Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thank you! Let's move forward in the struggle...

Dear friends and allies,

On Tuesday, Nova Scotians elected the first NDP government in Atlantic Canada. With a majority of 31 seats, Darrell Dexter’s party has been given a strong mandate to serve our province for the next four years.

There is unprecedented political will to address issues facing women and girls in Nova Scotia. Nearly half of our new MLAs have pledged their support for women’s services, and Darrell Dexter has committed to investing $500,000 in women’s centres and transition houses.

We must keep the momentum going to make sure women and girls don’t disappear from the political agenda. We know where our elected representatives stand on the issue of adequate funding for women’s services—now we must hold them accountable for the commitments they made during the election campaign.

Thank you for your support and solidarity! Let us move forward with hope and determination to continue the struggle for a world in which women and girls are safe, valued and empowered.

In solidarity,

Betsy/the Connect! campaign

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Women and Girls Matter! - Wordle

I just discovered these things called "wordles", which are clusters of words that appear in a given selection of text (such as a blog, article or website). The more frequently a word comes up in the text, the larger it appears in the wordle. Here's one I just created based on the Women and Girls Matter! blog.

Wordle: Women and Girls Matter!

Betsy

Monday, June 8, 2009

Election Day is tomorrow - It's time to make our voices heard!

Dear friends and allies,

Tomorrow is election day, and all signs are pointing to a change in government. On Tuesday we have the chance to elect MLAS who are committed to addressing the needs of women and girls in our province - but only if we vote them in and hold them accountable once elected.

It's time to demand real changes that reverse, rather than exacerbate, poverty and violence against women. We must fight for affordable housing and childcare, more accessible education and training, a living minimum wage, quality and affordable health care, adequate funding for women's centres and transition houses, and a social assistance program that allows women and their families to live with dignity.

Tomorrow let's get out and vote for change! WE CAN elect a woman-positive legislature in Nova Scotia!


Here is the updated chart/list displaying the number of candidates supporting fair, competitive salaries for women's centres (now 72 in total).



Annapolis – Jamie F. L. Spinney (Green), Stephen McNeil (Liberal)

Antigonish – Miles Tompkins (Liberal), Maurice Smith (NDP)

Argyle

Bedford-Birch Cove – Kelly Regan (Liberal), Brian Mosher (NDP)

Cape Breton Centre

Cape Breton North

Cape Breton Nova

Cape Breton South – Cathy Theriault (Green), Wayne McKay (NDP)

Cape Breton West

Chester-St. Margaret’s – Ryan Cameron (Green), Jo-Ann Grant (Liberal), Denise Peterson-Rafuse (NDP)

Clare

Colchester-Musquodobit Valley – Willy Versteeg (Liberal), Gary Burrill (NDP)

Colchester North – Judy Davis (Green), Lorenda Ebbett (Liberal)

Cole Harbour – Tony Ince (Liberal), Darrell Dexter (NDP)

Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage – Denise Menard (Green)

Cumberland North – Aviva Silburt (Green), Ernest Fage (Independent)

Cumberland South – Don Tabor (NDP)

Dartmouth East – Andrew Younger (Liberal), Joan Massey (NDP)

Dartmouth North – Trevor Zinck (NDP)

Dartmouth South-Portland Valley – David Croft (Green), Marilyn More (NDP)

Digby-Annapolis

Eastern Shore – Sid Prest (NDP)

Glace Bay – Todd Pettigrew (Green), Myrtle Campbell (NDP)

Guysborough-Sheet Harbour – Amy Florian (Green), Lloyd Hines (Liberal), Jim Boudreau (NDP)

Halifax Atlantic – Anthony Rosborough (Green), Jim Hoskins (Liberal)

Halifax Chebucto

Halifax Citadel – Ryan Watson (Green), Gerry Walsh (Liberal)

Halifax Clayton Park – Amanda Hester (Green), Diana Whalen (Liberal), Debbie Hum (PC)

Halifax Fairview – Jane Hester (Green), Brad Armitage (Liberal)

Halifax Needham – Maureen MacDonald (NDP)

Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville – Shawn Redmond (Green), Mat Whynott (NDP)

Hants East

Hants West – Sheila Richardson (Green), Barbara Gallagher (NDP)

Inverness – Nathalie Arsenault (Green), Michael MacIsaac (NDP)

Kings North

Kings South – Ramona Jennex (NDP)

Kings West – Leo Glavine (Liberal)

Lunenburg – Pam Birdsall (NDP)

Lunenburg West – Emily Richardson (Green), Mark Furey (Liberal), Gary Ramey (NDP)

Pictou Centre – Jim Lindsey (Green), Ross Landry (NDP), Pat Dunn (PC)

Pictou East – Robbie White (Green), J. Ed MacDonald (PC)

Pictou West – Paul Landry (Liberal), Charlie Parker (NDP)

Preston – Janet Sutcliffe (NDP)

Queens – Stuart Simpson (Green), Vicki Conrad (NDP)

Richmond

Sackville-Cobequid – Jessica Alexander (PC)

Shelburne

Timberlea-Prospect

Truro-Bible Hill – Bob Hagell (Liberal), Lenore Zann (NDP)

Victoria-The Lakes –Waverly-Fall River Beaver Bank – Percy Paris (NDP)

Yarmouth – David Mooney (Liberal), David Olie (NDP), Richard Hurlburt (PC)


If you are a political candidate and would like to be included on this list, please send an email to betsypd@gmail.com.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Supportive Housing for Youth

A common catch phrase during election time is “youth are the future.” Most candidates and voters embrace this idea, but there are still major issues affecting youth that are not being adequately addressed at the political level.

