This is ‘what women want’? Highly unlikely
Published On Fri May 14 2010. By Carol Goar, Editorial Board
Trying to change the subject deftly, Rona Ambrose, minister of state for the status of women, observed:
“One of the things I hear a lot across the country from women is that they want to feel safe in their communities and homes. That is why I am proud that our government has done more than any other government in the history of our country to keep women safe. We have introduced new laws to ensure we keep rapists and murderers off the streets and to ensure we protect children from sexual predators. That is what women want.”
Shifting from a contentious topic to a comfortable one is a classic political ploy. Some ministers do it so naturally that listeners scarcely notice the ground has shifted.
Ambrose isn’t one of them. She switched from the unwanted subject (the withdrawal of government funding from women’s groups that promote gender equality, support abused women and advocate family planning) to the chosen subject (her government’s crime crackdown) so clumsily that everyone knew exactly what she was doing.
Moreover, the tactic didn’t work. The opposition parties kept grilling the Conservatives in the House of Commons about funding cuts to women’s groups, drawing other ministers into the fray. Meanwhile, Ambrose’s assertion that her government has made Canada safer for women opened a whole new line of attack:
• How could a government that is using every device at its disposal to abolish the gun control registry that women fought for, claim to be improving their safety?
• How could a government that ignores the disappearance of 580 aboriginal women claim to care about their safety?
• How could a government that stokes fears of violence when the crime rate is dropping, claim to be making women safer?
It was painful to watch the status of women minister — Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s fourth to date — portray Canadian women as fearful homebodies, seeking government protection.
It is hard to imagine where Ambrose is hearing this. In fact, it’s hard to imagine she believes it.
The 41-year-old MP knows how to take care of herself. She lived in Brazil for 10 years. She fought off eight opponents to win the Tory nomination in her riding. She once told Liberal MP Ken Dryden: “Working women want to make their own choices, we don’t need old white guys telling us what to do.”
Ambrose isn’t the only ambitious woman who has twisted herself in knots to justify her leader’s misogynistic policies.
Harper’s first status of women minister, Bev Oda, an accomplished broadcasting executive, resorted to meaningless bafflegab to explain the government’s decision to chop $5 million from Status of Women Canada and close 12 of its 16 offices. “The government has decided to reshape the delivery of services to women,” she said.
Even the unfortunate Helena Guergis, ousted from cabinet last month, was diminished by her 17 months in the portfolio. Before entering government, she did attempt to reach out to traumatized women, as a volunteer at the Barrie and District Rape Crisis Centre. As women’s minister, she cheerfully defended Canada’s backsliding on gender equality to an audience of visibly unimpressed female leaders at the United Nations.
The sad thing is that they’ve paid so much to achieve so little.
Rather than winning over mainstream women, the Harper government is driving them away. Rather than being lauded as a champion of maternal health, the Prime Minister is being criticized at home and abroad for refusing to recognize abortion as a medically necessary service in countries where women are routinely raped and girls are forcibly impregnated.
Ambrose could have stood with Canadian women. She chose, instead, to sacrifice her credibility to stand with her boss.
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