Toronto Star - Zerbisias: Women's Day woes

Published On Wed Mar 10 2010

By Antonia Zerbisias
Living Columnist

To read the original article in the Toronto Star click here

Monday was the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day.

Not that I put much store in that sort of thing.

Not while millions of women and girls around the world are, right now, walking miles for water, scavenging for food, enduring gang rapes, having acid thrown in their faces, being killed for talking to boys, staying out of school for lack of menstrual products, bleeding to death while delivering their sixth child ... Did they know it was International Women's Day?

Oh but hey, in Canada's Parliament, our MPs sure did.

Watching Question Period that afternoon, while the Liberals, NDP and Bloc were firing away at the Conservatives on domestic violence, the repeal of the long-gun registry, maternal health care, EI, seniors' supplements and other "women's issues," I had the feeling that we women had become the equivalent of the Afghan "detainees" torture scandal du jour.

There was even a woman, Victoria MP Denise Savoie, as acting speaker of the house. Hurray.

It sure was nice while it lasted.

True to form, the Conservatives deflected every question.

When Liberal MP Lise Zarac (LaSalle-Émard) brought up how our citizenship laws still discriminate against women – "a child born outside Canada to a Canadian father is entitled to Canadian citizenship, but a child born outside Canada to a Canadian mother does not have that same right'' – Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blamed the previous Liberal government. (When does that blaming get old, anyway?)

When another Liberal MP, Judy Foote (Random-Burin-St. George's) raised how last week's budget had zero for seniors – except for "a seniors' day'' – while Canada is in the midst of "a pension crisis," the Conservative reply focused on "pride in our Canadian military'' and "Paul Martin's old budgets."

What that does for the huge majority of the elderly – women, many of whom raised families and did not accumulate pensions – is, um, zero.

The feisty Nicole Demers of the Bloc came out swinging on the Conservatives' ideologically based "regressive attitude toward abortion and contraception" only to get the usual message-track platitudes from Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation.

"(It) is important ... to recognize that Canada recognizes that women in developing countries need a great deal of help," she replied. "This is why we are ensuring that we are protecting women around the world, particularly in those countries where they see abuse and violence."

Yes, well, maybe they would be less subject to violence if they had some reproductive choices. Maybe they could get some schooling and gain some economic independence instead of being tied to abusive husbands from the age of 12 or 14.

Which brings us to the Conservatives' much-vaunted – by the Conservatives anyway – support for women's shelters.

Yes, it's welcome but ...

These funds, which Minister of State for the Status of Women Helena Guergis has been famously flying around to disburse, have come at the expense of women's advocacy organizations that have fought against the kinds of discrimination that women face in the first place. The kind of discrimination which can often lead to violence in the home because women don't have access to daycare or decent paying jobs so they can get themselves and their children out.

Yet, claimed Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Monday, "We have taken measures to combat violence against women.''

Such as?

Meanwhile, women's shelter workers have been silenced on the subject. Sure as shooting, they aren't going to speak out for fear of losing their funding.

See how that works?

And did you like how they played us all with that gender-neutral "O Canada" business, now being blamed by Conservative supporters on "the feminists?"

Yeah, it was a great day all right.

Now, until next year, it's off to the back benches and back of the bus with you ladies.

Antonia Zerbisias is a Living section

columnist. azerbisias @

She blogs at