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Status of Women Canada
In 2006, the federal government reduced SWC’s annual budget, forcing most of its regional offices to close. Conservative MP Garth Turner said he and other members of the party were obliged by Prime Minister Harper to agree to the cuts. The government also modified SWC’s mandate, preventing it from funding research and advocacy work: the terms ‘advocacy,’ ‘equity’ and ‘access to justice’ were removed from SWC’s official mandate.
In March 2007, the government refunded SWC $5 million but the organization is still unable to fund advocacy, lobbying and research.
Status of Women Canada (SWC) was founded in 1976. Between 1976 and 2006, the organization has provided funding to women’s groups including women’s shelters and research institutes. SWC developed gender-responsive policies for federal agencies and departments, and helped to monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Eliminations of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
In September 2006, Treasury Board Secretary John Baird announced a $5 million cut over two years to SWC’s administrative budget. The cut was part of funding reductions to 66 government programs that Baird said were ‘wasteful’ and ‘ineffective’.
According to then-Conservative MP Garth Turner, who later left the party to sit as an independent, the Prime Minister told Conservative MPs: “We have determined a series of cuts, expenditure cuts, which will be announced. They have been determined. They are our position. And anyone [who] has got any problem with that—who says anything about it—is going to have a short political career.”
Mandate changed: Advocacy gone
SWC’s Women’s Program funded a number of non-profit organizations working on women’s issues, such as violence against women, pay inequality, and democratic participation. All of these areas require systemic approaches, research and public interest work in order to sensitize the government and the public.
However, in October 2006, the government changed the SWC’s Women's Program, making it impossible for SWC to fund the work of organizations when it relates to advocacy, lobbying or general research on women’s rights issues. Meanwhile, the government made for-profit organizations eligible to receive SWC funding.
The Minister who changed the Women’s Program mandate, Bev Oda, said : “We don't need to separate the men from the women in this country... This government as a whole is responsible to develop policies and programs that address the needs of both men and women".
The cuts affect organizations advocating for women’s issues, such as Antidote, a non-profit organization in Victoria working for the social and psychological well-being of racialized girls and women. The organization’s Executive Director called the changes shocking, and asked: “How do you create change when you can’t advocate for change?”
Other women’s groups, such as Victoria Status of Women Action Group (SWAG), were forced to close completely in December 2006. “You can’t advocate for anything anymore,” said SWAG project co-ordinator Cindy L’Hirondelle. “A lot of the work we were doing was systemic advocacy. I mean, that’s how women got to vote, was through systemic advocacy.” Cuts also affected the research and statistical work being undertaken by Sisters in Spirit.
Regional offices closed
In November 2006, the government closed 12 out of 16 SWC regional offices. Minister Oda said the closures would “save on unnecessary rent and utility bills,” and “free up more than $700,000 for women's programs even after $5 million in funding cuts.”
The opposition raised concerns about repercussions on services for women across the country. “With the closure of these regional offices, the government is taking away one of the very few remaining resources for women,” said Liberal Critic for the Status of Women Maria Minna.
Parliamentary committee steps in
In December 2006, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women (FEWO) held hearings to assess the responses to budget cuts and reforms to SWC.
The Committee on the Status of Women examined the concerns of a number of groups, including the Provincial Council of Women for Manitoba, which produced a one page brief, arguing that "[Status of Women Canada] will no longer have the resources to inform, with independent policy research, government on policy decisions, nor ensure that [gender-based analysis] is understood and implemented,” said the Provincial Council’s report.
Eventually, the Committee on the Status of Women asked the government to “reverse the $5 million in cuts to the operating budget of Status of Women Canada and re-instate the original Terms and Conditions of the Women’s Program.”
In March 2007, the government refunded $5 millon to SWC’s Women’s Program. However, the government did not change the funding criteria, and the initial mandate of the organization was not restored. Hence, the SWC still cannot fund the work of organizations doing advocacy or research.
Various organizations affected
The changes to the SWC’s funding criteria caused the organization to eliminate funding for a number of women’s groups over the following years.
