RELEASE: Report card finds that BC fails to make the grade in women’s equality

VANCOUVER – Today, West Coast LEAF released its seventh annual report card on women’s rights in BC. While the situation for women in BC has seen minor improvements this year, unfortunately for many women, BC continues to fail to deliver on its responsibilities. In particular, BC has not taken action to address the ongoing violence against Indigenous women and girls, the basic human rights of many incarcerated women and girls are overlooked, many women do not have access to secure housing, women continue to be more economically insecure than men, and women remain unable to enforce their legal rights because of inadequate—and grossly underfunded—legal aid.

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), which was ratified by Canada in 1981. The report card grades BC’s progress in nine key areas in women’s rights, including access to justice, economic security, affordable housing and childcare, and safety, the foundations of a society in which everyone can participate equally regardless of their gender.

“This is our seventh annual report card and, unfortunately, we continue to see a lack of action in most areas instead of significant progress,” says Kendra Milne, Director of Law Reform at West Coast LEAF. “International law requires that states take action in these areas because they are fundamental to ensuring that women can live safe and secure lives free from discrimination.

Of particular note, this year’s report card identifies BC’s glaring lack of action to improve the safety of Indigenous women and girls, noting the province’s failure to fully implement the vast majority of the recommendations from the Missing Women’s Commission of Inquiry, the recent intentional deletions of emails related to violence against Indigenous women along the Highway of Tears, and the ongoing international criticism of BC and Canada’s inaction.

“Despite multiple reports from provincial and international bodies that made clear recommendations aimed at improving the safety of Indigenous women and girls, BC has failed to make meaningful progress towards reducing discrimination and violence against this population,” says Milne. “The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has repeatedly expressed concern over the lack of progress in this area, but unfortunately, this year, we were forced to give an F for BC’s abject failure to respond. In fact, this year, instead of hoped for improvements, we saw regressions due to BC’s detrimental actions.”

Highlights from the 2015 Report Card:

  • As in past years, Legal Services Society reports acute underfunding that prevents it from ensuring that women have access to legal assistance to be able to enforce their legal rights. Despite the fact that women disproportionately bear the economic costs of relationship-breakdown, 60% percent of applicants for family law legal aid representation were denied last year.
  • Social assistance rates have remained stagnant since 2007, despite increases to the cost of living. New programs like the Single Parent Employment Initiative assist some women to improve their families’ standard of living, but do little to nothing to address the systemic underfunding of social assistance.
  • Women do a disproportionate amount of the low-wage work in BC. At $10.45, BC’s minimum wage is the second lowest in Canada. Many women who work full-time for low wages remain below the poverty line, and many women who cannot access affordable and adequate childcare are forced into part-time and precarious employment.
  • Childcare remains unaffordable for most families in BC, with fees rising faster than inflation. A lack of quality, regulated childcare spaces mean many families are forced to rely on unregulated facilities, which operate without training or safety oversight. As well, many older women in retirement are being asked to provide childcare for their grandchildren at the expense of their own needs and health.
  • The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women concluded that violence against Indigenous women in Canada is widespread, overt and linked to poverty. Many of the failures to address and remedy the conditions in which Aboriginal women and girls live fall under BC’s constitutional responsibility, including education, housing, public transportation, access to justice, and support for families and children.
  • Indigenous women are drastically over-represented in BC’s female prison population. Despite a BC Supreme Court ruling against the apprehension of babies from incarcerated mothers, two newborns were apprehended in the summer of 2015. Even though the Mother-Child Program at Alouette Correctional Centre has re-opened, no women with babies have yet participated.
  • While the number of intimate-partner violence-related deaths across Canada dropped between 2013 and 2014, the number of these deaths doubled in BC and was the highest it has been in five years. Inadequate legal aid funding in BC means that women who flee violence are often unable to secure legal representation and may be forced to compromise their rights.

Download the full report.