Minister Rona Ambrose supporting M312 with her vote was a bit of a surprise to many across the country, and caused a variety of reactions ranging from outrage to applause. However, this vote was only one action in a long line that illustrates the Harper government’s steady institutional disempowerment of women in Canada.
To start, Minister Ambrose is the Minister responsible for Public Works and Government Services as well as the Status of Women. This large portfolio and the folding in of the Ministry for Status of Women sends a clear message that Status of Women is not a high priority of the government. Since PM Harper formed government, the ministry has seen budget cuts of nearly 40 per cent and had 12 out of 16 regional offices closed. The word “equality” was also removed from it’s mandate.
Alongside these budget cuts, the Status of Women ceased funding for any organization that included advocacy for women in their mandate or within their organizational purpose. Advocacy is a broad stroke word that meant operational funding losses for many women’s organizations that produced research and reports on the status of women’s inequality. Inequality that has not been dealt with, or in many cases recognized. These cuts affected large communities, but also smaller vulnerable communities who have few resources for women to turn to. Funding is now given project by project, and those funds are for stated deliverables.
Minister Ambrose’s vote was a blow for those organizations and those women who look to Status of Women to represent all women in Canada. This vote sent a clear message that this minister supports reexamining abortion practises in Canada. While many painted this vote as simply opening up a discussion, the true intent has been made clear from MP Woodworth and many others who supported it. This clearly was a way to re-open parliamentary discussion on the legality of abortion.
While Minister Ambrose may defend her vote by saying it was one of conscience, she must also recognize her vote is weighted heavily by her ministerial status. Not only is equity not being discussed, this silence is costing women in Canada. The World Economic Forum gender gap index ranked Canada in seventh place in 2004. In 2011 Canada was ranked 18th with a score of 0.741 (with 0 being total inequality and 1 being total equality). In regards to representation, the gender gap index ranks Canada 32nd for women in parliament. Behind Mexico, Nepal, Spain, Ecuador, Germany, Cuba, Denmark and 22 other countries.
Despite Minister Ambrose’s stated dedication to increasing leadership among women and empowering women, instead we have a government that disincentives women speaking out. Ignoring vital information about the challenges women still face. One of those key challenges being boldly autonomy. The right to choose. Minister Ambrose’s vote indicated that the very right we continue to fight so hard for is up for debate as far as she is concerned. This is the minister responsible for striving towards true equality.
Many over social media have called for her resignation. That will likely solve little. What this vote has done is stimulate a necessary conversation over the true issue of equality. Economic equality, leadership equality and representational equality. It has also demonstrated that there are MPs on both sides of the aisle who understand the challenges women continue to face. Those MPs should be commended for taking the bigger picture into account.
While an election is still a while off, now is as good of time as any to start the discussion of who best presents the challenges women continue to face as genuine challenges, and not women’s issues or a feminist agenda. The challenges of inequality are faced by all women and should be acknowledged. Further, they should be addressed by empowering communities to speak out and make change. Not starve those vital organizations out or place ministers in portfolios they don’t truly support.
Originally published on Rabble.ca September 28th, 2012.