For example, in September 2007, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) was forced to close its national office because of the elimination of SWC funding. For the previous thirty years, NAWL had worked on improving legal rights for women by winning amendments to the Criminal Code regarding sexual assault laws, improvements to the Divorce Act, and adoption of equality rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In April 2010, the New Brunswick Coalition for Pay Equity was cut off because of the ban on supporting advocacy, despite the fact that SWC thought it had one of the ten best women’s projects in the country.
Funding was also eliminated for other women’s organizations like the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women (CRIAW).
The Feminist Alliance for International Action was also affected by SWC's change of mandate of SWC. FAFIA is an alliance of equality-seeking organizations committed to making international agreements on women’s human rights a reality in women’s everyday lives in Canada. FAFIA engages in federal and international advocacy on a number of women’s rights issues. The organization also promotes policy dialogue in support of the implementation of international women’s human rights norms. As such, much of its core activity is not eligible for funding under the new mandate of SWC.
New funding from the government to support women’s economic and physical security and women’s leadership
Recent funding decisions show the new emphasis on economic security and leadership of women. On June 5, 2012 Minister of Public Works and Government Services and Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose announced that SWC would accept new funding applications from organizations working on improving girls and young women’s economic prosperity and engaging them in leadership positions. This new funding opportunity came in the context of the Women’s History Month 2012. On June 27, 2012 the government granted $120,000 for a 24-month project from the Centre de Ressources de la Troisième Avenue (Third Avenue Resource Centre), a Montreal-based project which helps Montreal women from diverse background gaining leadership skills.
The government also continues to support organizations fighting violence against women. In March 2011 the Redwood for Women and Children Fleeing Abuse received $350 280 from the government for a 3-year project helping immigrant women who face violence. In the same month Victim Services Toronto received $168,000 for a project to develop youth-led workshops on the issue of violence against women.
- September 25, 2006: The federal government announces a $5 million funding cut and changes to the mandate of the Women’s Program. Prime Minister Stephen Harper allegedly compels Conservative MPs not to oppose his decision of cutting the budget of SWC.
- November 2006: 12 out of 16 regional offices of SWC are forced to close down after the budget cut leaving only 4 provincial offices to serve women.
- December 2006: In its tenth report, the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women asks that the funding to the organization and the mandate of the Women’s Program stay the same.
- March 2007: The government refunds SWC $5 million for its Women’s Program.
Role or Position
In 1976, the Government of Canada established Status of Women Canada to “co-ordinate policy with respect to the status of women and administer related programs” (Order in Council 1976-779). Status of Women Canada (SWC) 2012 priorities are to advance equality for women by focusing efforts on women's economic security and prosperity; encouraging women's leadership and democratic participation, and ending violence against women. To support this mission, SWC provides policy recommendations to other federal departments and agencies and coordinates the inclusion of gender-based analyses in policy and program initiatives. SWC’s Women’s Program funds organizations working on women’s issues.
Implications and Consequences
- Equality: Status of Women Canada is a critical federal voice for gender responsive policies and therefore ensure equality of rights for women. But cuts to regional offices reduce women's access to programming; cuts to research and advocacy work disproportionately affect smaller organizations which are more dependent on advocacy to support their missions. and the elimination of research, advocacy and public interest work removes a fundamental component of women's ability to engage in progressive efforts to seek legislative and policy change that benefits all Canadians.
- Democracy: A healthy democracy needs to protect minority rights and ensure that all Canadians have access to fundamental justice. By cutting funding to pay equity groups and to women's groups advocating for ethnic and immigrant communities, aboriginal women and others, the cuts work against this basic obligation.
- Freedom of speech: The funding cut to organizations doing advocacy, research or lobbying is an attempt of the government to silence organizations that it considers "useless" or not sufficiently aligned with its own ideology.
- Equality: According to Statistics Canada (2006), "1 in 9 Canadian women live in poverty, women still earn only 70.5% of what men earn for full-time work; and the bulk of unpaid caregiving - for children, seniors and the disabled - continues to be done by women.”
Date published: 27 September 2012
Photo from Status of Women Canada.