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BC gov gets low score on women's rights

The B.C. government has done little over the past year to advance the cause of women's rights, says a Vancouver-based legal fund.

In a "report card" released today, the West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF) gave the province a C- for policies relating to women and gender equality for the second year running.

"The new premier claims to want to put families first," says Laura Track, Legal Director for West Coast LEAF. "But at the same time she heads a government that refuses to invest in adequate social assistance, refuses to invest in adequate legal aid, refuses to fund a meaningful commission of inquiry into murdered and missing aboriginal women. The result is that the statements she makes ring hollows for the people whose rights are continually violated by these policies."

This is the third-annual CEDAW Report Card issued by the West Coast LEAF, an assessment of the provincial government's compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The Canadian federal government first ratified CEDAW in 1981.

The authors of the report evaluated the province's performance in eight separate categories -- each of which was assessed and marked individually. Final grades were determined by a panel of volunteers.

While an overall grade of C- marks no change over last year's performance, the report highlights variations from category to category.

The areas of housing, social assistance, and health care saw slight improvements, which the report attributes to the funding of additional emergency shelters, the increase in the provincial minimum wage, and continued "access to a decent health care system" respectively.

But the report card also notes a backslide in the treatment of women prisoner's and the province's prioritization of missing and murdered aboriginal women. B.C. was given a D- in this latter category, prompted most immediately by the government's refusal to provide legal funding for all standing participants in the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.

Of the three remaining categories for which the province received the same mark compared to last year's report, women's access to justice in B.C. was deemed worthy of an F -- the same failing grade given in that category since the first report card was published in 2009.

"The U.N. committee that reviews Canada's compliance with CEDAW treaty obligation raised legal aid as a particular concern when they reviewed Canada's record," says Track. "Particularly in family law issues, without access to legal aid, women's rights are undermined in court."

But despite what the legal fund considers to be the recent lackluster performance of the province on the issue of women's rights, Track says she remains hopeful for next year's report card.

"We look forward to seeing what the new leader of the B.C. Liberals does to address women's equality in British Columbia," she says. "British Columbia is a wealthy province and it has great resources at its disposal to ensure the equal rights of all of its citizens."

Ben Christopher reports for The Tyee

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