Dec 032012
 
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Promises, consultations, offer progress after serious setbacks.

by Jody Dallaire

Last week, the New Brunswick Government’s Speech from the Throne mentioned women, girls and gendered policy.  Here are a couple of extracts from the speech: “Your government will continue to work toward an equal and inclusive society where all women, men, girls and boys are able to reach their full potential and thereby contribute to our province’s growth and prosperity… An equal and inclusive society also means a safe society. Violence against women and girls continues to be a priority of your government.”

Including gendered analysis and policy in the Throne Speech, which sets the tone for the upcoming session of the Legislative Assembly, is a first in my memory. This gives me hope that the other major policy document of the provincial government, namely the budget, will also include gendered analysis and policy, and adequate funds to finance them, in it.

In March 2011 the provincial government abolished the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women without any public consultation, which caused a public backlash.

Continuing on with the good news, last week the Minister responsible for the Status of Women released the following statement:

“Justice Minister and Attorney General Marie-Claude Blais, who is also minister responsible for Women's Issues, is meeting with women's advocates and advocacy groups following a commitment made at the 2011 Voices of New Brunswick Women Summit.

‘Hearing the voices of women is fundamental to democracy, building strong communities and achieving gender equality,’ said Blais.

“At that summit, it was recommended that the provincial government continue to work with stakeholders to identify and develop strategies and mechanisms to ensure that the voices of New Brunswick women continue to be heard.”

Finally, Premier Alward’s government is showing some good sense.  You may recall that the provincial government decided to abolish the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women in March 2011, a decision made without any public consultation whatsoever. The public backlash that ensued showed that the decision was ill-advised and did not have public support.

Consulting women and women’s organizations before reinstating an independent voice to replace the NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women is important. It will ensure that a newly created body will is well-equipped to do its job – to represent the voices of New Brunswick women effectively.

As Minister Blais’s committee continues its work, here is my two-cents worth of advice. An effective and efficient organization to represent the voices of New Brunswick women should be a strong independent, publicly funded voice for women – in a context where women are under-represented in government and in a province where women struggle for their rights as well as for social and economic equity.

In order to strive for this goal, the organization should have at least:

  • A toll-free phone number to make information on relevant women’s programs and services accessible to all women in the province;
  • Support for and partnership with women’s interest and equity groups;
  • The capacity to conduct expert research; and
  • Authority and resources to work in collaboration with institutions, community groups, women’s advocacy groups and qualified researchers to conduct gender-based research to inform government policies and programs and to ensure that government has a true picture of the realities and challenges that women face in the province.

Having an independent voice for New Brunswick women remains as important today as it was in the 1970s when the NB Advisory Council on the Status of Women was created. As outlined in the 2012 New Brunswick Speech from the Throne, women and girls still face obstacles to their full participation in all spheres of society. The continued need for an independent and publicly funded body to aid women and women’s groups in advancing their issues is clear.

Let’s hope that last week’s press release and the Speech from the Throne are just the beginning of a good-news streak for New Brunswick women. For this to happen, the policy options proposed in this session of the Legislative Assembly must be meaningful, evidence-based and adequately financed. These elements will make sure that the policy initiatives make a difference in the lives of New Brunswick women.

Women’s groups will watch carefully to see whether the 2013-2014 provincial budget includes new funding for an independent organization to represent New Brunswick women. In 2011, when the NB Advisory Council was abolished, one analysis found that: “Already too few provincial government resources go towards promoting and implementing women’s equality initiatives. In fiscal year 2010-2011, the New Brunswick government invested 0.05 percent, that is five one-hundredths of one percent, of its overall budget in women’s equality issues. The abolition of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of women represented a 9 percent budget cut.”

Premier David Alward’s government still has a long way to go to convince the women of New Brunswick that it is serious in advancing the status of women through its public policy agenda. Last week was a necessary first step down that road. Women will watch to see if we continue down this path.

About Jody Dallaire


Jody Dallaire lives and works in Dieppe New Brunswick where she writes a weekly column on women's equality issues and matters of social justice. Email: jody.dallaire@rogers.com.

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