One of these issues is homelessness. Throughout Nova Scotia, a significant number of youth are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. When living at home is not an option due to poverty, violence, substance abuse or a range of other factors, many youth find themselves without a place to stay. In rural areas the options for these youth are few and far between, and most resort to staying temporarily with friends (couch surfing—not as fun as it sounds) or leaving for the city. Sexual exploitation is a reality for many adolescent girls experiencing homelessness.

Youth in our province are affected by a number of interrelated issues that reinforce their marginalization and pose considerable barriers to achieving independence. These include poverty, a difficult housing market, mental health and substance abuse issues, a lack of support services and lack of coordination among services, family violence/abuse, and a lack of job and educational/training opportunities.

A major challenge youth face is the gap in social and economic supports for people in their teenage years. Many youth living in poverty find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they are old enough to be expected to support themselves, yet most are rejected for income assistance because they are under 19 years of age and do not fit the eligibility criteria. Without a source of income, youth struggle to find housing and some end up entangled in the criminal justice system.

If young people are fortunate enough to find rental housing, an expensive housing market forces youth to make difficult choices between paying rent, buying groceries, and covering other financial costs. Many forces work against youth who are seeking affordable housing including age discrimination, no track record with landlords and creditors, and difficulty obtaining references. Combined with the low self-esteem that consistently accompanies housing insecurity, these circumstances prevent youth from taking steps to achieve their goals.

We need a provincial system of supportive housing for youth to address this problem. Supportive housing addresses the gap in services for youth by providing individual support, referrals, advocacy and life skills development—all in a safe and supervised environment. A successful rural model exists in Bridgewater, and there are efforts underway to create similar facilities in Pictou and Antigonish. What would it take to establish supportive housing for youth throughout Nova Scotia?

Source:

Reed, Katherine and Krista DeCoste, “Assessing Youth Homeless in Antigonish” Project Final Report (June 2002).

Supporting Transwomen and TransGirls

All women's centres work towards a fair & equitable world for everyone. Some centres have done some concerted work in creating safe spaces for our Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) community. Some centres also have Queer and Questioning/LGBTQ Youth Groups, where transgendered, transsexual and gender queer youth have an avenue for discussion and support.

Like many other organizations, the women's centres look to the transgendered and transsexual community for ways our services and programs can meet the needs of its members. We look forward to engaging in further dialogue on this issue.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Leaders' debate and other interesting links

Good afternoon,

I thought I would share some interesting links.

Leaders' debate - Last night the CBC-Chronicle Herald leaders' debate aired on TV. The leaders responded to my question about women's services in Nova Scotia! You can see the whole thing here: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nsvotes2009/debate/

The importance of funding women's groups -I was forwarded an excellent article the other day about the importance of funding women's groups. The article was written in September 2006 when the federal Harper government was aggressively attacking women's programs and organizations across the country. It's available at the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL) website: http://www.nawl.ca/ns/en/Actions/act-swc.html

Facebook group - The Women and Girls Matter! Facebook group has 189 members, and new people are joining every day. If you are on Facebook, you can visit the group here: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=110348491419&ref=ts

Questions to ask our candidates - The South Shore Chapter of the Council of Canadians recently published a list of questions to ask canddiates in this election, touching on issues such as energy and food security, education, the "Atlantica" agenda, health care, forestry and fishing and (drum roll...) women's issues! The list is available here: http://blogs.southshorenow.ca/cofc/?p=10

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Let's Elect a Woman-Positive Legislature in Nova Scotia!

Dear friends and allies,

The Women’s Centres Connect! campaign to increase support for women’s services is entering its final week. So far we have received positive responses from over sixty political candidates including the leaders of the Liberal, New Democratic and Green parties.

While we are pleased with these responses, many candidates have not yet responded to women’s centres’ request for fair, competitive salaries.

We need your help over the next week to secure these candidates’ support. The following is a list of candidates who have given positive responses to our campaign (there are 71 in total). Are your candidates on this list?

It’s time to put the pressure on our politicians to support women’s services!

Annapolis – Jamie F. L. Spinney (Green), Stephen McNeil (Liberal)

Antigonish – Miles Tompkins (Liberal), Maurice Smith (NDP)

Argyle

Bedford-Birch Cove – Kelly Regan (Liberal), Brian Mosher (NDP)

Cape Breton Centre

Cape Breton North

Cape Breton Nova

Cape Breton South – Cathy Theriault (Green), Wayne McKay (NDP)

Cape Breton West

Chester-St. Margaret’s – Ryan Cameron (Green), Jo-Ann Grant (Liberal), Denise Peterson-Rafuse (NDP)

Clare

Colchester-Musquodobit Valley – Gary Burrill (NDP)

Colchester North – Judy Davis (Green), Lorenda Ebbett (Liberal)

Cole Harbour – Tony Ince (Liberal), Darrell Dexter (NDP)

Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage – Denise Menard (Green)

Cumberland North – Aviva Silburt (Green), Ernest Fage (Independent)

Cumberland South – Don Tabor (NDP)

Dartmouth East – Andrew Younger (Liberal), Joan Massey (NDP)

Dartmouth North – Trevor Zinck (NDP)

Dartmouth South-Portland Valley – David Croft (Green), Marilyn More (NDP)

Digby-Annapolis

Eastern Shore – Sid Prest (NDP)

Glace Bay – Todd Pettigrew (Green), Myrtle Campbell (NDP)

Guysborough-Sheet Harbour – Amy Florian (Green), Lloyd Hines (Liberal), Jim Boudreau (NDP)

Halifax Atlantic – Anthony Rosborough (Green), Jim Hoskins (Liberal)

Halifax Chebucto

Halifax Citadel – Ryan Watson (Green), Gerry Walsh (Liberal)

Halifax Clayton Park – Amanda Hester (Green), Diana Whalen (Liberal), Debbie Hum (PC)

Halifax Fairview – Jane Hester (Green), Brad Armitage (Liberal)

Halifax Needham – Maureen MacDonald (NDP)

Hammonds Plains-Upper Sackville – Shawn Redmond (Green), Mat Whynott (NDP)

Hants East

Hants West – Sheila Richardson (Green), Barbara Gallagher (NDP)

Inverness – Nathalie Arsenault (Green), Michael MacIsaac (NDP)

Kings North

Kings South – Ramona Jennex (NDP)

Kings West – Leo Glavine (Liberal)

Lunenburg – Pam Birdsall (NDP)

Lunenburg West – Emily Richardson (Green), Mark Furey (Liberal), Gary Ramey (NDP)

Pictou Centre – Jim Lindsey (Green), Ross Landry (NDP), Pat Dunn (PC)

Pictou East – Robbie White (Green), J. Ed MacDonald (PC)

Pictou West – Paul Landry (Liberal), Charlie Parker (NDP)

Preston – Janet Sutcliffe (NDP)

Queens – Stuart Simpson (Green), Vicki Conrad (NDP)

Richmond

Sackville-Cobequid – Jessica Alexander (PC)

Shelburne

Timberlea-Prospect

Truro-Bible Hill – Bob Hagell (Liberal), Lenore Zann (NDP)

Victoria-The Lakes

Waverly-Fall River Beaver Bank – Percy Paris (NDP)

Yarmouth – David Mooney (Liberal), David Olie (NDP), Richard Hurlburt (PC)

If you are a political candidate and would like to be included on this list, please send an email to betsypd@gmail.com.

Women's services demand fair, competitive salaries

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Women’s services demand fair, competitive salaries

Antigonish, NS, June 2, 2009— Nova Scotia women’s centres are entering the last phase of a six-week campaign to increase support for women’s services in the province. Women’s Centres Connect! has contacted candidates from all political parties asking them to support fair, competitive salaries for women’s services.

The campaign has received positive responses from approximately sixty political candidates from the Green, Liberal, New Democratic and Progressive Conservative parties.

New Democratic Party leader Darrell Dexter pledged his individual support for the campaign, and the NDP platform includes increasing and stabilizing funding for women’s centres and transition houses.

Liberal leader Stephen McNeil and Green leader Ryan Watson also pledged their support for fair and competitive salaries.

Premier Rodney MacDonald said the Progressive Conservatives plan to maintain funding at last year’s levels for community organizations and look at ways to better support women’s services.

“In this time of economic downturn, women’s services are needed more than ever,” says Lucille Harper, executive director of the Antigonish Women’s Resource Centre. “How can we afford not to support them?”

###

For more information, please call Betsy MacDonald at (902) 863-6221, email betsypd@gmail.com or visit http://womenandgirlsmatter.blogspot.com/.

Monday, June 1, 2009

PC platform and poverty reduction strategy: Where are women and girls?

Today I finally got a chance to look at the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative policy platform, available here:

http://pcparty.ns.ca/sites/default/files/PC_Policy_Platform_screen.pdf

As with the other party platforms, I did not have the time to do a thorough feminist analysis of the entire document. Rather, I looked at what the party was promising to do to address certain issues: poverty, affordable housing, income assistance, minimum wage and, of course, women's services.

The 56-page document is organized into five sections: "The Economy," "Rural Development," "Fighting Crime," "Defending Nova Scotia" and "Roads and Infrastructure."

On the issue of poverty, the party has announced a poverty reduction strategy that commits $155 million toward training, affordable housing and improving supports for low-income persons. (The entire 45-page strategy is available here: http://gov.ns.ca/coms/specials/poverty/documents/poverty_report_2009.pdf)

From what I've gathered, anti-poverty activists see the strategy as a step in the right direction, but recognize that it will take much more than this modest plan to eradicate poverty in Nova Scotia.

For instance, the government plans to increase minimum wage to $9.65 by 2011. Unless the cost of living goes down dramatically, people earning this wage are still going to be living in poverty - right?

Back to the platform proper. The party promises to invest $128 million into creating or renovating affordable housing, including 8,600 new units. This would certainly be great, although if the CMHC statistics are right, this would still only address a fraction of the province's housing crisis.

