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Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights responds to Federal budget 2019

What we Liked

A (step towards the) Canadian Drug Agency and national formulary

Action Canada welcomes this as a step towards ensuring all people in Canada have access to all medications and medical devices. With over 7.5 million people in Canada who do not have prescription drug coverage, Canada needs a universal, comprehensive and single payer approach to Pharmacare now more than ever.

A “fill the gaps” approach is unacceptable. Action Canada knows first-hand that access to medications and devices is often unaffordable for those who need it most, especially those suffering from intersecting marginalization and discrimination. The ability to manage your own fertility, have healthy pregnancies, affirm your own gender, and prevent, treat or manage sexually transmitted infections should not be dependent on income, place of residence or immigration status. People in Canada who require vaccines, medication or contraceptive devices should not need to rely on insurance or personal savings to afford what they need to maintain or realize the best possible sexual and reproductive health outcomes. Young people are especially at risk when they have to rely on private insurance for vaccines to prevent STIs, antiretroviral medication to prevent or treat HIV infections, medication to terminate unwanted pregnancies or contraceptive drugs and devices. They often experience barriers from parents and ultimately won’t seek the care they need.

Through Action Canada’s network of associate organizations providing service delivery across the country, we know that there are vast discrepancies between public and private formularies, formularies between provinces and even between the federal formularies. This results in some people being able to access an essential medicine for free while others have to pay up to hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars out of pocket to access the drugs and devices they need.

These gaps and inconsistencies are unacceptable.

Increase in WAGE budget

Building on the Budget 2018 announcement to establish the Department for Women and Gender Equality as an official department, Action Canada welcomes the addition of resources for the Women’s Program. We know, globally and domestically, the critical role that feminist movements, organizations, and activists play to advance rights and gender equality. In the face of growing far-right and anti-feminist sentiments, now is the time to invest in people and movements that will protect the progress feminists have made.

We look to the Department for Women and Gender Equality to prioritize long-term, sustained, and flexible funding to feminist organizations working to address the full range of feminist issues – from protecting the rights of sex workers and securing access to abortion care, to advocating for quality sex-ed to combat gender-based violence.

For too long, feminist organizations have been systematically underfunded, “projectized,” and bankrupted with unnecessarily burdensome reporting mechanisms. Healthy democracies require vibrant civil society movements that are empowered and financially supported to actively participate in advocacy aimed at strengthening laws, policies, and programs. The realization of women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender justice requires dedicated funding for feminist actors working in these spaces. We will be monitoring the increase in Women’s Project spending to ensure it is meeting these needs.

Other notable announcements:

  • Continuation of a “Gender-Based Analysis+” in Budget 2019 and accompanying “gender report”
  • Launch of the Gender Results Framework, which includes a specific indicator aimed at improving access to contraception for young people and reducing the adolescent birth rate
  • $1.5M over 5 years to the Treasury Board to work with departments to strengthen data collection and reporting practices on GBA+ across budget 2019 initiatives
  • Investment in ovarian cancer prevention, screening, and treatment
  • Increasing paid parental leave for researchers and postdoctoral fellows from 6 to 12 months.
  • $20M over 2 years to expand the work of the LGBTQ2+ Secretariat, to include capacity building and community-level work of Canadian LGBTQ2+ service organizations. No further details were outlined.
  • $45M over 3 years to create an anti-racism strategy, with a focus on community-based projects. No further details regarding the creation of the strategy were elaborated.

What we Didn’t See

No increase to Canada’s development assistance until 2023

While Budget 2019 boasts $700 million in 2023-2024 to the International Assistance Envelope, only $100 million is new money – far below the $1.4 billion that Canada’s global health sector has been pushing for to better meet global need.

Without resources to meaningfully implement the Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada’s rhetorical commitment to address systemic gender-based inequality will remain just that: rhetoric. Canada’s support for development assistance (ODA) has stagnated and remains well below the international target of 0.7% ODA/GNI (ratio to gross national income) agreed to by OECD countries in order to effectively fight poverty and promote economic development around the globe. Resting at 0.26% of GNI, Canada’s contribution to global development assistance is officially on the decline. For a country as well resourced as Canada, with a clear policy directive to realize the rights of women and girls around the world, no new money puts Canada’s reputation as a global leader on gender equality at grave risk.

Key to implementing Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy is a sustained commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights: an area where misogynistic, homophobic and sexist forces have, for too long, curtailed the health and rights of women and girls for the benefit of political gain. If Canada is serious about countering these threats and stepping in support of human rights, an increase to the development assistance budget is sorely needed.

