Time for party leaders to talk about women’s rights

Stories of sexual violence litter the news.  Debates on access to childcare, maternal benefits, equal pay, safe streets, rape-free university campuses, and a potential inquiry concerning murdered or missing aboriginal women all rage on, and could have profound implications for millions. Given these irrefutable facts, the notion that the fight for women’s rights is over seems profoundly mistaken.

The importance of these questions and of the unique struggles faced by women explain why we need a federal leaders’ debate dedicated to women’s issues before the 2015 federal election. Over 30 years ago, during the 1984 federal election, political party leaders John Turner, Brian Mulroney, and Ed Broadbent did just that.

Oxfam Canada, along with 100 other organizations representing more than 3.5 million Canadians, want to see such a debate. On November 4, 2014 this coalition launched a campaign called Up for Debate. The campaign challenges party leaders to explain how they plan to build a more equitable Canada and make meaningful commitments to change women’s lives for the better, at home and around the world.

Up for Debate specifically challenges federal party leaders to work towards: ending violence against women, ending women’s economic inequality, and supporting women’s leadership and organizations. While both NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Green Party leader Elizabeth May have stated their support for Up for Debate and confirmed their participation in such a debate, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau have remained silent.

But some may ask: Do we really need a debate on women’s issues? Let’s take a look at the facts. Since 1980, over one thousand Aboriginal women have been murdered or gone missing, including Loretta Saunders from Labrador. According to Statistics Canada, women continue to earn 70 percent of men’s annual salaries in this country. A study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that in St. John’s, 32 per cent of a typical woman’s income goes to childcare expenses. A quarter of women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime; 60 per cent of women with a disability experience some form of violence. And on average, a woman is killed by her intimate partner every six days in Canada.

International women’s issues also demand attention. Women now account for half of all HIV/AIDS infections worldwide, and 800 women die in childbirth every day. Yet only five of those deaths are in high-income countries.

Oxfam Canada uses a rights-based, transformative approach to strengthen women and girls’ capacities to mobilize their own power and that of others. Oxfam Grenfell encourages Canadians to voice their support for Up for Debate by visiting http://upfordebate.ca/take-action/support-campaign and signing the online petition, or by contacting their local Members of Parliament.