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The Ford government is rolling back the clock on women’s rights and gender equality. In bits and pieces, across all ministries and operations, the province is removing foundational protections for women. Taken as individual changes to legislation and policy, the effects are not obvious. However, when we look at the changes as a whole the approach to equality and women’s rights becomes glaring:

1. Claw-back on Sexual Assault Services: Immediately after the election, the government informed sexual assault centres that base funding would be clawed back. Case in point: Peel’s claw-back amounted to $130,000 per year – this for an organization that was already underfunded to the tune 97%. The government’s actions mean more people will not be able to access services. Dealing with trauma alone can mean addiction, self-harming, and suicidality.                   

Fact: Sexual violence is gendered. 1 in 3 women is sexually assaulted, which is 11 times the rate of men. The
situation is worse for Indigenous women, women of colour and disabled women. Outside of the physical health issues that often result from sexual violence, many survivors experience mental illness in the form of PTSD, anxiety and depression. Having a mental illness takes between 10-20 years off life span. Sexual violence costs the Canadian economy $4.8 billion a year.

2. Cancellation of Roundtable on Violence Against Women: This voluntary group of experts was disbanded without reason or notice.

Fact: 1 in 5 women experience physical abuse by an intimate partner. On average a woman is killed every 6 days in Canada – until this year: in the first 8 months 106 women were murdered, averaging a homicide every 2
days; 50% of those deaths occurred in Ontario. Men commit 83% of crimes against women. Violence against women costs the Canadian economy $21 billion a year.

3. Cancellation of Health & Physical Education Curriculum Updates: Children and youth no longer have access to updated scientific resources about human sexuality, sexual functioning and consent.

Fact: 59% of Ontario teens are sexually active, but 37% can’t define what sex is. 80% of teens have never spoken with a medical professional about contraception. We know from the American experience that no sex education or one that promotes abstinence results in more sexual activity, more sexual partners, a higher likelihood of teen pregnancy, and increased rates of sexually transmitted infections. A lack of sex education impacts women and persons of colour more negatively: 75% of pregnant teens come from ethnoracial minority groups. As it stands, only 16% of sex education comes from schools and parents; most teens are getting their information online from sources that are unfiltered and often normalize violence against women and female subordination. When misogyny is normalized, we come to believe that men are born to dominate. Unplanned pregnancies and treatment for sexually transmitted infections cost $0.5 billion per year.

4. Overdose Prevention Sites: The government recently announced its new drug approach which includes limiting the number of overdose prevention sites to 21, and focusing “relentlessly” on treatment. Pop-up supports, such as those in Moss Park, are banned.

Fact: Addiction has at its root the experience of trauma – often in the form of sexual or physical violence. Poverty compounds the situation. Addiction is chronic disease with a 60% relapse rate. Harm reduction, with a focus on trauma and poverty reduction, works. Shaming, blaming and/or forcing people into treatment only exacerbates the problem. The cost of addiction to the Canadian economy is $38.4 billion per year.

5. Repeal/Significant Modification to Fair Workplaces Act: Recently announced, the government is stagnating the minimum wage, stopping leaves related to sexual/domestic violence victimization/emergencies/sick days, and stopping pay equity.

Fact: 70% of part-time workers are female, as are 60% of minimum wage earners. Currently, Canadian women earn 74% of what men make, but the percentage decreases steadily if the woman is Indigenous, a person of colour, a newcomer, or disabled. This equates to women earning $16,000 a year less on average than men. Equal pay for women results in a 50% reduction in poverty. Gender inequality costs the Canadian economy $150 billion per year.

6. Changes to Ontario Works/Ontario Disability Support Program: The government cancelled the Basic Income Pilot, froze assistance rates, and cancelled new thresholds allowing recipients to make money working without having their benefits stripped.

Fact: 87% of single parents on Ontario Works are women, and 1 in 8 Canadian women live in poverty. 51.6% of lone parent households headed by women are poor. Poverty is a key factor in
determining physical and mental health, and poverty increases the risk of violence to women. Poverty costs the Canadian economy approximately to $24 billion per year, and an additional $13.1 billion per year in Ontario.

All of this happened in Ford’s first 119 days in office. There are 1,341 more days to go.

The time for action is now. Join the conversation @Hope24_7.

Laura Zilney

@LauraZilney

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