With Canada’s funding for sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) set to expire in less than a year and global funding trends in this area failing to meet the needs of women and girls, Canada’s commitment is needed now more than ever. Stigma around sex and reproduction has led to SRHR being deprioritized. People all over the world can’t access the life saving services they need to realize their rights. Greater investment is needed to safeguard the gains that have been made in recent years and to help reach the most marginalized women, girls, and adolescents. As a progressive and credible leader, Canada can and must do more. An investment of $500 million a year over 10 years (starting in 2020) in the neglected areas of SRHR is a proven cost-effective investment that would prevent backsliding on these critical gender equality issues and solidly position Canada as a women’s rights champion. This investment aligns with the Canadian global health sector’s broader vision of a comprehensive approach to Canada’s post-2020 leadership, which calls for $1.4 billion for global health.

Lingering uncertainty on the future of Pharmacare in Canada

When can people in Canada expect a Pharmacare strategy? Budget 2019 fails to establish a concrete timeline for the rollout of such a strategy, and, ultimately, what it would include. Until people in Canada have access to universal, comprehensive, single-payer Pharmacare – like all other countries around the world with universal healthcare – inequalities, disparities, and poor health outcomes will persist.

A ‘feminist’ government that continues to fail on child care

Feminists have been demanding childcare since the 1970’s. Budget after budget has failed to deliver on a national child care strategy – despite the supporting evidence that prove beyond doubt that a National Childcare Strategy will improve equality and well-being for children and the economy at large.

Child care is a sexual and reproductive rights issues. We know it is proven to be one of the most impactful ways of increasing workforce participation, empowering women, and growing the economy. Reproductive justice means examining issues such as race, class, culture, and other power structures that support and constrain peoples’ ability to make decisions about their lives. This includes the ability to parent children in healthy environments. Without access to affordable childcare, parents may face constraints when returning to the workforce, which contributes to reduced earnings and creates male-dominated workforces that can perpetuate gender stereotypes and violence. This often has gender, class, and race implications as women are more often those who exit the workforce to care for children. This can further lead to barriers accessing support services and healthcare more broadly, including sexual and reproductive health care.

Where Do we Go From Here?

Election 2019 is fast upon us. Between now and the end of October 2019, Canadians will elect leaders they think will commit to law and policy change – and investments – on issues they care about. Now is the time to work together to truly advance sexual and reproductive rights, equally, for all people. Join us in calling on Canada to:

  • End unequal access to abortion for all people in Canada!
  • Ensure every young person’s right to comprehensive sexuality education!
  • Stand up for the health and rights of sex workers; repeal the Protection of Exploited Communities Act (PECA)!
  • Commit to a Pharmacare Strategy that covers EVERYONE!
  • Increase and sustain its global commitment to SRHR!

Read Action Canada’s election 2019 teasers here

Seeking Organizational Support on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

In hosting Women Deliver, Canada will bring together activists, organizations, and actors working towards gender equality and women’s empowerment from around the world. Canada has already invested heavily in efforts to bring a gendered perspective to law and policy making. As a global leader advancing gender equality and women’s rights, this conference is a significant moment for Canada to launch a legacy initiative that would empower women and girls to claim and exercise their rights.

As Canada prepares to host the Women Deliver conference, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, the Canadian Association of Midwives, the National Aboriginal Council of Midwives, and Oxfam Canada have partnered to develop the 3 proposals below to drive progress on sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada.

Together, we are in the process of meeting with relevant decision-makers to explore interest in the proposals. Widespread cross-movement support for these initiatives will have a significant impact on the success of the initiative and demonstrate unity around priority areas in the realm of sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender equality, and human rights in Canada.

We are therefore seeking organizational endorsements for this trilogy of proposals.

To endorse, complete this online form or write to [email protected], with the name of your organization and your logo.

Commit to universal cost coverage for contraceptives for all as part of a call for a national public drug plan that is universal, public and single-payer, comprehensive safe and effective, accessible and affordable. Such a plan would provide free access to contraceptive methods and over-the-counter emergency contraceptives for all people in Canada, including those who are non-insured. Millions of women across Canada will benefit from this program. Lower income, marginalized and younger women will gain the most. Click here to read the full proposal »

Invest in the growth and sustainability of Indigenous midwifery and therefore, to the return of birth to Indigenous communities across Canada. This is an opportunity for Canada to demonstrate to the world its response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, compliance to the Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and commitment to improve the quality of health services delivered to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis Peoples and to ensuring Indigenous Peoples have control over their health services and programs. Bringing birth back to a community has enormous cultural significance and positive effects in all areas of community health, including for women and their babies. Click here to read the full proposal »

