Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Sexual and gender-based violence encompasses a wide variety of abuses that includes sexual threats, exploitation, humiliation, assaults, molestation, domestic violence, incest, trafficking, torture, insertion of objects into genital openings and attempted rape.

Budget 2017: What’s good, what’s getting there, and what’s still lacking.

A Gender Based Analysis should result in financial commitments to women’s health, development assistance and economic drivers such as a childcare. While a few notable pieces were present, overall the budget fails urgent needs.

In 1995, Canada committed to the UN Beijing Platform for Action – a commitment requiring the government to conduct fulsome Gender Based Analysis (GBA) of all public spending. Twenty-two years later, the government has conducted its first GBA of the federal budget. It is a good first step but needs to be used in a way that prioritizes how spending should be allocated to promote gender equity. Something this budget still lacks.

GBA exposes all the ways that collecting and spending taxes is never gender neutral. If the government spends money on subsidized housing, for example, we can use GBA to know exactly how many women benefit from every dollar spent and how. It uncovers how any single program implementation increases or corrects growing gender inequality.

Because Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights’ budgetary requests around sexual and reproductive health and rights disproportionality and positively affect women, we’ve put together a quick review of Canada’s 2017 “Women’s Budget:” what’s good, what’s getting there, and what’s still lacking.

GOOD

LGBTQ2 Secretariat 

Budget 2017 commits $3.6 million over three years to establish an LGBTQ2 Secretariat to support the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor on LGBTQ2 issues. This is a first step towards earmarking future spending that will meet the needs of healthy, thriving queer, trans, intersex and 2 Spirit individuals and communities.

GETTING THERE

National Strategy to Address Gender Based Violence

Taking steps to establish a National Strategy to Address Gender Based-Violence is worth applauding; however, $100.9 million over five years is simply not enough. Violence against women in Canada affects far too many women and their families and is estimated to cost $12 Billion dollars every year. The systemic enablers of violence, such as a lack of affordable housing, have gone untreated and ignored for so long that gender-based violence is regarded as an ongoing crisis, particularly for Indigenous women. Any National Strategy must carry with it the potential to correct years of chronic underfunding. Intersectional anti-violence against women’s organizations and service providers are already warning that $100.9 million falls short.

Childcare

Childcare got a budget line this year but the commitment falls short of what is needed to create meaningful change. Budget 2017 commits $7 Billion dollars over 10 years to build an accessible, affordable childcare system in Canada but Canada is among the worst OECD countries when it comes to childcare costs and on average, Canadian parents are spending one quarter of their income on childcare. The federal budget allocation is too small in the first years to finance any serious improvement to access, affordability or quality care. Universal affordable childcare is a commitment to reproductive justice that we need to see in Canada.

LACKING

Official Development Assistance 

One of the greatest disappointments in this year’s federal budget is in the complete lack of increase for Canada’s Official Development Assistance. Canada is obligated to meet a global target of 0.7% GNI for development aid and is lagging far behind other OECD countries and G7 partners. In a climate of instability heightened by Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule and mass deportations, it is increasingly important that Canada meet its promise to lead in the fight against global inequality. Canada’s recent announcement of $650 million towards Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights is worth commending but it is deeply concerning that budget 2017 includes no funding for overall development assistance.

Abortion Access

Canada’s Health Minister has recognized that unequal access to abortion is a major problem in Canada; yet, budget 2017 does nothing to try and fix the problem. If this government is serious about committing to a feminist future that includes sexual and reproductive health, both strategy and funding must be allocated in areas where inequality persists.

Without cost-coverage, there is no choice. Health Canada recently approved the gold standard abortion pill (Mifegymiso) for use in Canada. The drug has the potential to dramatically increase access to abortion throughout under-serviced regions but its roughly $400 price tag means it is out of reach for many.

Sex Work

Following the 2015 federal election, the Trudeau government agreed that the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PECA) is a problematic piece of legislation that does not meet the Charter Rights set out by the Supreme Court of Canada. Since then however, the government has taken no steps to repeal this Act, which puts the health and lives of sex workers at risk.

In addition to a repeal, dedicated funding for meaningful engagement of sex worker rights, advocates and organizations to support their efforts to advocate towards sex work law reform is needed.

National Pharmacare Strategy

The absence of federal leadership and resources invested in health creates inequalities and poor outcomes in the areas of reproductive health care across the country. Incidents of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise while barriers to abortion and contraception remain across remote and rural regions.

Canada is the only country with public health care and no national drug cost-coverage plan. A National Pharmacare Strategy would guarantee access to a comprehensive range of medication, devices and appropriate supports that are critical to the full realization of people’s sexual and reproductive rights.

