Canada’s Failure To Act: Women’s Inequality Deepens



V.       Violation of Article 7: Political and Public Life


Women’s Political Equality


1.Although women constitute more than half the population in Canada, their representation in the political realm is much lower. In fact, 62 of 301 (20.5%) seats in the elected House of Commons are held by women, 33 out of 104 (31.7%) seats in the appointed Senate are held by women for a total 95 out of the 405 positions in the House of Commons and the Senate being held by women (23.4%).


2.Women’s representation in provincial politics is just as unequal. In fact, the highest representation across provinces is in the Legislature in Quebec where 30 out of 125 (24%) seats are held by women. In the Legislatures of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island women hold a mere 11 percent of the seats.


3.The numerical under-representation of women holding public office in Canada is the result of many factors. Women often bear a larger share of the family responsibilities, including care of children and parents. They often have reduced access to funds and to powerful connections, which often play a large role in access to political candidacy. Political structures, political party activities and practices also affect women’s political expectations and therefore their participation in government.


4.Although it is the political parties that must ultimately nominate women for public office, the government can further this objective by providing regulations or incentives for parties to nominate and elect more women. In a country where fifty percent of women have after-tax incomes ranging from zero to $13,786, and only 11% earn after-tax incomes over $32,367, campaign spending limits are necessary to level the playing field for women candidates. Women do not have the fundraising capacities that men do. A ban on corporate party donations is also required, as are re-integration programs for politicians returning to civilian life after election losses. The Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party finances recommended in 1991 that incentives be provided via the election expenses reimbursement system to encourage parties to elect more women.  No government in Canada has adopted such measures.


5.Canada is one of only three countries with populations of over 8 million which have retained a “first past the post” electoral system. India holds fast to it, where women have achieved eight percent representation, as does the United States which has achieved thirteen percent female representation: Sweden, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Wales and Scotland have now changed their electoral systems to some form of proportional representation.


6.Women and children in this country make up over seventy-five percent of all those living in poverty. One in four women has experienced criminal violence from her marital partner. One in seven families is a sole support family headed by a woman, and fifty-seven percent of these families live below the poverty line. Women between the ages of forty-five and sixty-five earn fifty-one percent of what men earn. Women need to be able to participate equally in Canada’s political life in order to change these entrenched patterns. Canadian governments violate CEDAW by maintaining electoral systems that perpetuate women’s under-representation in political life.


Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Reforming Electoral Democracy. Volume 1 of the research studies of the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing (Ottawa and Toronto: CERPF/Dundern, 1991)


Dahl, J., “Gender Parity in Nunavut?” in Indigenous Affairs, July-December 1997 issues no. 3 /4 (Copenhagen: International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 1997)


Linda Erickson, “Entry to the Commons: Parties, Recruitment, and the Election of Women in 1993” in Women and Political Representation in Canada, eds. Manon Tremblay and Caroline Andrew (Ottawa: University of Ottawa, 1998)


Dale, L., Who's Left? A Proposal for the Elimination of the Segregation of Women at


Unequal Political Participation for Aboriginal Women


7.During negotiations between federal, provincial and territorial governments regarding possible revisions to Canada’s Constitution in 1992, a process of governmental consultation took place with the Aboriginal community of Canada.  The federal government provided $10 million to fund participation of four national Aboriginal organizations, none of whom identified as specifically representative of the concerns of Aboriginal women. The Native Women’s Association of Canada, a national group established in 1974 to advance Aboriginal women’s issues, was not one of the four which received direct funding. Some portion of the original $10 million had been earmarked for women’s issues, with the result that NWAC received $260,000 from the other groups. NWAC also later received a further $300,000 separately from the government for the purposes of funding a study of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In total the full amount of funding received by NWAC amounted to only 5% of the total funding received by Aboriginal groups for constitutional purposes.


