This week, the New Brunswick government introduced its 2011 Budget, which abolishes the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, effective April 1.
The government says the ACSW provides the same services as the Women’s Issues Branch. However, the ACSW argues their work does not overlap and that it’s crucial to have an agency like theirs that has objective distance from the government in order for them to evaluate government programs critically. Because of its direct relationship with the government, the Women’s Issues Branch can’t have the same independent influence.
The ACSW’s budget is only $418,000, a paltry amount compared to the overall provincial budget, and compared to the good work they do on issues like pay equity, child care, poverty, women seniors, violence against women, and many more . The ACSW is arguing that the Alward government is cutting their funding not for financial reasons, but for ideological ones.
Across Canada, we’ve seen similar attacks by right-wing governments. Here in BC we’re still losing women’s centres partly due to loss of government funding under the Liberals. One silver lining is that Canadian feminist activists are more prepared to take action and show governments that these attacks on organizations dedicated to women’s equality are unacceptable.
Here’s what you can do to support the ACSW:
Turns out Riverview, New Brunswick (population just over 17,000) is home to a homophobic wedding florist.
After having confirmed an order for wedding flowers, Kim Evans of Petals and Promises Wedding Flowers cancelled the agreement when she discovered it was a same-sex wedding.
Although Evans wasn’t interviewed in the articles I read, the couple’s wedding planner shared her email, which stated: “”I am choosing to decline your business. As a born-again Christian, I must respect my conscience before God and have no part in this matter.”
The thing is, while Canadians have a right to hold their own religious beliefs, the right doesn’t extend to allow people to use their religion to discriminate against others when operating a business or providing a public service. Saying your florist won’t provide flowers for gay weddings is the same as saying your coffee shop or restaurant or funeral home or bed and breakfast won’t serve members of a certain minority group.
Eldon Hay, a United Church minister and gay rights advocate interviewed by the CBC, put it well: “The shopkeeper has every right to her own convictions as long as she is a private citizen in her own house, but if she opens her doors to sell flowers, then she must be prepared to meet and deal with the public.
And more in the realm of Canadian homophobia this week, Missisauga Catholic students have started a Facebook group to rally support for their drive to start a Gay-Straight Alliance at St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary.
One of the main students organizing the St. Joe’s GSA told Xtra.ca that a teacher told her she and the other students were probably just confused. The teacher then offered them pamphlets for Courage International, which uses a 12-step program to try to “cure” gayness.
This ban on GSAs comes not long after another Ontario board, the Halton Catholic School Board, came under fire for comparing a ban on GSAs to banning “Nazi groups” in school. Outcry forced the board to lift the ban but they still don’t allow clubs with “gay” in their name.
At this point the Ontario NDP is the only party talking about this. They’re calling on the Liberals to address the issues with inequality in the Catholic school system, but they stop short of suggesting funding should be cut off.
If no politicians are going to even consider changing the funding subsidies to these schools, it’ll be interesting to see how the government intends to ensure public money isn’t enabling discrimination.
Some of you might remember the controversy that arose over last year’s release of Discover Canada, the citizenship study guide produced by the federal government. There was an outcry when it was revealed that the Harper Conservatives had omitted all mention of gay rights in the study guide, despite senior department officials’ pleas to keep the information in.
Internal documents released to the media showed Immigration Minister Jason Kenney had ordered the omission of gay rights information, which included milestones in gay rights, the decriminalization of homosexuality, the legalization of same-sex marriage, and the fact that discrimination against people based on sexual orientation is illegal under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Well there really must be an election in the air because Kenney was in Vancouver this week showing off the new guide, which now includes one whole sentence, whereas all the old version had was a captioned photo of Olympic athlete Mark Tewksbury.
The guide now includes the line: “Canada’s diversity includes gay and lesbian Canadians, who enjoy the full protection of and equal treatment under the law, including access to civil marriage.”