The party also promises to increase the employment support and income assistance (ESIA) rates by $21 million. Now, I'm no expert on this issue, so I'm not sure how far this money will go to alleviate poverty. Anyone have insights on this point?

Now, there is nothing in the platform - or the poverty reduction strategy - about women's services. While the party's poverty strategy certainly has implications for women, there is no mention of women's centres or transition hosues.

Rodney MacDonald told us his party will continue to support women's centres in Nova Scotia. With 101 pages of policy and no mention of women's services, however, I wonder what this support will look like. Will women's services receive the funding they need to provide fair and competitive salaries?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Who's supporting women's centres?

Over the past three weeks, Women’s Centres Connect! has contacted candidates across Nova Scotia with our request for fair, competitive salaries for women’s centres.

We have heard from our province’s political leadership on this issue.

  • New Democratic Party leader Darrell Dexter pledged his support, and the NDP platform includes increasing and stabilizing funding for women’s centres and transition houses.

  • Liberal leader Stephen McNeil signed our pledge and told us he supports fair and competitive salaries for women’s centres.

  • Green leader Ryan Watson announced that he and his party will support an increase in women's centres' salaries and an annual cost of living increase.

  • Progressive Conservative leader and Premier Rodney MacDonald told us his party will maintain funding at last year’s levels for community organizations.

As of May 29 we have received positive responses from 16 Green Party candidates, 10 Liberal candidates, 18 NDP candidates and 4 PC candidates (see poll results below).

More women on the ballot - CBC article

(From http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nsvotes2009/story/2009/05/26/novascotiavotes-women-candidates.html)

A record number of women are running in this spring's provincial election, although at 54, they only represent one-quarter of the names on the June 9 ballot.

The Progressive Conservative party is fielding seven female candidates — the same number as in 2006. The Liberals have 11, one fewer than last time. The number of women running for the NDP is up from 11 to 16.

The youngest political party, the Green party, has the most female candidates, with 20.

When the election was called earlier this month, fewer than 20 per cent of Nova Scotia's 52 MLAs were women — one of the lowest ratios in the country. Only New Brunswick and the three territories had fewer women in their legislatures.

Brigitte Neumann, with the Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women, expects the number of female candidates to build gradually over the years.

"I don't expect that we're going to see huge surges in participation," Neumann said. "We have relatively few openings in ridings where we have long-serving and highly esteemed politicians who also happen to be men. I think as retirements enter into those areas, we also have opportunities for women to enter."

The advisory council has been hosting campaign schools for women for the past five years in an attempt to encourage more women to run for political office. Neumann said many of the women who have enrolled are on their second or even third careers.

'Knocking down barriers'

The numbers have been increasing. In 2003, the NDP, Liberals and Tories fielded only 27 female candidates altogether. Three years later, there were 47 women on the ballot. This time, the four parties have 54 women running out of a total 212 candidates.

Also, for the second election in a row, there are four female candidates in the electoral district of Halifax-Clayton Park.

"It's perhaps more by coincidence than it is by design," said Linda Power, the NDP candidate in the race. But she doesn't think the NDP numbers are an accident, saying her party is about "knocking down barriers" for anyone who wants to run.

In Chester-St. Margaret's Bay, Tory incumbent Judy Streatch said it's important for the women who are elected to be positive role models.

"We can demonstrate to young women and older women in our communities that it's not a nasty profession. It's extremely satisfying. And yes, it's demanding. But today, what job and what profession isn't demanding?" said Streatch, who became a cabinet minister after her win in 2006.

In Bedford-Birch Cove, Liberal candidate Kelly Regan, wife of Liberal MP Geoff Regan, was waiting for the right time to run. With her two daughters now in university, she decided to put her name forward.

Philosophy appealing

"It made it possible, we felt, for me to do this. If I had three young children, it would have been a different decision," said Regan.

Anna-Maria Galante-Ward found the Green party philosophy appealing. The former journalist, who is running in Kings-North, said she has a chance to influence her young party's policies, and she's not surprised the Greens have a number of female candidates.

Nevertheless, Galante-Ward faces a big challenge. The Greens have never elected anyone to the house of assembly. In June 2006, the new party picked up less than three per cent of the vote.
"It would be nice to win," said Galante-Ward, "but I'd be happy to change the landscape and increase the vote share of the party."

In the end, when it comes to marking an X on a ballot, voter Shirley Josey said gender is not a big concern.

"It doesn't impress me. It's just that you got to get the right people. It doesn't matter whether it's male or female," said Josey.

Nominations officially closed on Tuesday afternoon. Election day is June 9.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Affordable Housing: Time for action

According to the National Council of Welfare, 146,000 Nova Scotians—16 per cent of our population—are living in poverty. If this seems bad, the figure for women will come as a shock. The same study reports that 43.2 per cent of unattached women in our province are poor, meaning their incomes fall below the low-income cutoff (LICO). The poverty rate is even higher for single mothers.

Women and men experience poverty differently. For many women in Nova Scotia poverty takes the form of homelessness, which can be visible or hidden. Visible homelessness includes staying in emergency shelters or places unfit for living, such as vehicles or parks. Hidden homelessness occurs when women live temporarily with friends, family or partners, too often experiencing violence and abuse.

