By Jackie Hansen, Major Campaigns and Women’s Rights Campaigner
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My number is 0. Zero is the number of times that women’s rights and gender equality were discussed in the Maclean’s debate on August 6, the first federal leader’s debate of the 11 week election campaign.
Zero is the number of times that ‘human rights’ were mentioned in the two-hour debate.
The word ‘woman’ was mentioned four times—three times in reference to women and men in the military, and once as a passing reference to a particular woman.
The debate focused on four thematic areas—the economy, environment, democracy, and foreign affairs/security. What were the missed opportunities to discuss women’s rights and gender equality? Here are some of the questions that could have been explored.
- Economy – Who are the winners and losers in Canada’s economy, with a breakdown by gender? Who are the jobs in the natural resource sector going to, and who is holding down the low-wage part-time jobs? How do parties plan to tackle the gender wage gap? There was brief mention of childcare strategies, in the context of helping Canadian families. How would childcare strategies help to promote gender equality?
- Environment – How can environmental impact assessments for large-scale natural resource development projects be expanded to include the social impacts of such projects, including levels of violence against women and girls? How can impact assessments explore how people of different genders are impacted in different ways by these projects?
- Democracy – Why are so few women in Canada seeking political office and what are the resulting impacts on our democracy? What are parties doing to promote women’s empowerment?
- Foreign affairs/security – How does Canada plan to promote women’s rights and gender equality as part of its overseas military and humanitarian commitments? What efforts does Canada plan to take to address issues including sexual violence in conflict (i.e. as part of ongoing involvement in efforts to combat ISIS).
Amnesty International and 175 organizations from across Canada continue to call on all federal party leaders to commit to a debate on all these issues and more—including violence against Indigenous women and girls sexual harassment.
Last night’s debate clearly demonstrated that these issues will only be discussed if there is a standalone debate on women’s rights and gender equality issues.
These are not optional discussions or fringe issues. We are talking about the human rights of half the Canadian population. We need to know each party’s position on issues related to women’s rights and gender equality, and we need to know what commitments they are making for concrete action.