No medal for Guergis’s performance at UN [gender equality]
Published On Fri Mar 05 2010. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
This should have been a perfect week for Status of Women Minister Helena Guergis to appear before the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women to talk about gender equity in Canada.
Canadian women had just put on a magnificent performance at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, winning more than half of the country’s 26 medals.
Canadian women have moved beyond parity in some spheres. They attend university in greater numbers than men, make up the majority of law school and medical school graduates and constitute 51 per cent of the workforce.
Unfortunately, these achievements were obscured by the baggage Guergis brought along with her.
First, there was her government’s record on women’s issues.
Harper has scrapped Canada’s $5 billion national child-care program, closed 12 Status of Women offices across the country and killed Ottawa’s widely admired court challenges program, which helped women (and other groups seeking to test their constitutional equality rights) finance expensive court cases.
On his watch, the proportion of women on the government benches has fallen to 11 per cent, from 25 per cent under Paul Martin and 23 per cent under Jean Chrétien.
Second, there was Guergis’s own reputation and recent behaviour.
On the eve of her trip to the United Nations, Guergis had to issue an apology for “speaking emotionally” to staff at Charlottetown airport. According to witnesses, she did a good deal more than that. They say she arrived at the last minute, berated Air Canada officials for their slowness, screamed obscenities at security staff who asked her to take off her boots and called the city a “shit hole.”
For women who have proven themselves with talent and hard work, it was an embarrassment to be represented on the global stage by a cabinet lightweight with an exaggerated sense of entitlement.
Finally, there was her statement to the UN Women’s Commission.
She delivered it late Tuesday afternoon. Technically, it was accurate. But it was selective to the point of misrepresentation.
While touting her government’s efforts to “improve the situation of aboriginal women,” Guergis failed to mention its refusal to investigate the unexplained deaths of more than 350 aboriginal women.
While stressing her government’s commitment to help the victims of domestic violence, she overlooked its ongoing drive to roll back the gun-control laws women fought for.
While pointing out that women make up 51 per cent of the Canadian workforce, she neglected to say that 22 per cent of them work part-time (compared to 8 per cent of men).
While assuring delegates that Canada “supports women’s economic security,” she said nothing about the 21 per cent income gap between men and women (source: Conference Board of Canada) or the country’s miserably underfunded welfare system.
Barbara Byers, executive vice-president of the Canadian Labour Congress, was among the 100 or so women – from the labour movement, human rights organizations, the public service alliance, the teachers’ federation and several churches – who listened to Guergis’s cheery account of Canada’s progress toward gender equality.
She thought about the genuine pride she felt, a week earlier, when Canada’s women’s hockey team won gold at the Vancouver Olympics. “I wish I could have felt as patriotic as a Canadian today,” she said after the speech. “But I couldn’t. It just wasn’t there.”
In fairness, Guergis probably couldn’t have satisfied her.
Byers wants a Canada in which the government works with women to eliminate the barriers to full equality they face in the workforce, the political system and society at large.
Guergis and her government want a Canada in which women make it on their own, proving subsidized child care and pay equity are obsolete and feminism is a spent force.
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