SRH2017: That’s a wrap!

Last week was Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week with the theme Ready for some pillow talk? Did you miss it? There are still ways you can get involved.

Click here to learn more!

Opinion: Is Canada Finally Moving Forward on Trans Rights?

Originally published in the Huffington Post

After decades of activism, trans rights are starting to get the recognition they deserve. More than ever, trans people and their rights are being represented in the media and at the UN, our neighbours to the south just issued school guidelines that recognize the right to access bathrooms that correspond to gender identity, and on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, our federal government introduced a bill prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression.

The gender identity and expression bill is long overdue, with similar bills having already been introduced seven times before. But what makes this a cause for celebration is that for the first time, it’s the government who is tabling the bill. Unlike previous private members’ bills, this one is much more likely to pass.

While all people are entitled to human rights protections, people with non-conforming gender identities and expressions (who may not fit into the socially constructed gender binary) are most at risk of heightened stigma, discrimination and violence.

In 2011, a nationwide survey found that more than three-quarters of transgender youth experienced verbal harassment in school and 1 in 3 reported physical violence. Earlier this month, a suspicious fire targeted the only medical clinic in Canada that offers gender reassignment surgery. And trans people of colour and trans sex workers are even more vulnerable to discrimination and violence.

Having trans rights enshrined in law means criminal acts motivated on the basis of gender identity or gender expression will be considered hate crimes, and that people who are employed by or receive services from the federal government, First Nations governments, or private companies regulated by the federal government (i.e. banks, trucking companies, broadcasters and telecommunications companies) will now be protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression.

While a number of provinces have already added gender identity and expression as protected grounds from discrimination, this bill will fill some gaps. The provincial legislation offers protection for many trans people who face unfair treatment when it comes to housing, employment, contracts, health care, and education, to name a few. But not all provinces and territories guarantee the same protections. Federal leadership is an important step towards ensuring that all people across the country are guaranteed their human rights.

This bill would go a long way toward equal protections for all trans people across Canada, and could be a promising example to follow for provinces and territories who haven’t yet adopted similar protections.

It is a strong first step, but when it comes to equality of rights, we’re not quite there yet. The government still has some ways to go before trans people in Canada and people of diverse gender identities and expressions are truly able to exercise and claim their full range of human rights.

The needs of trans people and people with non-conforming gender identities and expressions are often marginalized or omitted altogether from the planning of laws, policies and programs. Ignoring these needs has meant ongoing barriers in accessing services without fear of stigma or discrimination or seeking legal recourse for rights violations. For one, many trans people in Canada are still required to demonstrate proof of gender confirmation surgery or other medical treatment in order to change their name and/or gender in official documentation. And a third gender marker is still missing from government forms, census and other types of data collection.

Extending protection from hate crimes to include gender identity and expression is vital but needs to be accompanied by better supports for trans people to access public services like health and judicial systems and investments in data collection to inform better policy.

And discrimination against trans people is interwoven into so many other policies and services that need to be addressed. Barrier-free access to health care and housing, trans-inclusive sex education, and the decriminalization of sex work would go a long way in supporting trans rights.

There are many steps the government still needs to take. These are but a few examples. Most importantly though, whatever laws, policies and programs come next, people of diverse gender identities and expressions, and allied organizations, have to be meaningfully and significantly engaged in their design, development and implementation.

Education sector responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression

In 2011, UNESCO convened the first-ever UN international consultation on homophobic bullying in educational institutions, recognizing that this complex and sensitive issue needs to be addressed as part of wider efforts to prevent school-related violence and gender-based violence, in order to achieve quality education for all.

Since then UNESCO has expanded its work on school-related gender-based violence, including preventing and addressing homophobic and transphobic violence in educational settings, as part of its mandate to ensure that learning environments are safe, inclusive and supportive for all and its contribution to the achievement of the new global 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As part of this work, and within the framework of a three-year programme supported by the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Education and Respect for All: Preventing and Addressing Homophobic and Transphobic Bullying in Educational Institutions, UNESCO has provided support for efforts to improve the evidence base, including the global review of homophobic and transphobic violence in educational settings and of education sector responses that provided the basis for this report. These efforts have contributed to a better understanding of the nature, scale and effects of violence in schools, including the links between school-related gender-based violence and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, and of the elements of a comprehensive education sector response.

This report presents the main findings of the global review. It aims to give an analysis of the most up-to-date data on the nature, scope and impact of violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression and of current action. It also intends to provide education sector stakeholders with a framework for planning and implementing effective responses to violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression as part of wider efforts to prevent and address violence in schools.

