So what’s trending at the 2015 Canadian Federal Elections campaign? Debating women’s issues is certainly a hot-button for everyone, except, it seems, for the incumbent government. On September 21, 2015, the Alliance For Women’s Rights, representing 175 women’s organizations in Canada, hosted the #UpforDebate session to ensure that women’s issues were not voiceless in the current elections. The Conservative Harper government were conspicuous by their absence, which many regard as their blatant indifference to women voters. You can catch the panel discussion and the interviews with party leaders here http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/73824515.
Canada’s report card on women’s issues
Liberal candidate Iqra Khalid, of Mississauga Erin Mills said, “It’s embarrassing that the Conservative government will not take women, who represent more than half of the electorate in Canada, seriously. Women’s issues don’t rank high enough on their priorities. Even the UN has stated that our Parliament must address women’s issues”.
In June 2015, the UN Human Rights Committee published a scathing report card on human rights in Canada over the past ten years. Among the issues listed, ‘persistent’ gender inequality between men and women, particularly, ‘equal pay for work of equal value across its territory’, with a special focus on minorities and aboriginal women; a need for representation of women in leadership positions across private and public sectors; effective remedies to women who are victims of gender-based discrimination, address violence against women and the missing Aboriginal women issues.
There are still other issues, such as, affordable childcare that could help more women to take up jobs, job creation and women’s healthcare and rights.
Campaigning for change
NDP candidate for Etobicoke Centre, Tanya De Mello, is an economist, human rights lawyer and a first generation South Asian Canadian of Goan origin. “The NDP’s mandate is to bring change. The first thing we intend to tackle is affordable child care. The NDP plan for $15-per-day childcare will create a million new childcare spaces across Canada. We’ve seen it work in Quebec, where since the introduction of affordable childcare, 70,000 more women have joined the workforce. This is a strong plan for families and for the economy.”
Khalid outlined her party’s mandate for change, “The Liberal Party wants to be able to help everyone and our focus will be essential social infrastructure, such as affordable cooperative housing and childcare, creating more jobs and cutting taxes for the middle class. We want to drive change that will impact at the grassroots. Pay equity is a real issue. Women earn only 70 cents to every dollar earned by a man.”
On the issues of violence against women, De Mello talked about the scale of the problem, “We cannot talk about violence against women without talking about systemic inequality and the imbalance of power between men and women. The NDP’s National Action Plan is comprehensive and coordinated and it will work towards ending violence against women and children through dedicated funding and clear benchmarks.”
Women candidates and representation in government
Accordingly to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (ipu.org), Canada is ranked 50th of 190 countries when you compare percentage of elected women in the lower house of national parliaments. In 2011, 23.5% (77 of 304) seats in the House of Commons were won by women candidates.
De Mello said, “We need more women in government to have a stronger voice to represent 54% of the country. In the last federal election in 2011, the NDP boasted the largest number of women candidates, and then we elected the most women MPs in Canadian history. We’re already engaging and empowering women.”
Khalid expressed, “I’m a first generation Canadian immigrant of South Asian origin, born in Pakistan. And we have some strong examples of women role models in our culture from Benazir Bhutto, the first woman Prime Minister of Pakistan to Malala Yousafzai who speaks their minds. Women representation in Canada is coming along and by being effective role models, ourselves, we’re carving a path for future generations”.
Getting Out to Vote
On October 19 Election Day voters across 338 electorates will head to the polls. Voter turnout at the last elections was 61.1%, a steady downward trend since the 1980s when we saw turnouts as high as 76%. Khalid said “Voter absenteeism is a problem, particularly among the youth who are disengaged and disenchanted. At the grassroots we have been working to build awareness and engagement, through our youth initiative programs, to improve voter turnout”.
Women’s Right to Vote in Canada was not something that was handed down on a silver platter to Canadian women. It was the women of the Western Provinces, who drove a hard bargain to kick start and win the women’s right to vote in 1916, largely, because they had ‘earned’ it. In 1919, finally, every Canadian woman was enfranchised.
In principle, we continue to need to unite to have our voices heard, our issues canvassed and progressive policies put in place that will benefit us and future generations. By staying informed, asking our candidates challenging questions when they’re at our doorstep and, most importantly, getting out to polling booths