In previous years, the Canadian government, which chairs the negotiations of the annual HRC resolution on violence against women, has played a leadership role in helping to create advances seeking to protect women from violence. Yet this year, a number of concerns have been raised regarding Canada’s approach to the new resolution on the theme of ‘sexual violence’. The concerns in question are the very proposals that Canada itself is putting forward which are regressive and represent a serious attack on women’s rights and the health and wellbeing of survivors of sexual violence.
The Canadian government has been, and continues to be, actively preventing numerous key recommendations related to effectively addressing sexual violence and the rights of survivors of violence. In particular, it is using its role as chair of the negotiations to block the recognition of a comprehensive package of services that need to be available to survivors of sexual violence. Numerous governments and civil society organizations insist that these services must explicitly include: access to essential sexual and reproductive health services, including emergency contraception, safe abortion, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV infection, diagnosis and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, among others. “Once again, we see the government of Canada exporting its conservative ideology internationally, to the detriment of millions of survivors of sexual violence who need access to these essential services,” said Sandeep Prasad, the Executive Director of Action Canada for Population and Development, who is at the HRC following negotiations. “We need only look to the exclusion of funding for safe abortion services, even where legal, from Canada’s international aid under the Muskoka Initiative for another example. This time Canada is standing in the way of ensuring survivors of sexual violence have access to services they need, including access to safe abortion.”
Beyond the issue of access to essential services, Canada is blocking key proposals related to the prevention of sexual violence, including references to “reproductive rights” and “gender equality”. The Canadian government is also refusing to include acknowledgement of the need to implement rights-based, accurate and comprehensive sexuality education programmes as a key tool to prevent violence and promote gender equality.
“Not only is Canada not entertaining recommendations on advancing existing commitments, it is actively seeking to roll back hard-won previously-agreed policy measures made in other international fora, including just 3 months ago at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, for which the theme was elimination and prevention of all forms of violence against women and girls,” said a delegate closely involved in the negotiations.
Without these references, women’s rights activists and their allies are less able to hold their governments accountable to provide sexual violence survivors with essential services they need, as well as work to eliminate gender stereotypes and norms among younger generations, through providing sexuality education, which can in turn contribute to the elimination of all forms of violence, stigma and discrimination.
The actions of Canada have resulted in the alienation of its traditional allies on the resolution from all regions of the world. At the time of this release, many of these allied governments who traditionally co-sponsor UN resolutions addressing violence against women have indicated that they will not be co-sponsoring this draft resolution unless Canada shows flexibility and fixes the problems it has created with the text.
“As many as 7 in 10 women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes, and the first sexual experience of up to 1/3 of them is forced. Adolescent girls and young women are especially at risk of violence. Up to 50% of sexual assaults are committed against girls under 16. Canada will be tabling for adoption a resolution that neglects the very real needs of survivors of sexual violence. In doing so, it has alienated its allies in States and civil society around the world. This is a historic low for Canada on the international stage,” said Prasad.