Click here to read UNESCO report

National Sexual Rights Law and Policy Database

Sexualrightsdatabase.org is a one-stop-shop for national Constitutions, laws and policies related to sexual rights, including reproductive rights and sexual and reproductive health. Users can search by country or issue and can compare across countries.

Click here to access the tool

Opinion: Canada is Fighting to End Sexual Violence Everywhere (But Here)

On the global stage, Canada is leading the way to end sexual and gender-based violence. But we’re failing at home.

Canada was pivotal in establishing a United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, leads an annual resolution on violence against women at the United Nations Human Rights Council and, just last week, was instrumental in negotiating agreed conclusions at the UN Commission on the Status of Women that call on countries to adopt comprehensive, gender-sensitive preventive, protective and prosecutorial measures, especially measures that create safe environments that empower survivors to report incidences without fear of being re-victimized.

Canada is becoming the global leader Trudeau has promised, stepping up to the plate by safeguarding language on sexual and reproductive rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, and comprehensive sexuality education – all of which are critical when it comes to addressing sexual and gender-based violence.

Canada’s efforts to advance international policy on the issue have contributed to an international legal framework that requires governments around the world to be active in preventing violence against women and providing effective remedies for survivors.

In no small part, through its global engagement, Canada is paving the way for countries to develop laws, policies and programs that challenge the idea that violence against women is inevitable. Because of efforts led by Canada, countries around the world are creating laws, policies and programs that protect a woman’s right to be free from violence, that hold perpetrators accountable and that ensure survivors of violence are not subjected to more harm when seeking justice.

All that to say, at the international level, we’re seeing real progress. But the reality at home is much different. That same framework that is working to advance rights and prevent violence globally is not being applied in Canada.

Last Thursday, when former CBC celebrity Jian Ghomeshi was found not guilty on one count of overcoming resistance to sexual assault by choking and four counts of sexual assault, the verdict, and much of the media coverage that came after it, centered around the idea that the accusers were inconsistent at best, and maliciously deceptive at worst.

What the media – and many Canadians – fail to understand is that when the abuser is someone you know, sexual violence becomes especially complicated. Complex personal and emotional relationships often make cutting ties difficult, undesirable, even dangerous. It’s not uncommon for survivors to remain in contact with their abusers. And the fact is, a woman is much more likely to face violence at home by her partner or someone she knows.

Still, Canada’s court system relies on an outdated understanding of sexual violence as an experience faced by a “perfect victim” at the hands of a “bad stranger.”

Survivors of sexual violence who come forward in Canada are often re-traumatized by a criminal justice system that forces victims to relive their experience through an aggressive cross-examination process that is judged by myths of what survivors of sexual assault and violence should “look and act like.”

The likelihood of being re-traumatized in court and the low conviction rate for sexual assault mean that Canada is failing to properly address sexual and gender-based violence and is actively preventing survivors from coming forward.

Canada – a global leader on ending violence against women – needs to take stock of international best practice and strengthen the criminal justice system in Canada. A system that has clearly demonstrated its inability to meaningfully address the needs of survivors.

Canada needs to apply the same legal and policy framework developed on the global stage, at home.

In doing so, Canada could take meaningful steps recognizing that shame, stigma and fear of being re-victimized often prevent survivors from reporting or seeking justice. It could work to create an enabling environment where women and girls can easily report incidents of violence, ensuring access to effective remedies and legal assistance without discrimination. It could provide safe and appropriate complaint channels, adopting an approach that establishes (where appropriate) specialized courts that protect confidentiality and prevent stigma, re-victimazation or further harm to the victim.

There is a lot Canada can do. Implementing measures we’re already committed to as a country will go a long way.

Action Canada CESCR Statement in advance of Canada’s review

Statement delivered on 22 February 2016 by Action Canada before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in advance of Canada’s review.

We have identified a number of concerns regarding Canada’s obligations under articles 2, 10 and 13 of the covenant.

Regarding Article 2, the Governments’ response to the List of Issues indicates it is satisfied with the low levels of ODA which hover at 1/3 of the global target of 0.7% GNI, which the UK government achieved under austerity measures. Canadian aid has plateaued at 0.24%. The government has yet to signal if or when it will increase this budget.

On the issue of discrimination experienced by trans individuals, the government’s response recognizes progress made at provincial and territorial levels to recognize gender identity, and in some cases, expression. While critical, these efforts create discrepancies between levels of government, which can result in further discrimination.

