As we gather with family and friends across our great country to celebrate the end of 2013, and as we look forward to a more hopeful 2014, let this be a New Year focused on Canadians, and not on political drama and scandal. And let parliamentarians work to ensure a brighter future for all women in Canada.
These are my New Year's wishes for the women in our lives -- the women who give us life, care for us, inspire us, and who are there for us when life treats us unkindly.
- That the Harper Conservatives acknowledge that Canada currently ranks an embarrassing 20th amongst 133 countries regarding the gender gap, behind Nicaragua, Latvia, Cuba, and Lesotho, and that the government put in place policies for women that will move Canada from this poor ranking into the top 10.
- That Status of Women Canada no longer be a mere nod to Canadian women, with a meager29.6 million budget and only four offices to address the challenges of over 50 per cent of the population, and with a focus on "commemorative dates" rather than resolving pressing needs, such as child care.
- That the government put in place an equality act and issue an equality statement with each budget, as well as equality impact assessments of policies, to determine if Canada is actually making progress on fundamental issues such as health and survival, and that the government commit to real engagement with women's groups.
- That the government apologize to our founding peoples and immediately launch an inquiry into the 600 missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls with the promise to listen, nation to nation, and that, together, they develop real recommendations to end the violence.
- That the government understand that Canadian women should not earn 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, that $126 billion in lost income potential of women is unacceptable, and that the government should take real action on pay equity, a fight Canadian women have been waging for almost 100 years.
- That the government remove the obstacles, including inflexible working conditions, which appear at all stages of women's lives and which keep them from realizing their full economic potential.
- That the government value the enormous contribution women make to the two-thirds of the 25-billion hours of unpaid work Canadians perform every year, which is estimated to be worth up to $319 billion in the "money economy," or 41 per cent of GDP.
- That the government work with the provinces and territories and all stakeholders to develop a national action plan to end violence against women and girls, violence that forces 100,000 women and children from their homes into shelters each year, carries an incalculable human toll, and costs Canadian society billions.
- That the government take immediate steps to address Canada's shocking 49th place ranking among 133 countries on health and survival, and address the tragic gaps in aboriginal health outcomes, which continue unabated.
- That the government take steps to address Canada's dismal 42nd place ranking, with men outnumbering women in Parliament by a ratio of three to one -- in stark contrast to Rwanda, where women held 45 of the 80 seats in Parliament -- and put in place fundamental incentives to orient public action and policy to actually support gender equality.
To make any of my 2014 wishes a reality, we must have more women in politics to address the lack of fairness and justice in the institutions that formulate laws and programs that affect women's lives -- especially concerning issues, such as childcare, family violence, health care, and pay equity.
Let all Canadians demand that party leaders care about increasing the number of women in Parliament, and that changes be discussed to make politics more attractive to women and that allow for balancing childrearing and service to Canada.
We must also understand that increasing the number of women in public office is just the first step in creating governance and accountability systems that respond to women's needs and protect their rights.
What are the conditions for the development of party platforms that are responsive to the needs and wants of women, for effective connections between women in civil society and women in politics, and for accountability mechanisms that answer to women?
In the New Year, let us all hold the federal government accountable for its responsibility to effectively engage Canadian women, and let us demand that it stop shirking this responsibility by disarming advocacy groups. Women's help and ideas are needed to see what Canada can do better to increase the participation of women in our economy, to ensure their health and safety and that of their children, and to build a better life for all Canadians.
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