Content warning: discussions of sexual assault.
It’s 2019, and Canadians expect their government to take a strong stance on empowering women and girls. After all, in a society that is based on equal opportunity, it is only fair that women are treated equitably. This is the bare minimum that Canadians expect from their leaders. However, when it comes to policy, some parties exceed expectations. Others don’t even meet it. It is important to be aware of each party’s policies ahead of the federal election.
To start, the Liberal Party has engaged with women’s rights on both the domestic and international fronts. On the domestic side, the Liberals have made it very clear that they will not re-open the abortion debate and that the entire caucus supports a person’s right to choose. The party is particular in that it has applied feminism in its foreign policy as well.
For the past four years, Justin Trudeau’s government has been championing what it has dubbed the “Feminist International Assistance Policy.” Some initiatives include support of educational opportunities in areas where girls are less likely to go to school and increased economic independence among women.
Another initiative confronts humanitarian crises by focusing on factors that specifically affect women and girls. When it comes to the issue of forced displacement, women and girls at times also deal with the trauma of being sexually exploited or trafficked, in addition to the trauma of fleeing a war zone.
To combat this, the federal government has dedicated a portion of its humanitarian assistance to providing psychosocial support and sexual health services to women abroad. These initiatives are part of Trudeau’s record, however, there have not been any recent policy proposals on this issue during the current federal campaign.
The New Democratic Party (NDP) has adopted an intersectional view of feminism by taking into account the lived experiences of women. Party members often speak to the fact that Indigenous women are overrepresented in prisons in comparison to the rest of the population. On top of that, the NDP always brings the issue of socioeconomic class into the conversation.
In a statement released during Gender Equality Week last year, the NDP also expressed its concern over how older women are disproportionately trapped in poverty. Additionally, the NDP has also committed itself to a health care plan that fully covers contraceptives and abortion.
Apart from providing this coverage, the NDP has yet to outline any policy plans that would combat the concerns mentioned above.
In its platform, the Green Party has indicated a number of pro-women policies, such as access to safe abortion services, eliminating violence against women, girls, and gender-diverse people, and universal child care.
However, though the Greens maintain that the abortion debate has been closed in Canada, party leader Elizabeth May has also recently came out saying that she would not prevent another Green Party member from re-opening the debate. She later clarified that she would screen out candidates who move to re-open the debate. Such confusion is not new for May; she has previously been linked to controversial remarks about abortion.
The Conservative Party has yet to provide any policy proposals, and leader Andrew Scheer hasn’t clarified some of his more problematic views. This May, a handful of Conservative MPs attended the March for Life anti-choice rally.
While Scheer has said that a Conservative government would not re-open the abortion debate, he nonetheless offered no serious repercussions for the MPs who attended the rally. There is doubt on whether Scheer is willing to discipline MPs who want to see this debate reopened.
This also leaves doubts as to how a Conservative government would promote international development in the area of reproductive health. Will Scheer simply watch as women and girls — and other people with active uteruses — in vulnerable areas continue to experience inadequate access to reproductive health care? One can only assume that would be the case.
While they want to give new tax credits to parents, the Conservative Party also lists the names of noteworthy conservative women in Canadian history on its website. The purpose of this page is to attack the party’s critics for making the assumption that the Conservative party is composed only of “old white men.”
Instead of putting out bold policy proposals that could advance feminism, the Conservatives have opted to prove its critics wrong by listing every noteworthy conservative women that once existed. If the Conservatives want to convince anyone that their party is inclusive, they should probably propose bold policies that would advance the rights of women in this country.
At the end of the day, the Liberals have set a high bar for how a federal government should empower women and girls. Both they and the NDP stand out for their unique and bold approaches to tackling this issue.
The Liberals are looking at empowering women and girls both at home and around the world. The New Democrats are committed to lifting up women by taking into account their lived experience. Their approach crosses lines by taking into account socioeconomic factors that could halt women’s success. The Greens, although marked by controversy at times, also seek to invest in women.
However, the same cannot be said of the other side of the spectrum. The Conservative Party in particular stands out for not addressing women’s rights in this election. Keeping in mind that women make up about half of the population, this is absolutely absurd. The bare minimum has not been met.
Aiman Akmal is a third-year International Relations student at Trinity College.
Disclosure: Akmal has been a member of the Ontario Young Liberals since 2015 and a member of the University of Toronto Young Liberals since 2017.
Editor’s Note (September 30, 10:21 PM): This article has been updated to include a disclosure of the author’s political affiliations.
Editor’s Note (October 5, 5:00 PM): A previous version of this article indicated that the Green Party had not yet presented any specific policy proposals with regard to women’s empowerment. The article has been updated to reflect some of the Green Party’s proposals. The Varsity regrets this error.