Release: BC gets low marks on report card assessing women’s equality

VANCOUVER – Today, West Coast LEAF released its eighth annual report card on women’s rights in BC. While there have been minor improvements in some of the nine key areas this year, the overwhelmingly low grades reveal that BC has once again failed to deliver on its responsibilities towards women. In particular, the Province has not taken significant action to address the human rights of incarcerated women, has failed to take substantive action on the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls, and has not addressed the child care crisis that helps to keep many women in poverty and at risk of violence.

West Coast LEAF’s CEDAW Report Card is an annual assessment of how well BC is complying with the obligations set out in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The Report Card grades BC’s progress in nine key areas in women’s rights, including access to justice, economic security, affordable housing and child care, and women’s health and safety. The Report Card is released on Persons Day, the historic day in 1929 when the first women in Canada were finally included in the legal definition of ‘persons,’ and serves as an important reminder of how far we still need to go to ensure all women’s full and equal participation in the social and economic life of our province.

Of particular note this year is the F grade the Province received for continuing to overlook the basic human rights of incarcerated women and girls. BC has taken an alarming lack of substantive action to address multiple rights infringements experienced by women and girls in provincial prisons. Most notable, perhaps, is the sobering fact that Indigenous women and girls are disturbingly over-represented in provincial prisons. Indigenous women make up 5% of BC’s female population but 35% of its female provincial prison population.

“The reality of the glaring over-representation of Indigenous women is compounded by inadequate provincial facilities for women, unsafe conditions in the facilities that do exist, a failure to adhere to international standards, and a disproportionate number of incarcerated women with mental health issues,” says Kendra Milne, Director of Law Reform at West Coast LEAF. “Women and girls in prison already face systemic discrimination and multiple barriers. The fact that women and girls are often incarcerated far from home means that they face isolation from their children and families, and are much less likely to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into their communities. Indigenous women are especially impacted because they are incarcerated in disproportionate numbers.”

“BC has consistently failed to meaningfully address violence against Indigenous women and girls” says Kasari Govender, Executive Director at West Coast LEAF. “The Province’s D- on missing and murdered women reflects the government’s continued lack of transparency and accountability about what actions it is – or is not – taking to ensure the safety of Indigenous women and girls. Despite the work of the provincial inquiry, long standing activism within the community, and the international community’s deep concern over the human rights and safety of Indigenous women and girls, little progress has been made. BC must both implement the existing recommendations from past inquiries and commit to active participation and the implementation of any recommendations that emerge from the National Inquiry.”

Next week, Kendra Milne will be traveling to Geneva on behalf of West Coast LEAF to meet with the CEDAW Committee in person.

For more about the state of women’s equality in BC, download the 2016 CEDAW Report Card.