Develop a national initiative to show support for equal access to high quality sex-ed, raise public awareness, and build capacity on the positive impact on individual health, public health and gender equality. This would inform the public of the crucial role sex-ed plays in advancing gender equality, preventing gender-based violence, preventing bullying, promoting health, and empowering youth. This upstream initiative would empower 5 million young people to claim their right to sex-ed. It would highlight the positive impacts of empowering all children and young people with information about their bodies, their health, consent, healthy relationships, teen and youth dating violence, media literacy, LGBT2QI inclusion, body positivity, and gender equality. It is critical to achieving Canada’s efforts towards preventing and addressing gender-based violence, empowering women and girls, achieving public health goals, addressing rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and supporting healthy relationships among young people and creating a culture of consent. Click here to read the full proposal »

This map should not exist!

Because access to abortion is so patchy in Canada, many people end up having to travel hundreds or thousands of kilometers, leaving families and community supports behind, to get to a provider. Most people don’t know how hard it is until they need the services themselves.

These lines show pathways people who reach out to us must travel to get the abortion care they need. Right now, people in Canada are made to dig deep in their own pockets or rely on financial assistance, like Action Canada’s emergency fund, which thankfully exists because of the generosity of people like you.

Abortion stigma and the lack of political will to fix unequal access make one of the most common medical procedures in Canada available only in some communities.

 Action Canada’s Access Line is a go-to resource for judgment-free knowledge and services, and we are getting more referrals than ever before for our Norma Scarborough Emergency Fund, which is completely donor funded. 

We are a unique service in Canada. We go above and beyond to craft clever solutions and come up with intricate access plans to clear the specific barriers to abortion each person faces.

Our success is now also our challenge and so, we need your help! This year’s June 2018 to July 2019 budget for emergency financial assistance is already ¾ spent and we have 7 months to go! The sharp rise in the number of people relying on us is why your generous support is needed today.

  Donate today 

Want to know more about the access line and the barriers to abortion access in Canada? Click here to keep reading. 

People we talk to are frustrated and overwhelmed to learn that they must travel across the country or into the United States at their own expense to get the services they need.

We have an experienced team who works out the details of access plans for folks like the single mother who needs to fly to another province to access services and has no one to take care of her children, the woman who has to flee an abusive partner while pregnant and hide in a secure shelter only to find out she doesn’t have health insurance because her partner didn’t file her sponsorship paperwork, the young teen who doesn’t know who to turn to, the couple who lives in a remote reserve, the devastated young trans man who was told he couldn’t get pregnant on his hormone replacement regimen but does. We hear these stories over-and-over. Breaking these barriers is how we help.

Those personal stories and the information we get from talking to people who need abortion care in Canada is directly informing all our policy work. We push for change and demand interventions from our elected officials with great authority because we have a clear picture of what facing barriers looks and feels like to people in Canada. That’s how we were able to increase access to the abortion pill as we had first-hand knowledge of all the ways policies could stand in the way and we knocked the barriers down, one after the other. And we are not stopping there.

The Access Line and the Emergency Fund serve dual purposes of supporting people in real-time who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford getting an abortion, and fueling policy changes so this fund will one day no longer be needed. That day will come: when abortion care will be integrated into primary health care and available to everyone, in all postal codes and regardless of income bracket. That’s what we’re working toward while filling a gap.

Did you read the Globe and Mail personal story of Atlantic Bureau Chief Jessica Leeder? A successful professional reporter and mother of two, she did not expect any issue when trying to get an abortion in Nova Scotia. She ended up flying to Toronto on her own dime after weeks of delays. Her story of bureaucratic hurdles, tears, doubts, stigma, and frustration made the front page of a national newspaper. Jessica had reached out to our organization to investigate how common her experience was, and we got to share with her about the hundreds of people we speak to every year who are in her situation and whom we support. She was well aware that she was in a very privileged position with access to resources many don’t have. Still, she ended up having to leave her province to exercise her right to choose an abortion.

In Canada, 30% of people who are able to become pregnant will choose to have an abortion during their lifetime. This is a story that many of us know too well personally, though we may not feel comfortable or safe talking about it. That’s why we are thankful to Jessica for proudly sharing her experience and demanding change in health policy. The classic feminist phrase rings true again: the personal is political.