Regarding Article 10, as the government recognizes in the response to the List of Issues, there are differences in access to the abortion services depending where you live. Some individuals have to: pay out of pocket for travel and procedural costs of C$600-$1,500, experience physicians refusing to provide services on moral or religious grounds, or turn to unsafe methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies. The government’s response fails to indicate what steps it will take to address these challenges.

Regarding physicians’ refusal to provide health care on moral and religious beliefs, the Committee calls on states to implement a mechanism of timely and systematic referral in such cases. The Code of Ethics of the Canadian Medical Association contravenes international best practice and the Committee’s jurisprudence in that it does not require practitioners to provide timely referrals.

On the issue of Indigenous peoples’ access to health care, particularly sexual and reproductive health, Canada’s response to the List of Issues fails to acknowledge the longstanding forms of systemic racism and discrimination that have resulted in limited access to services which contributes to poor health outcomes. There are recent reports of forced sterilization, the over-prescription of injectable contraceptives to Indigenous youth, which can cause infertility, the shackling of incarcerated pregnant women while in labor, sexual violence from prison guards and the absence of facilities for incarcerated mothers.

Regarding Article 13, youth in Canada demonstrate an overall lack of knowledge on sexual and reproductive health made evident by increasing rates of STI and HIV diagnoses since the 1990s. Yet the government has allowed the uneven implementation of sexuality education curricula across the country which has resulted in severe discrepancies in delivery and no national standards through which such curricula can be monitored and evaluated. There is also a lack of regularly collected, disaggregated data to monitor sexual health trends.

Canada’s response to the List of Issues fails to consider its obligations under the Covenant in this regard. We urge the Committee to raise these issues during Canada’s review. We have prepared a brief, accompanied by a summary of recommendations directed at the Government of Canada. I would be happy to share these resources with members of the Committee.  

 

Now, it’s up to the new government to keep its promises on women’s rights

By Sandeep Prasad
Originally published in the Montreal Gazette

Sandeep Prasad is Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, a progressive, pro-choice charitable organization committed to advancing and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally.

Women’s rights took centre stage this past election. For the first time in 30 years, federal leaders spoke specifically to women’s rights with the Up for Debate campaign. The niqab became a wedge issue, the Munk Debate and the second French debate brought light to abortion in Canada and globally, and each leader addressed strategies for childcare and ending violence against women. Now that the election is over, it’s time for this newly-elected government to make good on its promises. And there is much to do on these issues immediately if Prime Minister Trudeau is going to show the change of course he has promised the electorate.

For one, the newly-elected government has promised to repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36). This would be a significant step forward and must happen immediately if we are serious about human rights in this country. Bill C-36 threatens the health and safety of sex workers and is in violation of the same human rights protections that made the criminal code provisions it replaced unconstitutional.

Next, the new government has promised to negotiate a new health accord with provinces and territories. While Canada has a reputation for prioritizing universal health care, the Canada Health Accord has long expired and we have no national drug plan. This is an opportunity to regain that reputation by ensuring real access to abortion across Canada and a national drug plan that would support the many Canadians who are paying out of pocket to access contraceptives, fertility drugs, medication for gender transitioning, HIV treatment, and medical abortion pills.

Still in Canada, only one in six hospitals provide abortion services, the majority of which, like free-standing sexual health clinics, are disproportionately dispersed across the country and primarily located in urban centres; moreover, the restrictions that Health Canada imposed upon the newly-approved abortion pill “Mifegymiso” give serious doubts as to whether the drug will substantially improve abortion access as was intended.

Once a strong global leader on gender equality and women’s rights, Canada has long retreated from this role. It’s time to rise once again to the forefront in this area. As a first step, the government needs to end ministerial restrictions that prohibit funding for safe abortion in Canadian foreign aid, a policy that has been rightfully critiqued by the World Health Organization. Every year, some 5 million women experience serious injury from pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Canada’s strategies need to be comprehensive if we are serious about addressing maternal mortality and morbidity and the basic human rights of all people. That includes supporting safe and legal abortion in Canada and globally.

Finally, supporting a national childcare strategy and taking steps to end violence against women, including Indigenous women, are two election promises that the new government needs to prioritize.

Without access to affordable childcare, many parents – most often women – face constraints when returning to the workforce, often contributing to reduced earnings and male-dominated workforces that perpetuate stereotypes and violence. Ending violence against women and inquiring into the case of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada is a matter of human rights.

These basic steps, all of which were included among this government’s election promises, are ones on which we need to see immediate action if we are going to begin to once again show leadership as a country on gender equality and human rights.

