Political parties are sometimes accused of pandering to blocs of voters, especially at election time. The Conservative government’s vocal support for Israel, for example, is seen by some as a slick means of grabbing Jewish votes. (Jason Kenney, the minister of defence and multiculturalism, responds to this claim in this week’s story, “Kenney discusses priorities.”)
But it would be nice if, every now and again, a government was accused of pandering to the biggest bloc of votes of all – women – because it might mean someone is actually paying attention to their issues.
This is slippery terrain, because all issues are “women’s issues.” Women care about the economy and foreign affairs, as well as domestic affairs and social issues. Yet government actions (or inaction) and societal norms still play negative, detrimental and sometimes fatal roles in the lives of women and girls.
We are now more than halfway through the longest federal election campaign in living memory. This Sunday – a month less a day before the Oct. 19 election – has been dubbed a National Day of Action on Gender Equality. The day, initiated by women in Canadian film and television, is intended to “stimulate more public dialogue on gender equality,” especially on social media.
Women and men all across Canada who support gender equality are being asked to get active on social media on Sunday, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Pacific, using the hashtags #WomenVote, #elxn42 and #cdnpoli.
The day of action has been in the planning for some time, but the timing is particularly providential, not just because the election is approaching – that was obviously planned – but because of a shocking and damning report just made public about the place of women in Canadian society.
An internal federal government report marked “secret” was obtained by the CBC under the Access to Information Act. Obviously not intended to be made public, particularly at the peak of election season, the report by Status of Women Canada paints a largely dismal picture.
Canada has one of the developed world’s biggest pay gaps between men and women, below average support for child care and parental leave, and our Parliament ranks 57th in the world in terms of female representation. Poverty among single elderly women and female-headed households is increasing.
Perhaps most damningly, Canada does not have a national strategy on violence against women. Rural and immigrant women are at particular risk of being victims of violence – and aboriginal women are 450% more likely than other Canadian women to be murdered.
With the refugee crisis making front-page news daily, foreign affairs has taken an outsized role so far in this election campaign. Moreover, for many in our community, the foreign policy positions of the various parties already figure prominently in our calculations as we ponder our democratic options.
It is worth reminding ourselves that, as rough as things may be elsewhere in the world, we still have an imperfect country here and these are also things we should be addressing with those who seek our votes.