Every year, West Coast LEAF grades BC on how it’s meeting its international obligations on women’s rights. Every year, for the most part, we find meaningful progress lacking. So, how is BC measuring up on women’s equality in 2016? Unfortunately, not a lot has changed.
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. BC’s actions and inactions are assessed against the obligations set out in the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the international bill of rights for women.
Releasing our eighth Report Card today, on Persons Day, the historic day in 1929 when women were finally included in the legal definition of ‘persons,’ reminds us that inaction is a serious matter. Women’s equal and full participation in public and political life will only be achieved when we actively ensure that women can live safe and secure lives free from discrimination.
This year’s Report Card is primarily a story of inaction. While BC has made small improvements in some areas this year, progress remains piecemeal and the Province’s overall action to remedy discrimination against women remains inadequate. As in past years, many women do not have adequate access to secure housing, they continue to be more economically insecure than men, they remain unable to enforce their legal rights because of insufficient legal aid, and BC’s child care crisis continues to result in human rights violations
BC’s worst grade this year was related to women and girls in provincial prisons. This year’s Report Card gives BC an F grade for overlooking the human rights of incarcerated women and girls, especially when it comes to the alarming over-representation of Indigenous women and girls in our provincial corrections system. Indigenous women make up only 5% of BC’s female population but a shocking 35% of its female inmate population. Despite clear calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, BC has failed to take any concrete or transparent action to address this systemic discrimination
In addition, the provincial jails in which women and girls are detained continue to be inadequate, with unsafe conditions in the facilities that do exist and a shortage of facilities in some areas of the BC, like Vancouver Island. Women and girls in prison already face systemic discrimination and multiple barriers. Incarcerating them far from home in facilities that have not been inspected for compliance with the law or health and safety standards means that they are at risk of severed connections with their children and families and face additional obstacles reintegrating into their communities.
Unfortunately the low grades — ranging from a C+ to an F — indicate a lack of meaningful action when it comes to women’s equality in BC. Next week, Kendra Milne will be traveling to Geneva on behalf of West Coast LEAF to meet with the CEDAW Committee in person. Stay tuned for more news on this important meeting.
For more about the state of women’s equality in BC, download the 2016 CEDAW Report Card.