Press Release: Making good on promises: Action Canada lays out measures newly-elected government needs to take

20 October 2015
For immediate release

Women’s rights, including their sexual health and rights, took centre stage during this election. We saw federal leaders talk specifically about women’s rights for the first time in 30 years with the Up for Debate campaign. The niqab became a wedge issue, the Munk Debate and the second French debate brought light to abortion in Canada and globally, and each leader addressed strategies for childcare and ending violence against women. Now that the election is over, it is time for this newly-elected government to make good on its promises.

“Repealing Bill C-36 is the kind of step the government needs to take to address violence against women and women’s rights,” says Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. The new government has made a promise to replace the law resulting from the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36) with legislation that protects the safety, health and human rights of sex workers in Canada. “Bill C-36 creates the conditions that threaten human rights, from bodily autonomy to freedom from violence. Working in consultation with experts and civil society, and sex workers themselves as promised, will be a first step this government needs to commit to,” adds Prasad.

The new government has also promised to negotiate a new health accord with provinces and territories. “This is an opportunity for a national drug plan that would support the many Canadians who are paying out of pocket to access contraceptives, fertility drugs, medication for transitioning, HIV treatment. The government could also use this time to discuss real access to abortion in Canada that includes rural and remote areas and covering the cost of mifegysimo,” says Prasad.

Only one in six hospitals provide abortion services in Canada, the majority of which, like free-standing sexual health clinics, are disproportionately dispersed across the country and primarily located in urban centres. P.E.I. offers zero abortion services, and only four facilities cover Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

Canada also has a role to play in supporting access to safe abortion services globally. This begins with ending ministerial restrictions that prohibit funding for safe abortion in Canadian foreign aid, including in countries where legal. “Every year, some 5 million women experience serious injury from pregnancy and childbirth related complications. Family planning strategies need to be comprehensive if we are serious about addressing maternal mortality and morbidity. That includes supporting safe and legal abortion,” says Prasad.

“At the global level, it is also time that Canada re-engages in key intergovernmental decision-making spaces, like the UN. Canada was once a strong leader on gender equality and women’s rights, sexual and reproductive rights and human rights more broadly but has recently taken a backseat,” says Prasad.

At home, supporting a national childcare strategy and ending violence against women, including missing and murdered Indigenous women, are two other important pieces that the new government has committed to. “Childcare measures that can reduce poverty rates in the community lead to better health outcomes. Ending violence against women is a matter of human rights.” says Prasad. Adding that “A gender violence strategy and action plan is certainly welcome. It will need to be comprehensive in its approach and include consultation with individual experts and organizations working on the issue.”

–30–

Notes to editors:

For media inquiries and interviews contact:

Ani Colekessian
613-241-4474 ext. 7
[email protected]

Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is available for interview.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights has produced a set of briefs with recommendations related to sexual and reproductive health and rights available at archive.actioncanadashr.org/canada-election-2015

Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights is a progressive, pro-choice charitable organization committed to advancing and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally. For more information visit archive.actioncanadashr.org

HRC Advances Rights of Women and Girls

Action Canada is a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI), a coalition of organizations from Canada, Poland, India, Egypt, Argentina and Africa, that work together to advance human rights related to sexuality at the United Nations.

The Sexual Rights Initiative welcomes the adoption by the United Nations Human Rights Council of three resolutions that advance gender equality, empowerment and the human rights of women and girls. These resolutions are entitled:

  1. Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women: Eliminating Domestic Violence
  2. Strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage
  3. Elimination of discrimination against women

The resolution on Accelerating Efforts to Eliminate all Forms of Violence Against Women is an annual resolution run by Canada. This year, it focused on eliminating domestic violence, which has never been the focus of a resolution at the Council before now.

Through this resolution, adopted by consensus, and co-sponsored by 87 countries so far, the Council expresses grave concern over the prevalence of domestic violence, including intimate partner violence. It reiterates that States must eliminate harmful practices that women and girls are subjected to such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and cannot invoke custom, tradition, or religion to avoid doing so.

The Council calls upon States to penalise acts of domestic violence, including marital rape, partner violence, so-called “honour” crimes, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation. It also asks States to eliminate legislation and practices that discriminate against women and girls, ensure access to justice and remedies for domestic violence, train public officials, and empower women in the realm of decision-making, education, decent work, social services, financial resources, property and inheritance.

The Council calls for the access of women to comprehensive sexuality education and sexual and reproductive health services, and the promotion and protection of their reproductive rights and the right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality. It also urges States to support civil society initiatives aimed at promoting gender equality and addressing domestic violence, including those undertaken by women’s organizations and women human rights defenders.

This is the first ever UN resolution to use the terms ‘intimate partner violence’ and ‘comprehensive sexuality education’.

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