On March 8, 2022, our Director of Health Promotion Frédérique Chabot attended a roundtable with Minister Chrystia Freeland to discuss feminist recommendations for the 2022 Federal Budget. Read her statement on how Canada can continue to build on its recent historic commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in order to combat the rise in anti-rights and anti-democratic organizing.
In recent years, Canada has made historic commitments on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including the first ever $45 million for SRHR in the 2021 Federal Budget and the 2019 commitment to direct $700 million per year to the neglected areas of SRHR by 2023.
Globally, sexual and reproductive health and rights are at the centre of a concerning rise in anti-rights and anti-democratic organizing. Opponents of SRHR have made concerted efforts to roll back rights at the sub-national, national, and global levels. Canada has a role to play in countering these attacks on SRHR and democracy by being a strong champion for SRHR.
For that, we need to continue to strengthen our position in Canada.
As studies and reports have already made evident, COVID-19 has made a difficult situation dire when it comes to access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services. This is especially the case for people with disabilities, are undocumented, criminalized (like sex workers), or live in rural areas where we have seen the closing down of maternity wards and clinics, backlogs of STI testing, and people needing to travel to urban centers for care while public health measures prevented it.
There is a constitutional obligation under Section 36 that the Federal Government must ensure essential health services are provided on an equal basis to all Canadians.
Sexual health centers and clinics are key partners in many national action plans such as the Pan-Canadian STBBI Framework for Action and Canada's Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence. They offer a range of clinical and educational services such as low-cost contraceptives, IUD insertion, STBBI testing and treatment, sexual health counselling, abortion care, and sexuality education. Many of those centers were already under pressure before COVID-19 and now the situation is critical.
In the Maritimes, some sexual health centers have to close for up to five months a year because of the lack of funds.
Canada must ensure that all people have timely access to sexual and reproductive health care by establishing a new federal transfer to provinces and territories—the Sexual and Reproductive Health Transfer—to assist jurisdictions to expand the delivery of high-quality and accessible SRH services, including abortion care.
In addition to a Sexual and Reproductive Health Transfer, the federal government must attach strings to any money they give to provincial governments to address situations where provinces are not ensuring meaningful access to essential health services, such as in New Brunswick with Clinic 554.
On a related note, we haven’t yet seen commitments on comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) even though the funding of anti-gender activism is transnational and undermining a decade of progress on women’s rights and gender equality across the world. CSE plays a key role in the realization of a wide set of rights relating to sexuality, gender, reproduction, livelihood, and education. Many states from all regions of the world have recognized the transformative impact of CSE and have taken political, financial, and policy steps to ensure that children and young people have access to high quality and scientifically accurate CSE within their jurisdictions. In 2018, Canada received a communication from the Special Procedures urging for the standardization of CSE across the country. We need federal leadership on CSE and this would require investments in ensuring the capacity of provinces and territories to comply with the 2019 Canadian Guidelines on Sexuality Education.