Hélène Laverdière Headshot

The Conservatives: Tough on Crime, Soft on Violence Against Women

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When the UN's Commission on the Status of Women meets this month their focus will be violence against women. While the U.K. has launched a campaign to tackle this issue and is encouraging the international community to do the same, Canada has not.

Every six days a Canadian woman is killed by her partner. As of 2010, there were 582 known cases of missing or murdered Aboriginal women in Canada. Globally, one in three women will be a victim of violence -- being raped, beaten or abused in her lifetime. In some parts of the world a girl is more likely to be raped than to learn how to read.

In response to statistics like these, true leadership would compel action. Indeed, Justine Greening, Minister Julian Fantino's counterpart in the U.K., sees this as a vital opportunity to tackle this issue once and for all. The U.K.'s Department for International Development (DFID) is driving a campaign to end violence against women with an online petition and pledge to spread the word.

Unfortunately Canada is not following suit.

Where Canada was once a leader internationally in advocating for women's rights -- including in pushing forward Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security -- women have now taken a backseat to the government's other priorities, such as promoting the Canadian extractive sector.

Meanwhile, experienced NGOs that work on women's rights issues like Match International and KAIROS have had their funding cut for political reasons. As it happens, the Conservatives cut funding to KAIROS while it was working with an eastern Congolese group to set up a legal clinic to support women who were victims of sexual violence.

Canada could be a strong actor in the Congo, where 48 women are raped every hour. We could be supporting peace building in the Congo, and working to end the trade in conflict minerals that finances a war that disproportionately affects women. Yet Canada has quietly decided not to renew funding for the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region's conflict minerals initiative, despite the fact that it is achieving great results. Under the Conservatives, Canada is cutting off programs that work, without explanation.

We could certainly be doing more to help women who are suffering from HIV/AIDS, which in many cases in the developing world results from rape. Yet the Conservatives voted against Bill C-398 which would have allowed generic drugs to get to the patients in the developing world who need them most. In an area where Canada should be taking pride in its achievements -- maternal and child health -- this government continues to refuse to fund some women's reproductive health care, including access to abortion, going against international consensus.

Canada should be linking development funding to a concrete commitment to ending violence against women. However, rather than taking bold steps to participate alongside our international partners such as the U.K., this government is pushing partnerships with extractive industries, which do not always have the best record when it comes to protecting the human rights -- and rights of women -- living in close proximity to mines. We need only look at recent allegations of sexual violence involving employees of Canadian mining companies abroad and civilians living near mine sites to know that Canada's approach merits more scrutiny.

CIDA focuses much of its aid on selected countries of focus which receive the bulk of bilateral resources. Since 2008, six of CIDA's 20 countries of focus have actually decreased their score on the Gender Inequality Index, while eight have stayed the same or gone up only slightly. While CIDA has funded several projects on violence against women in the past, and contributes to UN Women, the future does not look promising.

Lynne Featherstone, the U.K.'s champion for tackling worldwide violence against women, sees 2013 as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a real difference on this issue and is urging the international community to do everything in its power to defend women's rights and establish global standards to protect women and girls from violence.

We should do the same.

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