Formally, women in Canada have equal rights. In reality the journey towards equality for women in the political, economic, and domestic life is still very far from its end result: equality and liberty for women. Some of the things I’m going to refer to might at first impression be considered provincial issues, but I want to argue that since equality and equality for women are part of a national state agenda, they should be within the interests and obligations of the federal government.
According to Canadian victimization data, in 2004 approximately 653,000 women had been physically or sexually assaulted by spousal partners at least once during the previous five years. In 2009 there were 23,551 cases of sexual assault reported to police in Canada. This number represents only 8% of the actual incidents of rape and sexual assault.
Every year my organization, Vancouver Rape Relief, alone provides aid to 1,400 women victims of rape and other forms of male violence and shelters more than 100 women and their children in our transition house. Since the 1970s, transition houses and rape crisis centres have been saving the lives of women and their children, providing public education, and advocating diligently and effectively for systematic changes in the state’s response to violence against women.
Violence against women is one of the most devastating expressions of women’s inequality, a harsh effective instrument in holding women back, preventing them from living a safe and free life and from exercising their full humanity, our full humanity.
The understanding that violence against women is fundamental to women’s inequality highlights the importance of transition houses and rape crisis centres as necessary tools for the advancement of women’s status in Canada. Therefore it is within the interest and obligation of the federal government to support the work of women’s equality-seeking organizations by funding women’s centres, transition houses, and rape crisis centres.
The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, CASAC, is a pan-Canadian association of rape crisis centres that have come together to implement the legal and social changes necessary to prevent and ultimately eradicate rape and sexual assault. CASAC is the only national organization of sexual assault centres in Canada.
In his statement for national victims of crime awareness week, regarding sexual crimes, Prime Minister Harper declared that every victim matters. We agree. We also believe that every victim does matter, and therefore we argue that the work of CASAC matters. Sharing knowledge and expertise, coordinating research, and developing local and national strategies are crucial in our response to rape victims and to our fight to end sexual assault and rape.
Given that sexual violence against women is the context of women’s equality and given the declared commitment of this government to victims of sexual crime, there should be funding for the national body of Canadian rape crisis centres.
Many women in Canada are living in poverty. Poverty of women and violence against women are two powerful oppressive forces that feed off each other. The Public Health Agency of Canada states that poverty limits choices and access to the means to protect and free oneself from violence. Simultaneously, the threat of poverty forces women to tolerate male violence. Women return to or cannot leave abusive relationships because they are unable to adequately provide for themselves and their children while on welfare.
Women are holding on to jobs in which they experience sexual harassment because they cannot afford to be unemployed. Women resort to prostitution as a means to support themselves and their children. Securing economic independence for women is one major step towards women’s equality.
Recently there has been a growing understanding of the concept of guaranteed livable income, GLI, as a viable instrument to eliminate poverty. One form of GLI is a negative income tax, as proposed by Senator Hugh Segal. When an individual files a tax return showing an income that falls below what is needed for adequate survival, the state will provide the tax benefit to that individual. This mechanism will eliminate the inadequate income assistance program.
The negative income tax is intended to create a single system that would not only pay for government but would also fulfill the social goal of making sure that there is a minimum level of income for all.
Understanding that the poverty of women is an equality issue obligates the federal government to secure and ensure economic independence for the women in Canada.