to the rights of Indigenous peoples and the environment.
Conservative Party of Canada: Stephen Harper was invited to participate in a one-on-one interview but did not respond to the invitation.
Green Party of Canada: Elizabeth May called for the repeal of bill C-36, which effectively criminalizes the purchase of sexual services; communicating for the purpose of purchasing and selling sexual services; receiving a material benefit from the crimes of purchasing viagra online sexual services or communicating to obtain them; procuring a person to offer or provide sexual services for consideration; and prohibiting advertising of sexual services. May also called for the restoration of funding to organizations that engage in advocacy, including Planned Parenthood, and recognized the important role of education in addressing gender norms and stereotypes that perpetuate violence against women. On the global stage, May called for a gender analysis of the disproportionate impacts of climate change on women in developing countries.
Liberal Party of Canada: Justin Trudeau committed to engaging provinces in discussions regarding their compliance with the Canada Health Act so as to ensure all individuals have access to essential health services, including abortion. Trudeau recognized the importance of ensuring all women have access to full reproductive health services across the country. Trudeau recognized the ambitious nature of the Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health, while also recognizing the ideological stance taken by the current government regarding the provision of reproductive health services – including abortion. Trudeau committed to providing family planning and abortion services as part of the Initiative, increasing Canada’s official development assistance, and, more broadly, increasing Canada’s engagement on the global stage.
New Democratic Party of Canada: Thomas Mulcair called for an end to gender-based violence drawing parallels between violence against women in Canada, particularly against Indigenous women, and rape as a weapon of war in conflict affected areas, and committed to the creation of a national action plan to address violence against women. Mulcair also committed to holding provinces accountable under the Canada Health Act for the provision of accessible abortion services. Finally, Mulcair acknowledged the positive impact of Canada’s commitments towards maternal and child health, while also ensuring that the initiative includes support for a comprehensive package of health services, which includes safe abortion services. Mulcair emphasized the need to respect and protect the rights of women and girls, including their ability to make autonomous decisions regarding their health and lives.
On 28 September, the Munk Debate invited Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau to discuss international trade, terrorism and ISIS, the arctic, Canada-US relations, refugee crisis, and foreign aid. In the lead-up to the debate, we asked ourselves these five questions. While sexual health and rights were not centre-stage, the issue did present itself.
Conservative Party of Canada: Stephen Harper addressed the work accomplished through the Muskoka Initiative for maternal, newborn and child health, including the impact the initiative has had, often with minimal investment. “You need to concentrate on the things that unite people. Saving the lives of mothers and their newborns around the world is a cause that has united people, on which we have made real progress, and we need to keep going in that direction.”
Liberal Party of Canada: Justin Trudeau also recognized the important work undertaken within the context of the Muskoka Initiative while recognizing the negative impact associated with Canada’s refusal to fund abortion services. Trudeau claimed Harper has adopted an ideological stance, which is preventing him from reaching the most vulnerable and developing policy grounded in science and international best practice. “…a call to once again re-engage and revitalize United Nations peacekeeping. The fact that Canada has nothing to contribute to that conversation today is disappointing because this is something that a Canadian Prime Minister started, and right now there is a need to revitalize and refocus and support peacekeeping operations across the country – around the world.”
New Democratic Party of Canada: Thomas Mulcair acknowledged that Canada must do more to help defend women’s rights, recognizing Canada’s declining support for official development assistance. Mulcair also drew attention to the deaths that occur as a result of unsafe abortion, stating that rape has become a weapon of war. “We must stop this doctrinaire approach that excludes a full range of women’s rights that we’re supporting in these countries. Mr. Harper, for ideological reasons, categorically refuses. I admit that Canada isn’t doing its fair share. This has to be part of our approach in treating these fundamental questions.”
On 2 October, Stephen Harper, Thomas Mulcair and Justin Trudeau met once again along with leader of the Bloc Québécois, Gilles Duceppe, for the French language debate – the last debate of the 2015 campaign. The issue of Islamic face covering during citizenship ceremonies turned into a heated exchange about women’s rights, access to abortion and gender equality.
On 6 October, Action Canada ED Sandeep Prasad published an op-ed with Ricochet pointing to some of the many sexual and reproductive health and rights issues that still need to be addressed in this election. Click here to read the op-ed
With less than two weeks until the election, we need to work together to ensure leaders speak up on issues related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality and human rights more broadly.