A major factor contributing to homelessness is the severe lack of affordable housing in Nova Scotia. The Alternative Budget released this year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out that “there are 4000 people on the waiting list for public housing in the province, and the turnover rate is only 13 to 15 per cent – that means a wait time of at least 2.5 years.”

What have our political leaders done to respond to this crisis? While there has been much talk about the need for affordable housing in Nova Scotia, there has been markedly little action. True, our provincial government has spent $44 million on affordable housing since 2005 and boasts the creation of some 1,000 new units. However, as researcher Katherine Reed has pointed out, most of this money was spent on renovations rather than building new homes.

Even if the government used this money to construct new affordable housing units, it would scarcely address the demand for affordable housing in Nova Scotia. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that 22.6 per cent, or roughly 80,000, of our province’s households are in “core housing need” meaning they spend more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter. It would take much more than 1,000 new units to meet the needs of these households, says Reed.

Fortunately, politicians need not puzzle over how to solve this problem. Solutions to our province’s housing crisis are readily available; the only missing ingredient is political will. Although the Nova Scotia government has promised to spend $59 million on renovations and new units over the next three years, a more substantial investment is needed to ensure decent and affordable housing for all Nova Scotians.

Our provincial government would be wise to take its cue from the CCPA’s Alternative Budget which allocates $200 million over three years toward developing new affordable housing units and advises working in consultation with community-based organizations. The CCPA stresses that we need a national and provincial housing strategy to make this happen.

Adequate shelter is an issue for more than one-fifth of Nova Scotians, the majority of them women. Who among our political leaders is prepared to act on this issue?

Women and Girls Matter! Facebook Group

A couple days ago I created a Facebook group to accompany the Women and Girls Matter! blog. The web address is:

http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/group.php?gid=110348491419&ref=ts

So far, the group has 100 members. For those not familiar with Facebook, the neat thing about this format is that people can join the group and invite their friends, so it's a good way to spread the word about our campaign. If you're on Facebook, please join and invite your friends. Thanks!

Betsy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Get involved in new national PRS campaign

One of the exciting things that happened at the Canadian Social Forum was the announcement of a campaign to press the federal government to develop a poverty reduction strategy. It's called "dignity for all" and it was launched at the Forum. It is headed by Canada Without Poverty (formerly NAPO) and Citizens for Public Justice. It calls for adequate social spending to eliminate poverty, a national act to eliminate poverty, and a national strategy.

Please add your support to the dignity for all effort by visiting the Canada Without Poverty website at www.cwp-csp.ca.

Katherine

Upcoming debates - What should we ask our candidates?

I thought I'd start putting together a list of upcoming candidates' debates in the province. Here are the ones I've found so far - please comment if you hear of any others and I'll add them to the list.


May 26 - Debate on energy and climate change - 7pm, Dalhousie University, Halifax

May 27 - Halifax Citadel all-candidates debate - 7:30 (doors open 6:30), Dal SUB, Halifax

June 1 - Chamber of Commerce all-candidates debate - Antigonish, time & location TBA

June 2 - Party leaders' debate - 7pm, CBC TV


What should we ask our candidates at these debates?

Rodney MacDonald responds to women's centres

This morning, Connect! received a letter from Rodney MacDonald responding to our request for fair, competitive salaries for women's centres.

"If re-elected," said the Premier, "our government will continue to support the women's centres of Nova Scotia."

Funding for women's centres is not in the Progressive Conservative party's electoral platform. However, the letter states that the party plans to "protect" (or freeze) funding for community organizations funded through Community Services, which include women's centres.

MacDonald's letter also says that "we will do what we can within the confines of balancing a budget" to help women's centres.

In other words, the PC party and its leader are maintaining current funding for women's centres - but with no promise to increase salaries.

Our struggle, then, is far from over. We will need to keep working to ensure that women's services receive adequate and sustainable funding, and that the needs of women and girls are prioritized in provincial budgets.

CCPA Alternative Budget worth checking out

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternativs is a research organization that focuses on issues of social and economic justice. One of their ongoing projects involves creating Alternative Budgets that critique and offer alternatives to federal and provincial budgets. I recently looked at the 2009 Nova Scotia Alternative Budget, "Responding to the Crisis, Building for the Future," available here:

http://www.policyalternatives.ca/reports/2009/05/reportsstudies2218/?pa=BB736455

Described by its authors as a "blueprint for change," the 2009 Nova Scotia Alternative Budget (NSAB) offers policy recommendations in the areas of democratic transparency, fiscal responsibility, education and training, child care, income assistance, women's services, affordable housing and sustainable energy and transportation. The policies it proposes are centered around the principles of economic justice, social justice and ecological sustainability, and all plans are clearly costed out.

This budget has helped me put things in perspective when looking at the different parties' platforms in this election. Imagine what Nova Scotia might look like if there were real investments in social infrastructure...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Green platform: Addresses poverty, but no numbers and weak gender analysis

On Friday, the Nova Scotia Green Party released its electoral platform, available here:

http://www.greenparty.ns.ca/uploads/green_party_2009_platform.pdf

A quick scan of the document reveals that the party's main priority is achieving "sustainable prosperity" or ecologically responsible growth (within a capitalist context, mind you). The environmental focus of the document is, of course, not surpising.

