UN singles out B.C. for its treatment of women

News release

A news release from the B.C. CEDAW GROUP

A coalition of 12 prominent B.C. women's organizations are calling on Victoria to reverse recent policy changes and cuts to social programmes that specifically harm women and girls in the wake of criticism from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The B.C. CEDAW Group notes that the U.N. Committee singled out British Columbia for special criticism after reviewing Canada's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

Shelagh Day, who represented the B.C. CEDAW Group at the review of Canada's report, says, "The Committee states that it is concerned about the disproportionately negative impact on women and girls of a number of recent changes in British Columbia, including the cuts in funds for legal aid and welfare assistance; narrowed eligibility rules for welfare; the incorporation of the Ministry of Women's Equality under the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women's Services; the abolition of the independent Human Rights Commission; the closing of a number of courthouses; the cut in support programmes for victims of domestic violence and the proposed changes regarding the prosecution of domestic violence." (para. 35).

"There is important attention paid to legal aid in the Concluding Comments," says Audrey Johnson of West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). "The Committee found that women are discriminated against when civil, family and poverty law legal aid are cut, as they have been in B.C." (paras. 31 and 32).

"The Committee urges the provincial government to analyze the impact of its recent measures on women and girls, and to change them as necessary," (para. 36), says Benita Bunjun of the B.C. Coalition of Women's Centres. "It is clear that the U.N. Committee understands that the B.C. government, far from advancing women, as the Convention requires, is moving women backwards."

"In their questioning of Canada, Committee members expressed shock about the poverty rates of Canadian women, and were particularly appalled by the numbers of single mothers, Aboriginal women and women of colour who are living in poverty," says Margot Young, who also represented the B.C. CEDAW Group at the review. "In a country as wealthy as Canada they found poverty rates of 54 per cent for single mothers, 43 per cent for Aboriginal women, 37 per cent for women of colour, and 48 per cent for women who are recent immigrants astonishing. Committee members were also concerned that cuts to social programs have deepened women's social and economic vulnerability, eliminating their good jobs, increasing their burden of unpaid work, and making them less able to leave abusive relationships," says Young. (para.33)

Kelly MacDonald, an Aboriginal lawyer, says, "The CEDAW Committee was also shocked by the situation of Aboriginal women and expressed intense concern about 'the persistent and systematic discrimination faced by Aboriginal women in all aspects of their lives.'

"And the Committee found that Aboriginal women are overtly discriminated against under the law in Canada, specifically because Aboriginal women living on reserves do not enjoy matrimonial property rights, and because the residual discrimination caused by the "marrying out" provision of the Indian Act has not yet been corrected," she says.

"Aboriginal women have been lobbying for years to get these problems fixed. Now the CEDAW Committee has said that these failures to treat Aboriginal women equally are 'incompatible with the Convention.'" MacDonald says. (para. 37).

"Florence Ievers, the head of the Canadian delegation to the CEDAW Committee's review of Canada, promised that Canada would make its best efforts to implement the Committee's recommendations," says Day. "We are looking forward to working with the B.C. and Canadian governments to reverse the patterns of discrimination against women."

The B.C. CEDAW Group, which produced the submission to the CEDAW Committee entitled British Columbia Moves Backward on Women's Equality, is a group of 12 non-governmental organizations, including: Aboriginal Women's Action Network, Working Group on Poverty, West Coast Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, Justice for Girls, Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres (British Columbia and Yukon Region), End Legislated Poverty, Vancouver Committee for Domestic Workers and Caregivers Rights, British Columbia Coalition of Women's Centres, the Vancouver Women's Health Collective, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women - B.C. Society, and the Women's Working Group of the B.C. Health Coalition.

The CEDAW Committee reviewed Canada's 5th Report on its compliance with the Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women during its 28th session, which was held in New York City from January 13 to January 31. Canada has been a signatory to the Convention since 1980, obligating federal, provincial and territorial governments to comply with its terms and to report on its compliance every 4 years.