Federal Budget 2024: Celebrating progress, despite a patchwork of gaps and challenges ahead for sexual health and rights

Last week, while our team gathered in Ottawa for our annual retreat, we also kept our eyes trained on the announcement of the Federal Budget 2024. This is always an important moment because, it outlines the government's priorities for the upcoming year and provides insights into the government's policy directions on a range of critical issues.   

This information is essential for people in Canada and for civil society organizations like us so we can anticipate potential policy changes, challenges, or opportunities that may arise. The federal budget is also a tool to gauge how (or if) the federal government is addressing issues critical to the realization of human rights for all. Monitoring the budget process allows us to hold the government accountable and advocate for increased investment in areas that require attention or support. 

As champions for human rights related to gender, sexuality, and reproduction in Canada and around the world, here are our highlights: 

What We’re Celebrating: 


In February, we broke out the party hats at the tabling of the Pharmacare Act which included cost coverage for contraceptives.  Last week we brought the hats back out to celebrate Action Canada’s 10th birthday and the funding announced for this first phase of the Pharmacare roll out.  This means that when provinces sign up to the Pharmacare plan, the money will be there to enable people to access free contraception.  Decisions about if and when to have children should not depend on what is in people’s bank accounts or on patchwork insurance coverage.   Universal access to contraception reduces gender inequality, improves health outcomes and saves on health care costs.  It also meets the needs of people subjected to coercion and control within their relationships and who often rely on a partner’s or parent’s insurance plan or compassionate programs that have limited options.  

For all these reasons and more, the start of a universal, comprehensive approach to covering the fees for prescription contraception is a huge victory! We also recognize that this is only the first step and there is still much work to do but Budget 2024’s investments will pave the way to build more equitable access to a range of medications and devices that save and change lives.  Over the coming year, Action Canada will be following closely the Pharmacare Act as it moves through parliament and advocating for all provinces and territories to sign up to this transformative program. 

Investments in Housing 

Along with our partners in the housing sector, we welcome the Government’s plan to tackle the housing crisis. Having a safe place to live is vital to people exercising their right to sexual and reproductive health as we highlighted in our recent report to the UN on Canada’s human rights record. Women and gender diverse people, particularly from marginalized communities, are more likely to be in vulnerable situations when it comes to having a safe place to call home.  Without housing, the ability to get a medical abortion in a safe and dignified way is compromised, people are more exposed to sexual violence and exploitation and getting prenatal care is harder.  This was starkly illustrated with reports of several babies born in encampments this past year.  We celebrate the Government’s steps toward solving this pressing issue.   

Recognizing the Care Economy 

In the same vein, investments in the Care Economy are noteworthy. Budget 2024 shows the federal government recognizes the critical importance of accelerating the expansion of low-fee high-quality early learning and child care to those who don’t yet have access because of the lack of child care spaces. We welcome the recognition that any strategy to address the urgent need for more affordable, safe, and accessible childcare must go hand-in-hand with the recruitment and retention of the child care workforce who deserve good wages, pensions, benefits, and working conditions. Investing in publicly funded childcare is not just about supporting families, its benefits are also structural as it makes a powerful statement that care work must be recognized and valued in our society, and it enables more people to make work and family choices based on their own desires and circumstances.   

International Development 

On the global stage, we were encouraged by the emphatic restatement of Canada’s ten-year commitment to fund the neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health care through its international development portfolio.  This global leadership on SRHR is especially critical within a polycrisis world where the health and rights of women, gender diverse people, youth and marginalized people are often deprioritized while at the same time are the people who are disproportionately negatively impacted by these crises.  Along with our partners at Cooperation Canada, we also welcome new funding towards humanitarian aid. This additional funding to the International Assistance Envelope (IAE) has the potential to alleviating human suffering in regions of the world hit hardest by the failures of those in power.   With that in mind, we were glad to see that preparations for Canada’s hosting of the G7 next year will centre gender equality in policy development and decision-making. As the world’s seven largest economies, the Group of 7 (G7) wields unparalled power to advance or thwart efforts for a more fair, more peaceful and healthier world.  We will be examining the outcomes of the G7 in 2025 to ensure Canada is aligning its words to its actions on gender equality in this important space.  We look forward to working with Global Affairs Canada and our partners in civil society to ensure that Canada continues to show leadership on sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality and sustainable development that aligns with its human rights obligations and responsibilities as an influential actor in the international community.   