Egale Canada is right that it’s better than no mention at all, but they point out trans rights weren’t included, despite the NDP passing its recent bill to guarantee those rights (the bill is waiting for Senate approval). I think it’s unfortunate that this government’s abysmal gay rights record has lowered our expectations so much that they can do the bare minimum on the issue and we’re still forced to congratulate them on it.
I was excited yesterday morning to come across this column by Paula Arab in the Calgary Herald, entitled “How did Feminism Become a Dirty Word?” An article supporting feminism in a mainstream paper in Canada’s conservative heartland? Awesome, I thought. Then I actually read it.
The article started out ok, with an anecdote about her first year university class’ reluctance to call themselves feminists.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about a belief in gender equality that says people, neither men nor women, should be discriminated against on the sole basis of their sex. So why the reluctance to stand up and be counted as a feminist?” she asks, reasonably.
But it’s pretty much downhill from there, as Arab spends the rest of the column suggesting “the fight has been won” and reassuring readers that feminism is nice and safe and doesn’t need to make anyone change how they would normally behave.
On the “fight has been won” argument, she seems to contradict herself, acknowledging instances of perpetuated rape culture such as the Manitoba judge who gave a rapist a lesser sentence because the victim had been wearing revealing clothing, and talking about our celebrity-obsessed culture that sexualizes young girls. She also recognizes women’s global inequality, citing honour killings and female genital mutilation, but still inexplicably insists “the fight has been won”.
And it’s on this assumption she tries to show that feminists aren’t like the stereotype people seem to have: “the butch look… -no makeup, short hair, overweight and manly”. Because we’re in a “post-feminist era” where women have pretty much achieved equality, Arab argues, feminism can be nice and comfortable and unintrusive. Women can be top managers “and lead like a woman, even if you had to act like a man to get there”! “Men can open doors for their ladies, now that chivalry is no longer a loaded symbol of women’s oppression”! And, thank God, “women can be strong and still be feminine”!
While it’s true women can be top managers, few actually are, and women still face sexism in the workplace in a number of fields such as technology. Women are drastically underrepresented in politics across the Western world, and many feminists would argue that women shouldn’t have to “act like a man” to get to the top, that defining corporate success as masculine has become an inherent part of women’s corporate inequality.
It’s also true that mainstream feminism, which centres on the principle of gender equality, generally accepts that feminine appearance and behaviour has little bearing on strength. That said, neither does androgynous or masculine appearance, though it seems like Arab thinks people would be more comfortable if women would just look like they’re told to look. No, feminists aren’t all manly-looking, but why should anyone care if we were? Masculine appearance doesn’t make anyone less friendly, less competent, or less valuable of a person.
And that whole chivalry thing? I have no problem with a guy holding a door for me, but I’d have a problem with a guy thinking he’s required to because I somehow can’t handle opening doors on my own, or because he thinks of me as his property. Arab still seems to think heterosexual relationships have a bit of an ownership factor, as evidenced by her discussion of men “open[ing] doors for their ladies“.
Arab is right that feminism doesn’t have to be big and scary, but she’s on the wrong track if she thinks gender equality can be achieved without ruffling any feathers. Feminism isn’t about deliberately trying to make people uncomfortable, but gender equality can’t be achieved without questioning gender relations and gendered behaviour. We also need to push for equality regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation, which means tackling homophobia, transphobia, poverty, and racism, in order to make sure we aren’t just focused on the concerns of straight, white, middle-class women.
Feminism doesn’t just bother some people because of the unfortunate negative stereotypes associated with it; it bothers some people because it forces them to admit their privilege and the ways they might be benefiting from or unconsciously perpetuating inequality.
Arab ends the article by inexplicably perpetuating the myth that feminists in the 1960s and 1970s burned their bras, which they never did, and concludes with: “Time to reclaim the F-word.”
I agree with the goal, but believe that being a feminist, while fun and rewarding, is about more than a theoretical commitment to equality: it does require changes in how we think and what we say and do.