Elle Beaver brings you profiles of the women who are shaping the 2015 federal election (#elxn42), the pundits, spin-doctors, journalists and activists who are making headlines, shaping our political landscape and who are vying for YOUR vote! In this edition, we focus on Up for Debate, the coalition of organizations that fought for an electoral debate focused on women’s issues.
It was the first of its kind: a debate on women’s issues. Two thousand women in the audience, “big glasses, short hair, shiny idealism.”
A debate where young women interrogated the three men vying to become Prime Minister on issues ranging from the right to an abortion, to child-care and equal pay. A promising game-changer that would ensure momentum to address women’s issues.
The debate was held in that Orwellian year of 1984. Prophetic of where women’s issues have gone since then? Perhaps.
Since the ’84 debate, not much has changed. Over a thousand Indigenous women have gone missing or been murdered. Women have only earned an extra 14 cents – up from 62 to 74 cents on every dollar made by men. Every day, 8,000 women and girls seek out the protection of a shelter or transition home to escape domestic violence.
It was precisely why a powerful coalition of international organizations, unions, non-government organizations and community-led movements banded together, forming Up For Debate, an initiative to push for an electoral debate that would deal exclusively with women’s issues: violence against women, foreign policy on women, pay equity, missing and murdered Indigenous women, among others.
And although 500, 000 more women than men voted in the last election, women haven’t been top of mind to our politicians. In an interview with The Toronto Star, Kate McInturff, senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said,
“During the last leaders debate, the word ‘women’ was only mentioned 12 times — and four of those were the phrase ‘our men and women in uniform.’ We want to provoke a conversation.”
It’s a conversation that matters, especially at a time when a secret Status of Women Canada report reveals that women — particularly Indigenous, rural and immigrant women — have a long way to go in Canada: poverty rates are on the rise among women, notably female-headed households; there’s 20% pay gap between men and women; parental leave and child care is lagging; reporting rates of domestic violence have stalled and Canada has no national strategy to address violence against women of which to speak. To say nothing of Canada’s inaction on missing and murdered Indigenous women.
And while Up for Debate was able to deliver a discussion that featured curated interviews with Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, the absence of Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed that women’s issues still have a long way to go (*in the interest of fairness, Mulcair initially didn’t want to turn out for any debate boycotted by Harper. Thankfully, he changed his mind).
And ironically, it wasn’t until judges ruled in favour of Zunera Ishaq’s right to wear the niqab while swearing her citizenship oath that women’s issues were set ablaze, mobilizing and shifting support in Quebec, that electoral behemoth that has so often determined the fate of governance in our country.
Under the guise of women’s rights, some of our fearless political leaders expressed selective outrage over misogyny in Canadian society, instrumentalizing Ishaq and her court case to whip Canadians into a xenophobic outrage, wedging the Quebec vote in favour of Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe and Conservative leader Stephen Harper. And so for women, “our issues” — aside from the niqab, which speaks to a woman’s fundamental right to choose — have been systematically ignored.
We, the women, demand more. We aren’t buying the notion that this is all we should get out of our debates.
In the end, Up for Debate’s lofty goals must not be abandoned and must be actively pursued into the next election and those that will follow. After all, if polls are right and Canada ends up with a minority government, we may be headed back to the ballot box sooner than we think.
Read our Women of #ELXN42 profile on Elizabeth May, Margaret Atwood, Jenni Byrne, Zunera Ishaq, Rosemary Barton and Ashley Callingbull Burnham, and stay tuned for more profiles, including Ashley Callingbull Burnham!
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