Robyn Benson, PSAC

The best place to be a woman

Women Day PSAC.JPG

On International Women’s Day it’s a bit of a shock to learn that Canada is hardly on the map when it comes to women’s equality around the world.

Best country overall? Iceland. The best country for sharing the housework? Denmark. Safest place for having a baby? Estonia.

Smallest wage gap? Egypt. Most female politicians? Rwanda. Most women in the workforce? Burundi. Women in positions of power? Jamaica. You can just feel those ol’ stereotypes slipping away, can’t you?

Canada is in 21st place overall. Not something to be particularly proud of.

Then I find myself thinking of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada, and wondering how they would fare as a group in these comparisons. Here’s a new report on Aboriginal Canadians and the prison system, but it makes depressing reading. The context:

The Corrections and Conditional Release Act (CCRA) …provides for special provisions (Sections 81 and 84), which are intended to ameliorate over-representation of Aboriginal people in federal penitentiaries and address long-standing differential outcomes for Aboriginal offenders.

These provisions are now 20 years old. The proportion of federal inmates who are Aboriginal has risen to 21% across Canada—and it’s 55% in the Prairie region. Almost 90% of Aboriginal inmates are denied access to Healing Lodges. Nearly a third of the Aboriginal inmate population are women, an increase of 85.7% in ten years. But:

The investigation found that, as of March 2012, there were only 68 Section 81 bed spaces in Canada and no Section 81 agreements in British Columbia, Ontario, and Atlantic Canada or in the North. Until September 2011, there were no Section 81 Healing Lodge spaces available for Aboriginal women.

I remind myself of the missing Aboriginal women in BC, and yet another damning report. The Harper government defunded Sisters in Spirit, the group of Aboriginal women who had broken the story, investigated, compiled cases and lobbied for action.

Meanwhile the federal government is going to court yet again to block a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal from hearing a longstanding case of federal discrimination against children on reserves. Social services funding for Aboriginal kids is substantially lower than for other children. This shameful discrimination does not equip them for a better future. And the girls on reserves face a double disadvantage as they grow up, too often marginalized, socially and economically, in the wider Canadian society.

Even in that Canadian “mainstream,” women in general are not faring particularly well: for Aboriginal women in particular, the situation is dire. Everyone wants to be optimistic about the future, and I strive to be, especially on a day like today when we celebrate the amazing achievements of women over the past few decades. Yet we still have so far to go: as always, it seems, a woman’s work is never done.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on March 8, 2013 12:34 PM.

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