CWP Presentation to the Standing Committee on the Status of Women

03-8-17

Canada Without Poverty presented to the Standing Committee on March 7th, 2017 on the economic security of women in Canada. Read the full presentation below. 

PRESENTATION TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN

Socioeconomic Factors That Impact the Economic Security of Women in Canada

7 March 2017 at 10:00 am

Canada Without Poverty (CWP) is pleased to make this submission to the Standing Committee of the Status of Women on three critical factors impacting women’s socio-economic security:  poverty, the need for the full implementation of human rights and government accountability.

For those of you who are not familiar with our organization, CWP is a federally incorporated, charitable organization dedicated to the elimination of poverty in Canada. Since our inception in 1971 as the National Anti-Poverty Organization (NAPO), we have been governed by people with direct, lived experience of poverty, whether in childhood or as adults. This lived experience of poverty informs all aspects of our work.

International Women’s Day

This discussion of barriers to women’s economic security in Canada comes at an opportune time. Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and around the world – in both the global south and developed states – the women’s movement is perhaps the most energized it has ever been.

In the Canadian context, it seems as though we’re ready to take steps in the right direction for women’s rights.  Our Prime Minister has called himself a feminist. In an August 2016 letter to the ONE campaign, he acknowledged that “poverty is sexist” – and that nowhere in the world do women have as many opportunities as men. As members of a national anti-poverty organization, we applaud such public statements. It is important, however, that our government leaders also recognize the gravity of poverty for women within Canada.

Barriers to Economic Security for Women

Poverty is indeed sexist for women in Canada. Women in Canada experience significant levels of poverty, inadequate housing, homelessness, and hunger that are disproportionate to the country’s economic wealth. Lone parent mothers enter shelters at twice the rate of two-parent families. It is estimated that four out of five women in prison are there for poverty related crimes. Social assistance rates are so woefully inadequate that, for single parent families, only in Newfoundland and Labrador can these families receive support which bring them above the poverty line.

Statistics are particularly striking when we look at women who are members of marginalized groups. For example, 36% of First Nations women living off reserve experience poverty. Poverty rates are also higher among elderly women, who make up 73% of all poor seniors living alone.

Canada’s reputation as a leader in women’s rights is disconnected from the reality on the ground. In 1995, Canada was ranked by the United Nations Gender Equality Index in first place, but today this ranking has dropped to 25. In recent years, Canada’s approach to women’s poverty has been piecemeal and based on emergency responses.  From food banks to inadequate shelter spaces, to pockets of money for childcare – such patchwork programs represent Band-Aid solutions as opposed to tackling systemic causes.

For Canada to say we are a leader on gender equality is one thing – but to act like a leader is something else.

Implementation of Women’s Economic and Social Rights

The world is looking to Canada.  This government has an opportunity to break the barriers that stand in the way of women’s economic empowerment. In light of Canada’s shared responsibility to the Sustainable Development Goals – in particular goals one (ending poverty) and five (achieving gender equality) – as well as our international human rights obligations, now is the time to take action on women’s economic empowerment in Canada.

In October 2016, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reviewed Canada’s compliance with women’s economic and social rights.  The committee issued Canada a number of concrete recommendations that speak directly to the barriers women face to economic security. For example, the committee recommended that Canada:

  1. Ensure that the National Poverty and the National Housing Strategy protect the rights of all women, with a focus on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups, by integrating a human rights and gender-based approach;
  2. Increase the amounts of transfer payments to provinces and territories, earmark sufficient funds specifically for social assistance, and make transfer payments to provinces and territories conditional on setting their social assistance rates at levels that are sufficient to ensure an adequate standard of living, and prevent discriminatory effects of inadequate incomes for women; and
  • Intensify its efforts to provide sufficient numbers of affordable childcare facilities and affordable and adequate housing options, including in aboriginal communities, with priority being given to low-income women.[1]

Notably, these are recommendations that have been articulated in other treaty body reviews of Canada, most recently at the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in February 2016. In fact, they will likely be on the radar of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in their review of Canada next month.

 Recommendations

The barriers to economic security for women in Canada are significant, but multiple opportunities to take real action to implement economic and social rights for women exist. This starts with recognition that women are equal rights-bearers and that the responsibility to address poverty stems from our obligations under international human rights; something that must be reflected in laws, policies and programs.

We are encouraged that Canada is already taking steps towards some of these important recommendations by the committee, in particular Minister Duclos’ commitment to the creation of a National Housing Strategy and Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy. Further to these initiatives, as well as other efforts by the government (for example the gender budgeting aspect of Budget 2017), we recommend that this committee submit that the government of Canada:

i/ Create and implement a review mechanism to assess, through a rights based lens, all national laws, policies and programs that serve to support women’s socio-economic status in light of Canada’s commitment to the Sustainable Development Goal’s and our international human rights obligations. Such a mechanism should allow for input from civil society, experts, and women with a lived experience of poverty in order to ensure the enhancement of women’s equality and human rights.

 ii/ Ensure that national strategies such as Canada’s National Housing Strategy and Canadian Poverty Reduction Strategy, use a human rights framework with direct reference to women’s economic and social rights.  Such frameworks should also include accountability mechanisms (such as reporting, monitoring by affected populations and specific conditions for implementation), and adequate resources for programs that impact women’s socio-economic status.

 Thank you for your time.

[1] Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations to Canada, 2016

Video of this session is available on the FEWO website.