Not being an expert on environmental matters, I'll focus my comments on the issues I'm more familiar with - poverty and social inequality.

The first thing I looked for in the Green platform, as I did with the Liberal plaftorm, was the word 'women'. The document does mention women briefly in a section dealing with pay equity. Other than that, however, there is no mention of women and girls and no explicit commitment to support women's services.

The plaftorm does deal with some key issues pertaining to socio-economic inequality in our province - affordable housing, minimum wage, nutrition and transportation. The party supports the implementation of a poverty reduction strategy that includes an affordable housing strategy, a food security program and the re-framing of minimum wage as "living wage" (as well as ensuring pay equity). The party also supports Aboriginal self-determination and outlines a plan for addressing the legacy of colonialism.

While these are crucial pieces in dealing with poverty and injustice, some important issues are left out - for instance, affordable childcare and social assistance. There is little gender analysis in the poverty section, except for the piece surrounding pay equity. Furthermore, it is not costed out which makes it harder to envision how - and to what extent - it would be implemented. For instance, it would be useful to know what a "living wage" would look like - $10? $15?

Although there are some formidable ideas in the Green party's platform, a stronger gender analysis and concrete numbers are required if the plan is to address the real needs of women and girls in our province.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Canadian Social Forum

The Canadian Social Forum, hosted by the Canadian Council on Social Development, took place this week in Calgary from Wednesday to Friday. About 600 people were in attendance, representing the mind-boggling diversity of social justice work in Canada. I found it energizing and informative, but at the same time disappointing and frustrating.

Maybe it`s an age thing. Maybe I`ve been to enough of these gatherings that my patience for once again poking through the huge pile of junk that is the minutiae of poor Canadians` daily experience of poverty has completely run out. We know. We know. We know. We don`t need to waste hours and hours at a national forum that cost thousands of dollars and added all that carbon to the atmosphere to describe, ad nauseum, the daily humiliations and privations of homeless people, the working poor, the welfare poor, the immigrants struggling to start a new life, the people who have disabilities, First Nations peoples, etc. I get it.

I find it so hard to sit and listen to this after having done it hundreds of times already. Is it important? Of course it is! Do we understand racism, sexism, classism, colonialism, etc.? Of course we do! Do we need to go over it again? No! Stop!

We need to strategize! We need to negotiate the terms of our activism. We need a plan! We need to throw our energy and passion into all those tasks we do to inform people and press governments to redistribute wealth and opportunity in this incredibly wealthy country.

I was struck by a conversation I had with a woman from Toronto who pointed out that we have a two-tiered welfare system in Canada. I said, "Meaning what? ...The Indian Act and our provincial/territorial welfare systems for everyone else? ....one system of homeless shelters and soup kitchens for the destitute and a welfare system for the people in grinding poverty? .... one welfare system for people with major barriers to employment and another, much meaner one for `employables`?" "No," she says, "One system for the poor, and one for the rich." Ahhhh. I see. Right on. Corporate welfare, fat salaries and expense accounts, vastly superior schools and neighbourhoods -- all those perks and benefits flowing to the well-off. Nobody complains much about that.

Another aha moment took place yesterday in the workshop, "Voluntary Organizations and the Provision of Social Services -- Are we in trouble?" I couldn`t believe that three expert presenters could spend almost an hour talking about the people working in the voluntary sector -- in child care, in community organizations and services for vulnerable people, in advocacy groups, and the like -- working for low wages, precariously employed, under stress, burning out, and all those things that sound so terribly familiar, yet not once did anyone point out the striking gendered nature of this workforce! When I pointed that out, everybody said "Oh, for sure!" One of the presenters said this is a workforce that`s 76% female. Thank you. But why did I have to raise that after politely sitting through an hour of bla bla bla? Why have these people been skating around something so obvious?

The workshop on housing and homelessness that I went to on Wednesday was almost entirely a re-hash of information I`ve been reading and hearing about for over two decades. As I mentioned above, I`m not saying it`s a bad thing to talk about all that stuff. But I`m ready for action. We need a strategy and we need to get at it. How are we going to mobilize people to help us convince governments that developing affordable housing through community organizations is a worthy investment? Do we all agree on what needs to be done and how it needs to be done and by whom? If so, lets say that in one loud voice. If not, let`s figure out how we can work together. I`m also completely sick of hearing about issues that have nothing to do with rural and small town Nova Scotia. Everything is about big cities.

We apparently have four provinces with poverty reduction strategies now, with Manitoba announcing on the last day of the Forum, the launch of one after ten years of pressure from advocacy groups. Like Nova Scotia`s new strategy, it`s far from perfect. It`s a start, but we are all going to have to work hard to keep pushing it in the right direction. We must recognize and react strongly against `chronic incrementalism` if we find government is trying to pass off measures that are too little, too late as though they are a reasonable and adequate response.

I was so inspired by Francoise David, the woman who led the first Women`s March in Qu├ębec in the mid-90s. She was very clear in a plenary session when she reminded us all that women pay taxes and we make our contributions to the economy and we deserve to get the full benefit from our contribution.

