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What women care most about in this election, and how the parties stack up

Global News with Melanee Thomas 20 October 2019

 

While “women’s issues” should be everybody’s issues, experts say, there are certain matters that disproportionately affect women.

From a lack of affordable child care to higher rates of gender-based violence, the upcoming federal election highlights some of these problems — and the demand for policy-based solutions.

“Being a woman is not a universal experience,” says Amanda Kingsley Malo, the founder of PoliticsNOW, an organization that works to get women elected in Ontario municipal elections.

“But a lot of the things that concern women when they’re voting don’t always come up on the campaign trail.”

Here are some issues political experts say women may be thinking about when heading to the polls on Oct. 21.

Healthcare

Women often experience a different quality of healthcare than men do, research shows, with one study even finding they are less likely to receive CPR in public.

In clinical medical trials, women have historically been largely absent, too.

Velma Morgan, the chair of Operation Black Vote Canada, points to research that shows black patients’ pain is often taken less seriously than white patients.

For black women, this can be compounded as women’s pain in general is more often dismissed than men’s.

Women-centred treatment should be used to help close the gender gap in healthcare, the Canadian Women’s Health Network says.

During the first leaders’ debate, health care was not among the five topics raised. Abortion, on the other hand, was mentioned.

Where do the parties stand?

The Liberal’s health-care platform pledges to improve access to abortion and reproductive health care, mental health services and primary care providers, and to create a national institute for women’s health research.

If re-elected, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also says his government would come to the rescue of an abortion clinic in Fredericton that could be forced to close its doors without the support of the province.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh‘s campaign platform is promising a range of policies, including a national pharmacare plan. The NDP has also pledged to declare a public health emergency on the opioid crisis and provide coverage for gender-confirming surgeries and health care for transgender people.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer promises to spend $1.5 billion to buy new medical imaging equipment for facilities across the country. He also vows to maintain and increase health transfer payments to provinces and territories.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says her party will enact pharmacare by 2020, expand access to abortion services, implement improved health care systems for Indigenous people, declare the opioid crisis a national health emergency and establish a national mental health strategy.

Affordable child care

A lack of affordable child care affects everyone, but it disproportionately targets women. The Canadian Women’s Foundation points out that becoming a mother can hurt a woman’s earnings and career — especially if she has to take extended time off work due to child-care costs.

Even when mothers do go back to work, they’re often the ones caring for kids once they get home, according to Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.

Thomas says research shows that women spend more time doing unpaid labour, which includes child care and caring for aging parents.

Kingsley Malo says that affordable and accessible child care would “change the lives of women all over this country.”

“Affordable child care is imperative to our success because, unfortunately, so many of us are still more on the hook for familial matters,” she adds.

The issue of affordable child care is not new, but federal party leaders are pledging change.

Where do the parties stand?

Singh says if elected, he would spend $10 billion over the next four years to create 500,000 new child-care spaces in Canada, with the goal of offering free services for some parents.

Trudeau promises that a re-elected Liberal government would invest $535 million yearly to create up to 250,000 more spaces for before- and after-school child-care programs.

Sheer has pledged to help young parents by bringing in a 15 per cent tax credit for maternity and parental Employment Insurance (EI) benefits.

May’s Green Party says it will invest $1 billion annually “to ramp up federal child care funding” to achieve the international benchmark of at least 1 per cent of GDP.

Diversity and representation

More women need to run as elected officials, experts say, in order to ensure their perspectives are heard. A lack of female representation affects the issues that get covered, and the policies put in place.

Thomas says research shows that women in elected positions talk about different topics than men do, and are more likely to talk about gender, poverty and LGBTQ2 issues.

Kingsley Malo says that women, just by virtue of being women, bring forward a viewpoint that is often missing when only men are in power.

“When issues of health care come up or specific legislation that needs to be passed, we can be sure that women’s perspective are being considered,” Kingsley Malo says.

It’s also incredibly important that women of colour and Indigenous women hold political roles, too. For example, Morgan says that anti-black racism can be better addressed by having more black candidates in all levels of government.

“They have the lens of a black person who has lived experience and can help shape policy,” she says.

The lack of representation is reflected in the issues that receive mainstream political coverage — especially during debates.

“I think for a lot of the parties, issues that affect racialized women are not things they think impacts their base, or the base they’re interested in, not realizing that we are part of their base,” Morgan explains.

“We do vote and the fact that our issues aren’t seen as important enough to discuss in an election is very sad and why we need more representation.”

Where do the parties stand?

The Liberals say they will continue to have a balanced cabinet, and use a “Gender-based Analysis Plus” lens when developing policies and programs.

The NDP platform pledges to “tackle obstacles to women’s political participation by reforming the electoral system and introducing legislation to encourage political parties to run more women candidates.”

The Green Party pledges to make advancing gender equality one of its key issues.

It is unclear what the Conservatives will do to combat a lack of representation in cabinet.

Violence against women

Research shows that women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence — and things aren’t getting any better.

A recent study by the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative revealed there’s been no change to domestic homicide rates in the last nine years. Women made up three-quarters of domestic homicides during that time period, with 52 per cent of women belonging to at least one vulnerable group the researchers identified — those with an Indigenous background, new immigrants or refugees, northern or rural residents and children.

A report from Women’s Shelters Canada also showed that the places offering refuge and support for women at risk are increasingly underfunded.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation says violence against women “costs taxpayers and the government billions of dollars every year,” as Canadians spend $7.4 billion to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence.

Indigenous women are at even greater risk of experiencing gender-based violence than non-Indigenous women, the foundation says.

This is a serious social problem, and Kingsley Malo says parties need to do a better job at addressing violence against women.

“The fact that it’s rarely come up on the campaign trail is atrocious, considering the results from the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report,” she says.

“We need to be talking about that a lot more, and women know that because we’re the ones who are disproportionately affected by that gender-based violence. We keep saying we want this brought up, and it keeps getting pushed to the wayside.”

Where do the parties stand?

The Liberal platform includes a promise to put forward $30 million to a Gender-Based Violence Strategy.

The Green Party platform promises to develop an action plan to end violence against women and implement the recommendations of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report. The party also pledged to invest $40 million over four years in order to provide more than 2,100 new or renovated shelter spaces for women.

The NDP also says it would work with Indigenous groups and implement the MMIWG inquiry’s calls to action and also develop a national action plan to end gender-based violence.

The Conservative Party says it will develop a national action plan to address the ongoing tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

Melanee Thomas is a political science professor at the University of Calgary.