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Minister Rochelle Squires’ #MeToo Moment, advocates protecting victim’s identity

The platform is changing for women when it comes to speaking up about moments in their lives when harassed, assaulted or demeaned by men they cross paths with. I’m thrilled about this, as many women across North America are, but also saddened that there are still negative repercussions that exist when women come forward on men with influence.

As someone who has experienced #MeToo moments, and spoken openly about them to friends and relatives, who are supportive, my wish is for every woman to be able to step forward in unity to gain the same support, without worrying about these negative repercussions that shouldn’t exist.

Politician and Minister Rochelle Squires, 47, is a woman who is truly inspirational, and recently made her #MeToo moment public.  She spoke with the Canadian Press about her story, after decades of bottling the experience up, because she blamed herself and was fearful.

Squires was raped at 13 and felt that she could tell no one.

“In the 34 years since then, every day of my life has been a journey towards recovery; sometimes a journey back into darkness,” Squires said Tuesday in a statement, marking Sexual Assault Awareness month.

“I have gone back in my mind…hundreds of thousands of times and talked to that 13-year-old girl and said to her ‘It’s not your fault, and you’re going to be OK. I don’t need to tell that 13-year-old girl anymore, and so I want to use my voice to help others.”

Rochelle explains that she waited until she was in her 30s before she told anyone and went to the police. She also discussed it with her therapist and stated that she felt completely at fault even at such a young age. She asks herself still “Why did I feel to blame?”

Why do victims of sexual assault, harassment, abuse etc.  respond, initially, similarly to Squires? Is it because of the fear that the perpetrator’s life will be ruined, or that the victim has somehow brought on the behavior?

Women self-blame because our male dominated society continually questions women; this need to change, society needs to promote, support and unite when victims do come forward.

Squires is advocating third-party reporting which allows a complainant to come forward and talk with victim support services, without having to be identified. The government programs work with women who step forward – buffering them from the often male-dominated police interactions.

 

Danica Roem first transgender person elected as Virginia lawmaker

It was a historic moment in the United States last night as key areas in political history were marked. Of the many “firsts” in this election, the most inspirational was Democrat Danica Roem, who is now the first openly transgender person to be elected a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Roem was elected over outspoken state lawmaker Robert G Marshall, who has held the house seat since 1992. Marshall previously refused to debate Roem and repeatedly used the wrong gender pronouns when referencing her campaign. Marshall was criticized for his social policy by Roem and often faced controversial issues amongst his own Republican statesmen. Known for his homophobic remarks, Marshall supported restricted bathrooms for transgender people.

Roem openly addressed her gender during her campaign and was open about her transition and the therapy she underwent when she was 28. In an interview with the Associated Press earlier this year, Roem highlighted the fact that politics should be inclusive of all.

” No matter what you look like, where you come from, how you worship or who you love, if you have good public policy ideas, if you’re qualified for office, you have every right to bring your ideas to the table.”

Roem beat Marshall by nine percentage points and out-raised Marshall during the campaign, collecting almost $500,000, with a lot of support coming from the LGBT community. While Roem had a strong social media presence and went door to door in the community discussing her platform, Marshall kept his schedule private, instead issuing advertisements attacking Roem’s transgender identity.

Roem referred to Marshall as a mirror of Trump and criticized him on his unwillingness to deal with social issues. When Roem won, many community supporters compared the victory to that of Barack Obama. It is even more inspirational considering the political climate of the United States, where a government exists that is hell bent on refusing basic rights to people within the LGBTQ community.

There were a few other historic wins during Tuesday’s election:

  • Andrea Jenkins won a seat in Minneapolis City Council to represent Ward 8. Jenkins is the city’s first openly transgender woman of colour.
  • In New Jersey, Ravinder Bhalla was elected as as the first Sikh Mayor in that state.
  • Jenny Durkan is the first openly lesbian mayor of Seattle.
  • Michelle Kaufusi is the first female mayor in the City of Provo in Utah.
  • Vi Lyes is the first black woman to be elected the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina.
  • Kathy Tran is the first Asian-American woman to be elected to Virginia House of Delegates.
  • Zachary DeWolf is the first openly gay school board member in Seattle.
  • Melvin Carter III was elected the first black mayor of St Paul in Minnesota.

Let us know your thoughts below.

Nova Scotia joins other provinces in Canada offering free abortion pill

The government of Nova Scotia joins the rest of Canada in offering free abortion pills to women who require it. They will also no longer require a doctor’s referral to book a surgical abortion at the Termination of Pregnancy Unit (TPU), Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax. In the next few months, the Nova Scotia Health Authority will also be setting up a phone line so women can call and make appointments.

Nova Scotia was the only province to require a doctor’s referral for a surgical abortion.

