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Women's Rights Made Leaps in 2012, Just Not in Canada

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Progress for the world's women has proceeded in fits and starts in the past century, but 2012 saw some clear advancement on numerous fronts and in diverse locations.

Four-million victims, many internally displaced, saw a new law passed in Colombia granting land restitution following the 50-year war. Mostly women would be assisted by the new "Victims Law" -- a serious initiative that would also mandate psychological care and mandatory court representation for the survivors of sexual exploitation, again, mostly women.

Turkey became the first member state in the Council of Europe to ratify a landmark Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. Although 25 other members have signed the Convention itself, only Turkey has ratified it. Clearly there is more work to be done -- 10 ratifications are required before it can be enforced.

A breakthrough occurred in the Arab world in May when, following elections, Algeria became the first and only Arab country where women hold more than 30 per cent of its seats in parliament. The previous high had been 8 per cent. This was the first chance to vote since the Arab Spring had its effects on the region.

This past summer, the UN Conference for Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro adopted The Future We Want -- a major document calling for, among other things, increased gender equality commitments. It included a woman's right to reproductive health and the right to participation and leadership in society.

Also in the summer, Senegal came close to reaching gender parity in Parliament after women were elected in record numbers. As a result, Senegalese women doubled their representation to 150 seats -- 43 per cent of the total.

The Summer Olympics were a global spectacle, but little was made of the fact that, for the first time in Olympic history, every sporting event included both men and women. Following the closing ceremony, UN women signed a partnership agreement with the International Olympic Committee to advance gender equality through sports.

The permanent International Criminal Court made a major ruling in September, offering reparations for the victims of Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga. The court not only decided on a 14-year prison sentence for the warlord, but also laid out gender and child-sensitive principles for reparations for children, women and survivors of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the same month, the UN General Assembly adopted a declaration that included firm commitment and language on strengthening women's access to justice -- a measure including frameworks to prevent and address all forms of discrimination and violence against women.

For the first time ever, the world recognized the International Day of the Girl Child in October 2012.

The year ended in December with the celebrated passage of the first-ever United Nations resolution to end genital mutilation on a global scale. The initiative brought some 100- to 140-million women on to the world's radar who had largely been suffering in isolation previously.

But while global advancements on gender issues were escalating, at home, in Canada, the record remains decidedly mixed. The Idle No More phenomenon presently spreading across the country finds its soul in the suffering of aboriginal women. The refusal to deal with such long-standing abuses threatens to expose the inaction of the present federal government in a manner that will draw international attention.

For Canadian women, the penchant for governments at all levels to lower taxes, offload social responsibilities, and refuse to deal with growing gender inequalities has hurt their future. Research is showing that, over time, more Canadian women -- society's main caregivers -- are having to care for seniors, aging parents, and children. International strategies, developed over the last two decades and designed to enhance the lives of women, have been ignored by the federal government to a heightened degree.

Canadian women are presently losing ground on everything from pay equity to childcare, from poverty to homelessness. While it remains true that more women are gaining access to universities and parliaments, especially at the provincial level, the sharp decrease in institutional and political support in the last few years threatens to undermine any gains made in limited categories.

Canadians must come to terms with the irony of witnessing the advancements of women's rights on a global scale while at the same time dealing with the reality that this country has been steadily declining in international rankings of gender disparity. Where we once ranked 14th out of 115 countries in the "gender-gap index" in 2006, we had fallen to 25th place by 2009.

The time will come when Canadians will no longer tolerate a political climate that sees to the advancement of a few women at the expense of the all the rest. Political turbulence on this matter is coming, with the path-finding Idle No More movement paving the way for broader gender issues. The pressure for change couldn't come soon enough for Canadian women struggling under increasingly impossible workloads with declining rewards.

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