I had the pleasure of meeting some people who`s Internet resources and research reports have been a great help to me over many years: Penny Goldsmith, Nick Falvo, Gilles Seguin, and Katherine Scott. Richard Shillington and Sherri Torjman were there. It was nice to be among my fellow Nova Scotian movers and shakers too: Paul O`Hara, Sharon Murphy, Peggy Mahon, Madonna MacDoanld, and Stella Lord.

The conference opened and closed with a smudging ceremony, which was peaceful and grounding. There are so many people doing incredible work in this country. I very much appreciate this opportunity to be among them for a few days.

Neo-Liberal plan: Where's the commitment to women and girls?

Yesterday the Nova Scotia Liberal Party released its electoral platform, called A Real Plan. The document, available at http://www.digisaveit.com/realplan/Transforming%20Nova%20Scotia%20-%20New%20Leadership%20A%20Real%20Plan.pdf, focuses mainly on tax cuts with no solid commitments toward affordable housing, minimum wage, social assistance or women's services.

The plan seems to be based on a belief that the free market will solve all our problems. The section on economic growth is presented in explicitly neoliberal terms:

A government’s approach to supporting economic growth and helping families should be “less is more.” There should be less government interference in the economy and peoples’ lives. (p. 8)

I skimmed over the plan this morning and discovered that, while the Liberals pay lip service to social justice, the party has no real plan for addressing socio-economic inequality. There is a section on reducing poverty, but it does not mention affordable housing, employment support and income assistance (ESIA) or minimum wage. Is it really possible to address poverty while ignoring these important issues?

The same section introduces a plan to develop "multi-year service agreements with community service partners" (p. 27). Which partners? Further down in the section on the volunteer sector, the plan states that:

A Liberal government will work with the Nova Scotia Volunteer Advisory Council and community service providers to develop an action plan on the implementation of multi-year service agreements. We recognize that multi-year funding enables organizations to plan, grow and innovate. (p. 30)

This is all well and good, but which services providers are they talking about - and how much money is the Liberal party willing to invest in community organizations? Does this include women's centres and transition houses? It is hard to tell based on this vague statement.

The Liberals may not form the next government in Nova Scotia, but their elected members will still influence the provincial policies that affect our lives. We need to continue to pressure the Liberals, NDP, Progressive Conservatives and Greens to commit to supporting women's services and addressing poverty - not just through lip service, but through real action.

Friends of Transition Houses - Blog

I just found out about Friends of Transition Houses (http://www.friendsoftransitionhouses.blogspot.com/), a new blog created by women involved in a campaign to increase the operating budgets of transition houses in Nova Scotia. A recent post states that:

The Friends of Transition Houses Network is asking you all to remember when the Nova Scotia Politicians come knocking ask them this...

If elected to office will you INCREASE transition house operating budgets so that they can keep up with inflation?

Remind them that in these tough times, many people have to cut back on their donations to not-for-profit organizations. Even the Department of Community Services says that these tough times mean more people will turn to transition houses, the need is projected to be greater, yet the funding is insufficient.


Blogger Lori Walton raises a good point that although the NDP has included funding for transition houses and women's centres in its electoral platform, the amount they have committed ($500,000) is not enough to raise the operational budgets of transition houses to meet the cost of living (nor, it seems, will it provide fair and competitive salaries for women's centres).

Let's join together with our sisters struggling for better funding for transition houses. It reminds me of the old labour movement slogan:

An injury to one is an injury to all.

Together, we can end the structural violence against women and girls imposed by our political and economic system. Let's move forward in solidarity!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Draining economy

(Published Wednesday, May 20 in The Chronicle Herald)

It’s election time and the economy is at the top of the political agenda. Our leaders agree Nova Scotians need more jobs and that government intervention is required to help our province through economic hard times. Where, then, is the discussion of poverty?

Poverty is, without question, a major drain on our economy. It imposes large costs on our health care system and other public services. It keeps people from realizing their human potential and contributing fully to economic and social life.

Poverty is connected to other forms of social inequality. The majority of Canada’s poor are women, and you are more likely to be poor if you are a single mother, aboriginal, from a visible minority community, or living with a disability.

Poverty is not inevitable or natural; it is structural and linked to policies made by governments. In Nova Scotia, the cycle of poverty is perpetuated through a less-than-living minimum wage, a federal Employment Insurance policy that discriminates against women and the insecurely employed, inadequate income assistance, barriers to education and training for single mothers, lack of affordable housing, transportation and child care, and other programs and policies that have the effect of legislating inequality.

Once we recognize that poverty is policy-created, we must ask: Is this acceptable? If poverty could be eradicated through progressive policies and legislation — and it could — then what are we waiting for?

Until we demand that our politicians recognize and address the root causes of poverty, people and communities will continue to suffer and our province will not live up to its potential. We need to elect a government that will be committed to reducing and preventing socio-economic inequality through concrete measures. Our leaders must take immediate action to address the real needs of people living in poverty in Nova Scotia.

Eradicating poverty is an economic and social investment that cannot be put off any longer.