Very slowly, provinces throughout Canada have pledge to publicly fund Mifegymiso, an abortion pill that will terminate pregnancy up to 49 days from the start of a woman’s last menstrual period. Mifegymiso is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, and is considered an easy and safe alternative to surgery.

A prescription from a doctor will still be required to get Mifegymiso from the pharmacy. The doctor must do an ultrasound to determine if there are any health risks; however, those women will be given “same day and urgent care” access to an ultrasound, meaning they don’t have to wait a few weeks in order to perform the tests.

The drug itself can cost up to $350, making it a significant barrier for women. That’s why universal coverage of the Mifegymiso is such an important development — no longer should women have to wait until they are eight weeks pregnant to get a surgical abortion. They now have much more control over their reproductive rights.

“We’re supporting more choice for women when it comes to their reproductive health,” said Kelly Regan, Minister responsible for the Status of Women, said in a statement. “This will ensure all Nova Scotia women have access to this option.”

The government estimates the cost of covering Mifegymiso will be between $175,000 and $200,000 per year; although women will be encouraged to use private insurance coverage first.

Alberta announced their intention to cover Mifegymiso in July, with Ontario following suit in August.

The last barrier to women’s control over their reproductive rights is free access to birth control.

 

Ontario makes abortion pill Mifegymiso free

A week after Alberta announced the government would cover the cost of Mifegymiso, otherwise known as an abortion pill that will terminate a pregnancy up to 49 days from the start of the last menstrual period, the government of Ontario followed suit.

As of Aug. 10, women in Ontario will be able to request this drug from their doctors free of charge. “The commitment to publicly funding Mifegymiso means women across Ontario will have fair and equal access to safe abortion without payment, judgment or exception,” said Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario Minister of the Status of Women, in a statement.

Mifegymiso is a combination of two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, and is an easy and safe alternative to surgery. One of the biggest barriers facing women’s reproduction rights is the financial accessibility of both birth control and abortion. By covering this drug under a universal health plan, women will now have immense power over their own reproduction system — only a doctor’s prescription is needed to get the drug. There will never be a woman in Ontario who cannot afford to get an abortion. That is an amazing thing.

“The arrival of the new abortion pill Mifegymiso has been greatly anticipated,” said Notisha Massaquoi, Executive Director, Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre. “The Ontario government’s decision to publicly fund this option is increasing our right to choose and will provide all Ontarians with barrier-free access to safe abortions regardless of socio-economic circumstances.”

The Liberal government promised to make Mifegymiso free of charge in their 2017 budget back in April. Ontario is now the third province to cover Mifegymiso following New Brunswick and Alberta.

Next step? Making birth control government funded!

What do you think of this announcement? Let us know in the comments below!

Senate approves transgender rights bill with majority

Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved a piece of legislation that amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to include transgender Canadians. This means that gender identity and gender expression is on “list of prohibited grounds of discrimination” and therefore protected against hate propaganda.

 

The bill also amends the sentencing principles section of the Criminal Code, making it possible for a person’s identity or expression to be considered an aggravated circumstance by a judge during sentences.

Most importantly, gender identity and gender expression are now identifiable groups under Canadian law! This is an incredible accomplishment and brings Canada one step closer towards becoming a truly equal, fair, tolerant, and inclusive society.

The only disappointment was that it took this long to get Bill C-16 to pass. This request to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code has been proposed and tabled numerous times over the last decade. Bill C-16 was presented to the House of Commons a little over a year ago and was delayed at the Senate due to debate surrounding free speech.

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, called the bill a celebration of inclusion and diversity, “bringing us one step closer to strengthening laws against discrimination, hate propaganda, and hate crime based on gender identity and gender expression.”

“Trans and gender diverse persons must be granted equal status in Canadian society, and this Bill makes that status explicit in Canadian law,” she said in a statement.

The bill passed by a vote of 67 to 11 and now needs Royal Assent before it is considered a law.

Last week, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Liberal government plans on introducing legislation that would erase past convictions against Canadians charged with crimes related to their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. He also said the government is planning on apologizing to the LGBT community by the end of this year for past discriminatory legislation and policies.

Saudi Arabia elected to UN Commission on the Status of Women

It’s no joke.

Saudi Arabia has been elected to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Again, this is not a joke.

Agencies around the world are criticizing the UN’s decision, for obvious reasons. Saudi Arabia, a country where women are subjects of male family members; where women must adhere to strict dress codes and are prohibited from driving; where women cannot interact with men they are not related to for fear of being beaten, imprisoned in their own home, and sometimes even killed, is now being celebrated as one of the 44 countries elected to the Commission on the Status of Women last week. To be clear, this commission has the following goals: “promoting women’s rights, documenting the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, and shaping global standards on gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

According to UN Watch’s executive director, Hillel Neuer, “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief.”

