OTTAWA — Status of Women Canada will soon allow groups advocating for women and girls to receive federal project funding, reversing a controversial policy the previous Conservative government brought in nearly a decade ago.
"Our women have told us over and over that's what they need — an advocate," said Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, one of the groups that has struggled under the current rules.
The government quietly revealed changes to the eligibility requirements for its women's program funding in an email Friday that invited select organizations to join Status of Women Minister Patty Hajdu in celebrating the news sometime early next month.
The email, obtained by The Canadian Press, said the changes will come into effect July 1.
"It was, in effect, a silencing of any kind of voice of advocacy for the very people who need it the most."
The previous Conservative government drastically changed the mandate and operation of Status of Women Canada soon after coming to power, saying they wanted to move toward results-oriented projects.
Beginning in October 2006, organizations were no longer able to get federal funding for projects that involved advocacy work, general research or lobbying the government.
"It was, in effect, a silencing of any kind of voice of advocacy for the very people who need it the most," Lavell-Harvard said.
Her organization also saw the Conservatives cut funding to its Sisters in Spirit project, which included collecting the names of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls years before the RCMP created a database of nearly 1,200 cases.
"It sort of created this feeling of paranoia, where organizations would get called about how much advocacy they should be doing."
Leonie Roux, a spokeswoman for Status of Women, said she could not comment on the change Friday because it was not intended to be made public.
She confirmed the new rules do not yet include giving organizations money for general research, but that is under review because the 2016 budget boosted money for research.
"We are now in the process of creating a dedicated research and evaluation unit to support evidence-based, innovative research that will help inform our decisions," Roux wrote in an email.
"As this becomes established, research-specific guidelines on opportunities for funding will be made available."
Monica Lysack was with the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada when it lost much of its funding under changes in 2006. The impact went well beyond the money, she said.
"I've often heard people talk about the feminist movement — where are the young women?"
"It sort of created this feeling of paranoia, where organizations would get called about how much advocacy they should be doing and whether they should be registered as lobbyists," said Lysack, a professor of early childhood education at Sheridan College who also ran for the Liberals in 2008 and 2011.
Lise Martin, executive director of the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters & Transition Houses, said the new rules could allow organizations like hers to try to bring about necessary changes, such as a national housing strategy that addresses the needs of female victims of violence.
"They go hand in hand, in terms of moving forward on this issue," she said.
Anuradha Dugal, director of violence prevention programs at the Canadian Women's Foundation, said taking financial support away from organizations pushing for change has negatively impacted feminism in Canada.
"I've often heard people talk about the feminist movement — where are the young women?" Dugal said. "Well, for 10 years they've had almost nowhere to work, if they wanted to do that work."
The restored advocacy funding will help more than women — it will strengthen Canada's democracy, Lysack said.
"Democracy is messy and people don't agree on things, but it is that public debate and that public monitoring of policies that I think helps engage citizens."
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