Sharon McIvor, Aboriginal Self-Government: The Civil and Political Rights of Women, thesis submitted to the Faculty of Law in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Laws (Kingston: Queen’s University, 1995)


Native Women’s Association of Canada v. Canada, [1994] S.C.J. No. 93


8.NWAC was also excluded from participation in a multilateral process of constitutional discussion which took place subsequent to March 12, 1992, the purpose of which was to prepare  a constitutional amendment that could be presented to Canada as a consensus package.


Sharon McIvor, Aboriginal Self-Government: The Civil and Political Rights of Women, thesis submitted to the Faculty of Law in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Laws (Kingston: Queen’s University, 1995)


Native Women’s Association of Canada v. Canada, [1994] S.C.J. No. 93


9.In a challenge to this exclusion, heard at the Supreme Court of Canada, NWAC asserted that the national Aboriginal organizations were male-dominated and would not represent adequately the concerns of the Aboriginal women in NWAC, particularly NWAC’s concerns regarding the continuing relevance of the equality rights of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. NWAC claimed that their rights to equality and free expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were violated.


10.The Supreme Court denied their claim for relief, stating that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not place a positive obligation upon the government to ensure expression or to provide a platform for expression.  The Court also stated that there was no evidence to support the contention that the funded groups were less representative of the viewpoint of Aboriginal women with respect to the issues central to NWAC mandate.


Sharon McIvor, Aboriginal Self-Government: The Civil and Political Rights of Women, thesis submitted to the Faculty of Law in conformity with the requirements for the degree of Master of Laws (Kingston: Queen’s University, 1995)


Native Women’s Association of Canada v. Canada, [1994] S.C.J. No. 93


11.Although the federal government opposed NWAC in court, it has recently included NWAC in some discussions regarding new self-government agreements. However, this participation is still incomplete, underfunded, and less than that available to male-led Aboriginal groups. Other Aboriginal women’s organizations representing distinct groups, namely Pauktutuit, representing Inuit women, and the Metis National Council of Women, representing Metis women, also continue to struggle to be included in important governmental discussions, such as those respecting national and regional agreements on job creation programs and health services for Aboriginal people.


12.FAFIA submits that the federal government’s exclusion of NWAC from direct funding for constitutional matters and from direct participation in the constitutional discussions violated Articles 7 and 15. Additionally, the federal government’s continuing failure to include NWAC and other Aboriginal women’s organization in the levels of funding and political participation offered to male-led Aboriginal groups violates Aboriginal women’s rights under these Articles.


13.Currently, there are ongoing negotiations to put in place self-government agreements with many Bands across Canada. However, Aboriginal women are not equal participants in these negotiations, and are not in a position to secure adequate protections for themselves and their children as these agreements are put in place. As the federal government turns over more powers to Aboriginal peoples, it must ensure that Aboriginal women can be equal participants in self-governance and in the processes which lead to it.


14.The Canadian government has failed to follow through with recommendations, made in the Gathering Strength report, to fund (capacity build) Aboriginal women’s groups in order to strengthen their involvement in self-government negotiations.

J. Sayers, K.A. MacDonald, A Strong and Meaningful Role for First Nations Women in Governance.  In First Nations Women, Governance and the Indian Act: A Collection of Policy Research Reports.  Status of Women Canada, November 2001.

Canada, INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada). 1999. Gathering Strength: Canada’s Aboriginal Action Plan.  Ottawa: Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.


15.The right to self-determination for Aboriginal peoples cannot be used by the federal government as a defence for its failure to take responsibility for the continuing sex discrimination against Aboriginal women by individual Aboriginal men, by male-led Aboriginal organizations, by Bands, and by the government itself. The government has Convention-based obligations to prevent and remedy discrimination against Aboriginal women as well as similar obligations under the Canadian Constitution. The federal government must ensure that Aboriginal women have adequate mechanisms and resources to guarantee their full and equal participation in their communities. Failure to do this clearly violates Article 7 of the Convention.


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