Abortion access is a human rights issue. It’s also a bodily autonomy, violence against women, and gender justice issue. What we accomplish every day when we pick up the phone is bigger than just getting someone to a doctor’s appointment. Together, we must continue the fight forward!

All of us at Action Canada are honoured to be a trusted resource for so many professionals and individuals. We have had many of our health care provider colleagues become donors after witnessing their patients supported by the Norma Scarborough Emergency Fund. It is an honour to be increasingly trusted and relied upon, and able to contribute to the national conversation in the media about the importance of abortion access. We thank you for having made this possible and we thank you for continuing to make it possible!

  Donate today 

Sex-ed saves lives! Are you invested?

As a kid who grew-up with lesbian moms in the 1990s, I’m no stranger to feeling different and knowing that this difference was seen by many people as “bad” and as something to feel ashamed of.

From a young age, I knew that I was different because when I looked around my school, I didn’t see my family anywhere. No one talked about families like mine and classroom activities like drawing a family tree, reading books, or making holiday crafts were all geared to families with one mom and one dad.

Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of young people sitting in classrooms across the country facing the same experience as mine. Maybe it’s because they don’t quite fit in; maybe it’s because of their gender identity or their sexual orientation; maybe it’s because they have two dads or two moms, or are being raised by their grand-parents; or maybe it’s because they’re being bullied and made fun of for being different.

Here’s the problem: misinformation about sex-ed and the exploitation of people’s fears is on the rise in this country to win political points. And what young people stand to lose in this fight is clear: their health, their safety, and their wellbeing. Sex-ed (when done well) saves lives.

That is why I’m asking for you to make an urgent donation today. Invest in young people’s sexual health by making a monthly or one-time gift by pressing donate now.


Thank you,

Makeda Zook

Want to know more about my story? Click here to keep reading.

Just before I was born in 1986, my moms were the first in British Columbia to win same-sex spousal benefits from the Vancouver district school board. But after I was born, only my birth mom’s name was allowed on my birth certificate, my other mom had no rights – our family wasn’t recognized in law and policy in the province or country.

Being unrecognized by law and policy made me feel invisible, isolated, and afraid of being bullied for what I knew was different about me. As a 6-year-old, I was scared to make friends or bring them over to my house.

I remember the day when my non-birth mom adopted me. At the time, this was the only way that she could be legally recognized as my parent. I was 9 years old. We had been living in Ontario for a few years and I didn’t tell anyone, not even my best friends, even though, inside, I was bursting with excitement. I knew the significance of that day. I knew that in a way, our family was becoming more “legitimate” in the eyes of the law. To me, it signaled hope that one day I might not have as much to fear or hide.

In the 90s there were not many reflections of my family in classrooms or popular media. In fact, the only reflections that I had growing up were 3 children’s books my moms and their lesbian friends purchased for me at feminist fringe bookstores. These same 3 books were the source of a Supreme Court of Canada challenge after a local school district in British Columbia banned them from classrooms based on fears of the “gay agenda” and being “age-inappropriate.”

What is age inappropriate about learning the different forms that love and family can take? Having those books in school libraries was a way of providing representation where there was none, adding a tiny bit of safety and support to kids who were (and still are) pushing through very narrow definitions of family, love, relationships, and pregnancy options.

That is why I also feel so passionate about getting Action Canada’s sex-ed resource, Beyond the Basics, into as many classrooms as possible. I feel proud to be part of an organization that is making sure educators are teaching material that is inclusive from the start, not an afterthought on sexuality, anatomy, relationships, and choice.

We are currently conducting research on the state of sex-ed in Canada and will use our findings to continue building support from the public and our governments for quality sex-ed across the country.

We’ve also been working with local partners and allies in different provinces, including through the submission of an urgent appeal to the United Nations Special Procedures on the human rights violations regarding the repeal of the 2015 curriculum in Ontario and the creation of a teacher “snitch-line.” With socially conservative forces organizing in several provinces and emboldening political leaders across the country, it is critical that now more than ever, we build a strong, sustainable national campaign that is agile in its approach and able to flex with the constantly shifting political landscape.

Sex-ed is not controversial. By making a commitment to become a monthly donor, you will be helping us build our campaign in sustainable and lasting ways to push for sex-ed across the country that is inclusive, comprehensive, and human rights-based. Your support is urgently needed.

Yours truly,

Makeda Zook

[Op-Ed] More than 150 international parliamentarians to meet in Ottawa to defend sexual, reproductive health, rights

Op-ed published in the Hill Times

Sexual and reproductive health and rights aren’t controversial, they’re essential and life saving. Rights and health services related to gender, sexuality, and reproduction support each person’s ability to make decisions about their own bodies (like if and when to have children), help build a culture of consent that protects personal safety and support the end of gender-based discrimination and a culture based on equality.

