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This article was published 9/2/2010 (4277 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Stephen Lewis, Canada's former ambassador to the UN, calls Harper's plan "a piece of crass political opportunism" that sees women as mothers and little else. "You don't just throw out the phrase... you actually spend some time setting out what you intend to do and putting a dollar figure on it...
"None of the spectrum of human rights and issues is encompassed in (Harper's) announcement," the former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS says. "It includes none of the panoply of women's issues which consign women to subordinate positions around the world."
He lists sexual violence, child marriage, sexual trafficking, female genital mutilation and lack of economic autonomy, political representation, land rights and inheritance rights.
Not only is Harper's announcement silent on these global concerns, since taking office, his government has been disempowering Canadian women. As one of their first acts, the Conservatives cancelled the former Liberal government's national daycare program. Critics' claims to the contrary, it was up and running, complete with a $5-billion budget and federal-provincial agreements signed between Ottawa and all 13 provincial and territorial governments.
In late summer 2006, the Conservatives killed the internationally acclaimed $2.75-million Court Challenges Program created in 1978 to provide federal funding for women and minorities to fight systemic inequality and discrimination. Their rationale, that the government shouldn't pay people to sue it, masks the odious hierarchical view that human rights are a privilege restricted to the wealthy.
Also that year, they removed the advancement of women's equality from the mandate of Status of Women Canada and cut $5 million, or 43 per cent, of its funding.
They have been diligently rewriting Canada's foreign affairs language to erase advocacy and empowerment. The phrase "gender equality" has been replaced with "equality of men and women." Currently, the federal cabinet is being lobbied by a group of its own backbenchers to end funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
Bev Oda, minister responsible for the Canadian International Development Agency, has refused to say whether contraception and access to abortion will be included in the prime minister's initiative.
All of these actions underscore the power and influence the religious right enjoys within the Conservative party. Last December, the Toronto Star's Linda Diebel reported that two pillars of the movement -- evangelist Darrell Reid of Focus on the Family and Christian educator Paul Wilson -- now hold key positions in Harper's PMO, Reid as Harper's deputy chief of staff and Wilson as director of policy.
Winnipeg South Centre Liberal MP Anita Neville says she believes the Conservatives are worried about their base. R.E.A.L. Women, the anti-feminist women's group that lobbies to preserve the traditional family and the stay-at-home wife and mother, "has the Conservatives' ear, they are very influential," the Liberal's status of women critic said.
"They (the Conservatives) see women's rights in the strictest sense -- equal before the law and that's all. What does that mean? It means a lack of advocacy. Implicit in it is the lack of advocacy."
Neville says maternal mortality, human rights, family planning and reproductive health services, health care and pre- and post-natal care for mothers and newborns must be added to Harper's narrow focus on clean water, better nutrition and immunization.
She points out that 70,000 women die annually in developing countries due to botched abortions. "Access to the full range of reproductive health services is an integral part of a strategy that empowers women. Without reproductive choice or access to birth control, women are less able to benefit from education or economic opportunity, and remain susceptible to child marriage, sexual violence and female genital mutilation."
Gerald Caplan, former NDP national director and author of The Betrayal of Africa, says no amount of aid can compensate for the hardships wreaked on the Third World by free trade and structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, endorsed by the Group of 8 richest countries.
Writing in The Globe and Mail last month, Caplan also pointed out the Harper government recently cut off funding for Kairos, the international development agency funded by all Canada's mainline Christian churches.
"I wonder if anyone told him (Harper) that Kairos worked in the Congo with a Congolese group that was planning to set up a legal clinic to protect women's rights," Caplan continued. "One of its intended projects was to support Congolese women who had been raped."
Frances Russell is a Winnipeg author and political commentator.