Saudi Arabia has been adamantly trying to change the world’s perception of their gendered laws. In March, the country held its first women’s empowerment conference. It was led by Princess Lamia bint Majed al Saud, who insists that women in her country are misunderstood and that Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in respect to breaking down gender barriers. A Girls Council, which is meant to promote the welfare of girls and women in Saudi Arabia” was established in March as well. It was being led by 13 men. The Princess is the chair of the council, but could not appear at the launch due to gender laws. She and other women were video-conferenced in.

While it may be true that some (and I stress some) progress has been made, it doesn’t make up for the violence Saudi women face on a daily basis. It doesn’t make up for the fact that Saudi Arabia is ranked 134 out of 145 countries for gender parity in 2015. And it absolutely doesn’t make up for the lack of rights and freedoms these women enjoy (or rather don’t).

And yet, Saudi Arabia is now representing the rights and empowerment of women worldwide. Is anyone else having a problem following this decision?

I’m not sure what the UN was thinking, but this isn’t the first time the United Nations Commission for the Status of Women has screwed up. Last year, they tried to name a fictional character as their ambassador. Because that’s all women need — to aspire to be something that isn’t real and to follow the example of a misogynist state.

Well done.

United we stand

By Kent Peacock

There is a place in India called Alang, where old ships are broken.  In this surreal wasteland hosts of labourers swarm over the hulks of obsolete oil tankers and cargo carriers, cutting them with torches into pieces small enough to be hauled away for scrap.  It is, by Canadian standards, an unbelievably dangerous place to work.  Over 400 workers are killed at Alang every year.  Sometimes their bodies are simply dumped into the sea, along with the toxic waste stripped out of the ships.  But no matter how many are killed or injured, there are always more men and women ready to try their luck in the yards.  They keep coming because their families need the money.  They have no health benefits, no vacation pay, no pension, no stock options, laughable safety equipment, little training, no funerals, no compensation or recourse if they are killed or injured — and no union.

There is nothing quite as bad as Alang in Canada, although many people here work in conditions that should be considered unacceptable.  We do enjoy the indecent spectacle of the working poor — people (often single parents) desperately holding down two or even three (non-unionized) jobs to pay the rent and keep dinner on the kitchen table for their children, while the top corporate executives who employ them are sometimes paid millions of dollars per year.  These inequities are often sanctimoniously defended by the excuse that they are mandated by the all-holy “free market,” an argument which ignores the fact that the labour market is not really free since individual workers, whether in Canada or India, rarely have as much bargaining power as their employers.

There are many reasons for the increasing rich-poor gap, such as competition from cheap off-shore labour (non-unionized, of course), and the gutting of the progressive taxation system that began in the days of Reagan and Mulroney.  But it could never have become as bad as it has without the steady weakening of the trade union movement that has also occurred in parallel with these other trends.

Many people these days are fond of saying that unions are no longer needed.  Even the most ardent union-bashers will probably concede that in the past unions fought severe abuses of workers by owners and corporations, and they might even agree that union victories led to better working conditions for everyone.  But we are now told that unions are obsolete because we can depend on our governments to protect workers’ rights.  In fact, labour laws exist in large part because unions fought so long and hard for workers’ rights that governments had no choice but to write them into law.  And those laws will not remain on the books or be enforced without the political will that flows from organized labour.

Unions can be a mixed blessing.  They can hinder efficiency and technological innovation, and a few unions have at times become so powerful and corrupt that they were no improvement over the big businesses they were supposed to protect their members from.  There is no question that unions sometimes limit the freedom of business to hire and innovate, and many small businesses could not survive if they were unionized.  On balance, however, we need strong unions more than ever.  Above all else, a union is a voice that is independent of governments and the powerful interests to which governments often pander.  In this age of the faceless multinational corporation we need independent voices with real clout. As such, unions are inherently a democratizing force.  That is why they are hated by authoritarian governments of both the right and the left.  Unions were ruthlessly crushed in the workers’ paradise of the Soviet Union, and anyone trying to start a union now in China would find themselves on a one-way trip to a gulag in a remote region of central Asia, or worse.

How about all of those fashionable sporting-goods products that everyone feels guilty about buying, since they were made by people who are paid almost nothing or who may have even been enslaved?  A few strong unions could do more for exploited workers in the Third World than any number of celebrity rock concerts.

We still need unions in Canada to counterbalance corporate power and to remind our governments that other things matter besides the bottom line — and unions are desperately needed in those parts of the world where workers are treated as if they were expendable tools.

*photo credit www.ofl.ca