Let’s go beyond the low-hanging fruit of a gender-balanced cabinet (you can find my take on the merit vs diversity debate here). How does a Prime Minister mainstream gender through everything his government does?
Because that’s what we’re talking about. No one-off gestures, or a policy here-and-there. We’re talking about a fundamental shift that acknowledges there is no ‘ungendered’ area of government policy. If you’re serious about your feminism, it can’t be constrained to reversing the cuts to Status of Women, or making a few speeches on childcare.
With a task that large, where do you start? Ten brief suggestions….
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- Gender lens every single policy and law. Not just a basic gender analysis, but an intersectional feminist analysis. What does this policy mean for women? How will it affect women of colour, or aboriginal women? From armed forces recruitment to building affordable housing. From employment insurance expansion to fighting malnutrition globally. There is no gender-free policy. There are few aspects of public policy that don’t disproportionately affect women.
- Set expectations of your ministers and senior civil servants. Demand they address gender in their policy analysis and advice. Close the gender gap at the top of the bureaucracy by mentoring, recruiting and promoting talented, diverse women. Enact a government-wide ban on all-male panels.
- Promote and listen to diverse voices. Not just the women who’ve managed to leap the enormous barriers to cabinet, but women of colour, aboriginal women, and women with talent and expertise, who lack whatever magical formula it takes to get elected.
- Commit sociology – go beyond an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, and tackle the social and cultural factors that marginalize and endanger aboriginal women.
- Older women sometimes feel ignored by the political system. In a world that can overly focus on the ‘sexy’ feminist issues – sex work, consent, gender identity – issues facing older women go unnoticed. Women are the vast majority of caregivers, caring for both aging parents and young children. We’re told we must have it all, which from what I can tell, seems to mean we must work and care and conform to gender stereotypes of femininity, while the systems around us make this impossible.
- When abortion access is virtually nonexistent in parts of Canada, a feminist Prime Minister would not accept the low bar of whipped votes on abortion. And feminists should demand more on women’s healthcare. Whether it’s explicitly bringing abortion access under the Canada Health Act, specific federal transfers or another policy lever, the federal government has a duty to expand sexual and reproductive healthcare.
- The rate of sexual violence in Canada is a public health emergency. More than a thousand women are sexually assaulted every day. Let’s call it what it is – this is an epidemic, and it disproportionately affects marginalized people, like aboriginal women, transwomen and sex workers.
- Poverty is gendered, and income distribution is gendered. Women, and particularly women of colour, are over-represented in the bottom quintile. Through whichever policy lever is most appropriate, raising the incomes of the poorest will reduce maternal and child mortality, increase educational attainment, and reduce negative health outcomes.
- Put gender back into maternal and women’s health. Somehow, over the past ten years, we managed to take an entirely gendered issue – women’s health globally – and strip gender from it. We cannot tackle forced and child marriage if we won’t acknowledge the misogyny that drives it. We cannot reduce the 800 maternal deaths every day if we won’t say these women die because we simply don’t value women enough to stop them dying.
- And of course, funding. None of this will happen without the money to make it happen. Reverse the cuts to Status of Women, restore its mandate, and properly fund civil society groups.
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