For decades, experts and research on public health and economic and social justice have demonstrated the benefits associated with realizing these rights. Why then, are they considered controversial and why must they be protected and championed in political contexts around the world?

Too often—in Canada and internationally—we see elected officials initiating attacks on women’s reproductive choices, young people’s ability to access accurate health information, and the rights of LGBTQI people. Controversies around sexuality, gender, and reproductive health are manufactured and exploited on the grounds that women’s bodies and choices should be controlled by governments and that marginalized groups should not be offered the same human rights protections as all individuals. This is a serious problem.

Although they don’t receive as much media attention, there are thankfully also progressive governments, opposition parties, and individual parliamentarians standing up to defend and promote these rights within their capacity as politicians, and with the support of feminist and social justice advocates, in every country around the world.

These parliamentary champions play a vital role in protecting human rights. That’s why 16 years ago, roughly 50 of them first came together in Ottawa to promote and protect sexual and reproductive health and rights at the International Parliamentarians Conference of the Implementation on the ICPD Program of Action. The conference has since taken place five times around the world and on Oct. 22 will bring 150 parliamentarians together again in Canada’s capital—three times the number since 2002.

These parliamentarians are at the front lines: responsible for the elimination of discriminatory laws and policies, the enactment of progressive legislation, and advocating for increased spending on sexual and reproductive health (both domestically and in official development assistance). They played critical roles in passing legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia, in blocking Poland from criminalizing abortion, and in Canada, passing legislation to add gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination and repeatedly working to safeguard access to safe and legal abortion.

The countless activists who protect and fight for these rights rely on parliamentary allies to advocate for progressive policy change and hold the line in the face of regressive law and policy discourse. When access to inalienable human rights depends on any government’s legislative decisions, the presence of a robust group of parliamentary human rights defenders becomes critical.

This is why it is so important for Canada to be convening this group of parliamentarians with a clear message: attacks on women’s bodies and their reproductive choices, on the right to live free from violence, and on all other rights associated with health, genders, and sexualities will not go unchecked.

Canadian parliamentarians from across all major political parties have been among these parliamentary champions for decades. And with support from Canadian sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations, they have continued to hold the Government of Canada accountable to better support rights domestically and in Canada’s international development assistance.

By hosting the IPCI conference, Canada is supporting the parliamentary actors who advocate for change within their roles as legislators and demonstrating its support for sexual and reproductive health and rights to the world.

This is part of a larger journey Canada is on to reposition itself as a leader on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights more broadly, which includes launching the Feminist International Assistance Policy and hosting the Women Deliver conference in 2019.

For Canada’s commitment to be truly lasting, continued support is needed for the feminist and human rights advocates working with their decision-makers at all levels of government to establish and protect laws, policies, and programs that safeguard these rights.

Sandeep Prasad is the executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

IPCI Conference Reception in partnership with the Canadian Association of Midwives


In collaboration with the Speaker of the Senate of Canada, the Honourable George Furey, and the Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada, the Honourable Geoff Regan, and hosted by CAM, UNFPA and CAPPD, senators, members of parliament, IPCI delegates, and key stakeholders are cordially invited to a reception highlighting the results achieved through a partnership to strengthen midwifery services in South Soudan.

October 22, 2018

5:30-8:30 pm

Sir John A. Macdonald Building

144 Wellington Street, Ottawa

RSVP to [email protected]

Action Canada statement on Canada’s Universal Periodic Review Outcome

Last May, Canada had it’s third Universal Periodic Review at the UN. The UPR is a UN human rights process where each country’s human rights record is reviewed by other UN member states.

Action Canada worked in partnership with the Sexual Rights Initiative and the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform to prepare a report highlighting human rights violations as they relate to unequal abortion access, lack of comprehensive sexuality education and the criminalization of sex work to ensure these issues would be addressed in Canada’s review.

Member states have called up on Canada to take steps to address unequal access to abortion and comprehensive sexuality education across all provinces and territories, two of the three issues our report focused on. And today, Canada announced it would be accepting both these recommendations!

Although we remain disappointed that the Government of Canada continues to ignore its promise to repeal sex work laws, we will now get to work on holding the government accountable not only the accepted recommendations but on ALL issues in the next four years.

Click below to read our full statement made at the UN’s 39th Human Rights Council.UPR Canada Statement AC and Alliance-Alliance