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Opinion

Clark Government’s Sexist Policies Are Nothing ‘Casual’

Eight women-harming measures, from slashing supports to attacking female job sectors.

By Alison Brewin 1 May 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Alison Brewin is a consultant and writer in Vancouver who was the Legal and Executive Director of West Coast LEAF from 1999 to 2011.

Christy Clark’s spokesperson wants us to think the NDP’s candidate for premier is “casually sexist.” That’s the interpretation Pamela Martin, writing in Huffington Post, put on John Horgan’s performance in the first leaders’ debate of this election. His alleged sins: Mansplaining. Condescension. Telling the BC Liberal leader: “I’ll watch you for a while. I know you like that.” And: “Take a few minutes and read something.”

Even if one accepts Martin’s characterizing of Horgan’s behaviour, the facts don’t lie: There is nothing casual about the sexism of Christy Clark and the BC Liberals. Theirs is an aggressive, systemic and dangerous sexism that has put women behind the eight ball for 16 years.

Here are eight ways the BC Liberals have failed women in this province:

Sexist childcare policies. There are regulated childcare spots for only one in five children in B.C. Women disproportionally are B.C.’s single parents, continue to do the majority of unpaid work, and are more likely to be in low paid, part-time positions. This means that without accessible, safe childcare, women are forced to give up economic independence for the sake of their children.

Christy Clark and the BC Liberals announced a few new daycare spots this year, but the new spots are the result of old 2013 funding and still only meet the needs of one out of five children. The childcare subsidy is only available to four per cent of children and hasn’t been raised in over a decade.

Trapping women in poverty. In B.C., one out of five children live in poverty. Half of children with lone parents live in poverty and 80 per cent of single parents are women. Indigenous children are twice as likely to live in poverty. Children’s poverty directly relates to women’s poverty. Senior women, our elders, are increasingly isolated and living in poverty under the BC Liberal regime. Who in the province is benefiting from the “on a roll” economy Christy Clark keeps on about? Not low income women and their children.

Depriving women with disabilities. The barriers facing women with disabilities are multiple and the BC Liberal government has done nothing to address those barriers. The cost of housing, the lack of access to justice, and the mean-spirited way in which the income assistance system has been run for the past 16 years all have had a devastating impact on people with disabilities, especially women.

After nine years of no increases in monthly payments to people with disabilities, last year the BC Liberals finally upped the amount by $77. Then they clawed back the cost of bus passes and transportation subsidies. All at a time when the research is clear that people with disabilities, seniors and those managing chronic illness are happier and healthier when we help ensure they are not socially isolated.

Tilting the scales against women. The BC Liberals cut family law and poverty law services and continue to underfund these vital areas of legal aid. These important services help women access economic independence and freedom from violence. The government collects tax on legal services supposedly meant for legal aid funding, but in fact those revenues far outstrip what they actually spend on legal aid. After years of critics marshalling extensive evidence that the legal aid system is underfunded and in crisis, Christy Clark and her party refuse to make fundamental changes.

Sexist housing policies. Nothing is more important to women’s safety than safe, affordable housing. Christy Clark has done nothing to make this happen. Only after an Ombudsman complaint did the Liberals stop their cruel policy regarding housing subsidies and the child apprehension system, which meant women often lost their children permanently because they couldn’t afford to keep their apartment. The BC Liberal tax on foreign home buyers will do nothing to help women who are most in need of housing. That would mean creating incentives and subsidies for co-op, rental and social housing.

Backing the wrong economy. Christy Clark is pouring millions of taxpayers’ dollars into subsidizing the resource economy. This will bring jobs, she promises (while resource companies pour millions of dollars into her party’s coffers). But Christy Clark hurts women by focusing so tightly on traditional and outmoded systems. Women benefit from a diverse economy, one that supports things like IT, film production and tourism. The $10 a day daycare solution proposed by the NDP would generate economies that are sustainable, as would investment in the non-profit sector where 70 per cent of employees are women. In fact, the non-profit sector contributes more to the Canadian economy than mining, oil and gas and agriculture, according to Statistics Canada.

Women in prisons. Christy Clark and her party refuse to track routes women take into B.C.’s prison system. They show no interest in figuring out how to reverse these deeply troubling statistics: More than one out of three women in B.C. prisons are Indigenous, even though only one in 20 women in B.C. are Indigenous. Women in prison are 79 per cent more likely than men in prison to have psychiatric diagnoses. In Christy Clark’s B.C., more women are being criminalized for their race, their mental health and even their hunger.

Making war on teaching, health care. Christy Clark and the BC Liberals spent a decade and half fighting legally binding collective agreements for teachers and health care workers in B.C., sectors that employ high numbers of women. The courts repeatedly laid out the legal obligations of the government, only to have the province appeal again and again before losing on both fronts. In the meantime, health care workers’ salaries plummeted and the privatization of seniors’ facilities has put our elders at risk. In November the teachers finally won their battle, but only after the BC Liberals avoided billions of dollars in obligated spending to hire more teachers and improve children’s education.

Any positive steps to help women over the past 16 years have been forced on the B.C. government, not taken up willingly. The ceaseless battle to roll back cruel policies has involved grassroots advocacy, expensive legal fights, and media pressure. The policy of this government has been ‘if the community isn’t complaining, then we don’t have to do it.’ Which is an awful lot like the sexist argument ‘If she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she leave?’

So what about John Horgan? Is he a sexist, casual or otherwise? Based on the positions of the party he leads and the opinions of the man himself, the answer is no.

That is because substantive equality of women anywhere in the world depends on five key things:

Income equality that provides independence and economic freedom,

Reproductive rights, including caring for children and investing in systems that share the burden of family care giving and ensure universal access to those systems,

Access to family law justice systems that support women when marriage breaks down,

Accessible education systems, and

Freedom from violence.

On all counts the NDP record is profoundly better than the neo-conservative politics of Christy Clark, and the NDP platform and policies are substantive in committing to advancements in all five areas. More than half of all the NDP candidates are women — a first in the history of B.C. politics.

Treating people with respect is something that needs to be a part of our political system in B.C. and everyone should demand it of our politicians. But let’s not confuse flip remarks in the heat of debate with policies. At the centre of the NDP platform is compassion — for all British Columbians. And John Horgan has pledged that if he is elected premier he will work tirelessly to implement the NDP’s campaign pledges. If we believe equality matters in B.C., we need to elect John Horgan. Because it’s 2017. It’s time.

The research in this article was taken from the CEDAW Report Card published annually by West Coast LEAF.  [Tyee]

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