Monday, February 1, 2010

Stephen Harper Cares About Women's Rights? What a Hoot!

So our newly enlightened dictator came down from the mountain to cast his pearls of wisdom upon the bewildered herd.

Stepping out of the mist in a vision that silenced the ignorant masses of the chattering class, he announced that he was now going to focus on the rights of women and children.

OK .... You really need to stop laughing now, or I'm not going to tell you the rest.

Besides I think he also plans to tell us that he's found a cure for cancer and is now devoted to world peace. Maybe eventually something will stick.

Of course it's all bunk, and a new pamphlet distributed by The National Union of Public and General Employees, paints an entirely different picture.

Women, Stephen Harper and the Economic Crisis

The lack of an early childhood education and child care program, the inequities that exist for women in the Employment Insurance (EI) program and the pay gap between women and men have left Canadian women struggling long before the economic recession began. The Conservative government’s Federal Budget 2009 which was to respond to the economic crisis provided no support for women.

The economic stimulus provided billions of dollars into physical infrastructure projects and construction programs which are male dominated industries. It did not, however, put money into social infrastructures such as child care, health care and community-based social services which are female dominated industries.

It is harder for women to accumulate the number of hours to qualify for EI as they are more likely to work part-time, non-standard hours and have extended periods of time away from the workforce to handle family responsibilities. The extension of five weeks of EI benefits does not help women who cannot quality for benefits to begin with.

The Federal Budget did not provide or improve access to affordable child care which is essential in order for women to seek employment or retrain. For female single parents, many of whom are poor and cannot afford child care fees, a universal early education and child care program is imperative.

However, Antonia Zerbisias tells us what this is really about:

Harper's plan helps women only as baby-makers

Tuesday, on the Star's op-ed page, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that he would "mobilize" world leaders to save the lives of women and children around the world. "As president of the G8 in 2010," he wrote, "Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's poorest regions."

He had figures:

"Each year, it is estimated that 500,000 women lose their lives during pregnancy or childbirth. Further, an astonishing 9 million children die before their fifth birthday."

But as Zerbisias reminds us: "According to the same sources, some 70,000 women a year die from botched illegal abortions."

The problem of course is that Stephen Harper has never been a champion of women's rights; so what's really going on? I guess we'll have to wait and see. But if safe abortions, education and protection from violence, are not on the agenda, what hope is there?

And remember, he rewrote our foreign policy to exclude the protection of women and children from rape and sexual exploitation, by not allowing humanitarian aid workers to speak of such things in their reports.

But Harper didn't mention anything about women getting educations or achieving economic parity. As internationally known human rights activist Stephen Lewis told me Wednesday night, "None of the spectrum of women's rights and issues is encompassed in this announcement. It doesn't include sexual violence, child marriage, sexual trafficking, female genital mutilation, economic autonomy, political representation, land rights or inheritance rights. It includes none of the panoply of women's issues which consign women to subordinate positions around the world."

She could be right. Women may be reduced to the role of baby makers. I guess we'll just have to wait and see.

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