The Ottawa Citizen by Kelly Nolan 01 March 2018
On Tuesday, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, alongside women’s ongoing struggle for equity, won a victory. Never has Canada released a federal budget as progressive and in-step with a movement for change.
The common cycle is that an issue sparks outrage in the media, leading to outcries on social media, trending hashtags and organized marches, followed by the release of reports and the sharing of heart-wrenching stories – only to be met with inaction and disappointment. That cycle was broken this week.
Feminists, women’s organizations, poverty advocates, Indigenous associations and reproductive rights’ groups know the struggle it takes to even get their issues on to the agenda. Lest we forget, under the Stephen Harper government, scientists were muzzled, evidence ignored and the women’s agenda kneecapped, as was the mandate of Status of Women Canada.
But in this week’s federal budget, our political leaders celebrated women, and it was momentous. We were seen. We were honoured. We were invested in. This was not a story of how we are abused and discarded; this was a story of the power of women and the progress we can bring to this country. It gave me hope after repeated news cycles of despair.
Status of Women will become a full ministry and the federal government wants to introduce legislation that enshrines gender-based analysis in all future spending. It is reviewing 25,000 cases of sexual assault that were deemed unfounded by the RCMP. This alone is exceptional, given where we were a few years ago.
When I worked in sexual reproductive health, the minister at the time ended our meeting abruptly. Our campaign was to raise awareness about how the growing prevalence of Chlamydia was silently destroying women’s fertility in Canada and costing the health system and families millions of dollars in preventable infertility treatments. The minister said we were – wait for it – “promoting sex before marriage.”
This was depressingly recent, folks.
When I advocated for science six years ago, the words “physics,” “astronomy” or “discovery research” were explicitly forbidden. The science minister at the time may or may not have believed in evolution and did not fully support the evidence surrounding climate change. Let that sink in for a minute. (Today, we have a scientist as minister … and she believes in evidence.)
So can we pop open the champagne before we start complaining?
I was giddy when the government tabled evidence that women’s full economic participation will grow the GDP by four per cent. As recently as four years ago, evidence was not considered de rigueur.
I called and shared the budget announcement with colleagues in the United States. They were incredulous. “Is this real? Can this actually be happening?” Yes, yes, it is happening. Our prime minister is concerned about our equal participation, not grabbing our genitalia. I know it’s 2018, but this is what’s ahead for women in North America.
While groups will dissect the budget’s investments and policies (yes, we do need a national day care strategy), first let’s pause and applaud Justin Trudeau’s cabinet – loudly.
There will be a movement to take down the government’s platform of evidence-based decision-making, with divisive rhetoric that suggests investing in women will be the downfall of the nation. And it will garner support from those invested in the status quo, posting messages on Facebook evoking nostalgia for “simpler times when women knew their place.”
Others will criticize the investments in Truth and Reconciliation and the international aid program for vulnerable women and girls (they won’t like the word “feminist” in its title either). They’ll claim the prime minister doesn’t support our veterans, or “real” Canadians.
Nothing is perfect. There will always be a call for more money and different policies.
Nonetheless, Trudeau gives us hope for a Canada that might actually live up to our global brand of being inclusive, fair and welcoming to all.
Cue the applause.
Kelly Nolan is Executive Director of Informed Opinions which works to ensure diverse women’s perspectives and priorities are equitably integrated into Canadian society. #AmplifyHer