What Is Missing from Budget 2024: 

While there is much to applaud in the 2024 Budget, we are concerned that the much-anticipated Disability Benefit falls well short of what is needed, that there is increased funding towards policing and securitization to address rising levels of hate related to gender and sexuality without the accompanying upstream measures that are essential for prevention of violence in the first place.  In that regard, we are worried about absence of news on making the Health Canada’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Fund permanent and expanding its capacity to ensure more reach in more communities. In two short years, this Fund has had a tremendous impact, connecting people most likely to face barriers to sexual and reproductive health care to the services they need.  

The projected end of this funding in 2027 will mean that successful and impactful programming, already under immense pressure because of a level of need that far outmatches the money available, is facing a devastating service cliff.   Because of this fund, Action Canada’s own team of patient navigators and our Emergency Travel Fund has helped hundreds of people who needed an abortion and otherwise would not have been able to afford the plane ticket, the gas money, the food expenses, the hotel rooms, the winter coat, the taxi ride, or the childcare needed to make it to their appointment. The end of that support will disproportionately impact people in rural and remote communities, people in situation of poverty, single parents, people with substance use disorders, those facing intimate partner violence, and those who are homeless. 

Addressing Polarization and Rising Anti-Trans Hate 

Following the strategies of well-known American-style populist playbooks, we've witnessed a surge in divisive political tactics in Canada that have led to a rise in hostility around gender equality, Queer and Trans rights, and comprehensive sexuality education. In the last year alone, several provinces have taken steps to roll-back policies and propose laws that target the protections put in place for queer and trans youth in schools, limit access to comprehensive sexuality education, and stoke fear around young people’s access to gender-affirming care. This has fanned the flames of hostility online and in communities, with trans and queer individuals being targeted. We are heartened that the Government recognises the need to tackle this head on as the threat to democracy and human rights that it is. We are especially pleased to see investments in protecting people in online spaces. 

Unfortunately, the proposed interventions in Budget 2024 fall short. A plan to address increased polarization around 2SLGBTQ+ rights and issues must be clear on how political actors are intentionally weaponizing people’s feelings of disenfranchisement and fear stoked by inflation, housing precarity, grocery prices rising, and tensions around mounting conflicts in the world. Creating a sense of division over wedge issues is meant to grab votes, divert people’s attention from what would truly address the problem they face and provide cover for unpopular policy solutions.  Culture war tactics fan the flames of disinformation on sexual violence, gender equality, human rights, contraception, trans rights and gender affirming care right now. So, a plan to address this must go beyond allocating funds for public safety and police services. It needs to clearly identify the underlying issues, address the real concerns that would make a difference in people’s lives, and move away from factors that exacerbate divisions.  

Sexual and Reproductive Health: A Part of Healthcare Infrastructure  

We can all agree that children should be safe at school, that people should be free to decide what happens to them and their bodies, and that people and families should have what they need to thrive. We must stop instrumentalizing reproductive health, sexuality and gender as wedges on all sides of the political spectrum. It is imperative to understand that separating sexual and reproductive rights issues from the general infrastructure of health care and education in order to score political points against whomever is perceived to be the opposition, does not serve anyone.  It takes attention away from the fact that abortion rights mean nothing if there are no nurses to staff hospitals and people must drive hours to give birth because labour wards are closing due to staff shortages. Abortion, a very common medical procedure that 1 in 3 people who can get pregnant will get in their lifetime, is one example of how Canadians want to see our politicians invest in robust infrastructure so we can get care when we need it no matter where we are or what’s in our bank account.  

How We Will Move Forward Together to Advance Sexual and Reproductive Rights 

Addressing the rising backlash against gender-equality, coordinated by anti-democratic and anti-human rights groups across the globe is also best addressed by properly funding a thriving and robust civil society. This budget highlights investments made in the non-profit sectors over the several many years but for the most part, these funding streams are coming to an end, are not enough to meet demand, and still mostly propose short-term project funding with very little resources going toward building strong, sustainable organizations. Civil society organizations are more than just a conduit to deliver services or start-ups that can rely on individual donations to create meaningful change. We play a vital role in sustaining a healthy democracy, meeting our human rights obligations as a country, and ensuring communities thrive.  Just check out the brilliant Budget 2024 analyses from our feminist and gender justice civil society colleagues to see what we mean. You can watch it here.

We look forward to working with governments and in civil society to continue to find solutions to big problems we are best placed to solve all together! The 2024 Federal Budget is full of opportunities and we look forward to leveraging them to continue to defend and champion the human rights of all people everywhere. 


Posted on 2024-04-26
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