Betsy MacDonald, Women’s Centres Connect, Antigonish

url: http://thechronicleherald.ca/Editorial/1123011.html

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

N.S. Green Party leader offers his support and his party's support for women's services

Good morning! Well, we are 2 weeks into the election, and things are really moving fast with the Women and Girls Matter campaign. This weekend Nova Scotia Green Party leader Ryan Watson told us that he, and other members of the Green Party, will support better funding for women's centres. The response, which has been posted to the N.S. Green Party Website (http://www.greenparty.ns.ca/content/2009womens-centres), states that:

If elected, the Green Party will support Women’s Centres’ request for fair, competitive salaries.

The Green Party of Nova Scotia supports a fair and adequate wage for Support Workers in Women's Centres so that they can attract and retain qualified staff to build healthier and more viable communities in Nova Scotia.

We agree with the Women Centres Connect that staff at the Centres have to deal with complex issues, including referrals from Mental Health. The support workers need to be at a comparable skill level, as they are part of the fabric of the community.

In order to keep staff, we would support an increase in salaries and an annual cost of living increase.

This means that as of today, three provincial party leaders have expressed their support for women's services, and two parties (the NDP and Green Party) have committed to increasing funding to women's centres.

This leaves only Rodney MacDonald's Progressive Conservatives. While we have received some positive responses from individual members, we are still waiting to hear from the Premier himself on this issue.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Persons memorial

Well! Here we are in the middle of an election in NS, and this week I find myself in Alberta to visit my son and his partner and to participate in the Canadian Social Justice Forum.

On our way home last night from the Calgary Tower, we visited a collection of sculptures that featured Judge Emily Murphy, Agnes MacPhail, and others who led the campaign in 1927 to recognize the personhood of women under the British North America Act. These women were also leaders in the movement for Canadian women's suffrage. It is very nicely presented and it was inspiring to look at it and read the interpretive panels. There are many sculptures like this in the downtown area, but this one is definitely the best.




That's great news about the NDP and the Libs iincluding support for women's services in their platforms! Yay! Do you suppose they're really serious???? It's almost hard to believe.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Women's Services in Nova Scotia: Asking for our politicians' support

I thought I would share the letter we are sending to all the candidates in the 2009 Nova Scotia election. So far we have received positive responses from Liberal, NDP and Progressive Conservative candidates, including two provincial party leaders (Stephen McNeil and Darrell Dexter).

Women and Girls Matter
Women’s Centres Make a Difference!


There are eight Women’s Centres in Nova Scotia, serving 10,000 women and girls annually in Antigonish, Truro, Sydney, Sheet Harbour, New Glasgow, Lunenburg, Cornwallis, Yarmouth and surrounding areas.

Why are Women’s Centres important?

Women’s Centres…

-Offer woman-directed services, resources, referrals, information and programs
-Are safe, accessible and open to women and girls
-Contribute to community development through education, training and capacity building
-Are guided by women’s experience and knowledge

Why is it important to adequately fund Women’s Centres?

-There is an increasing demand on Women’s Centres’ services
-Adequate and competitive salaries are needed to attract and retain qualified staff
-Investing in Women’s Centres means investing in the wellbeing of Nova Scotia’s families and communities

Women’s Centres are a solid social investment. They need adequate funding so they can continue making a difference in the lives of women and girls.

Where do you stand?

If elected I will support Women’s Centres’ request for fair, competitive salaries.

 Yes
 No

Comments:

Diversity Affects Women's Issues

Why should women’s issues be important in our provincial election? Women aged twenty and older make up approximately 52% of the population in Nova Scotia. Our issues need to be heard! It is important to remember as well that women of varying ethnicities and cultures are vibrant members of our communities, and their issues also need to be raised. For example, Aboriginal women have many concerns that need to be addressed by the candidates in this election.

Low Income:
On average, on-reserve Aboriginal women who work full time earn close to $6,000 less annually than non-Aboriginal women who work full time.
Only 34% of on-reserve Aboriginal young women aged 15-24 are participating in Nova Scotia’s labour force, compared to 63% of young non-Aboriginal women.

Education
Non-Aboriginal women are more likely to obtain university certificates or degrees, while Aboriginal women living off reserve are more likely to obtain college certificates.
Aboriginal women living on-reserve are less likely than Aboriginal women living off-reserve to complete post-secondary studies.

Family Violence
Aboriginal women in Canada are at least three times more likely to have experienced spousal violence than non-Aboriginal women.

Where do the candidates stand on these important issues, and how will they commit to improving the lives of Aboriginal women in our province?


All statistics taken from:
www. gov.ns.ca/finance/communitycounts and http://women.gov.ns.ca

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

NDP to increase funding to women's centres: Platform announced today

Today at noontime, the provincial New Democratic Party launched its platform for the 2009 Nova Scotia election. In the section addressing rural infrastructure and communities, the party has announced a plan to "increase and stabilize funding for Transition Houses and Women's Centres" with a $500,000 budget. Also included is a commitment to put $1,200,000 into creating "250 subsidized child care spaces" (the entire platform is available at http://ns.ndp.ca/assets/nsndpcommitmentslores.pdf).

This means that two provincial party leaders, Stephen McNeil and Darrell Dexter, have both come out in support of women's services. Let's keep the momentum going and see what the other leaders and candidates have to say!

Affordable Housing

I think we need to be asking the candidates what they're going to do to help community organizations develop affordable housing projects. Women are vulnerable to poverty in Nova Scotia, and the lack of affordable housing is a key feature of poverty. It is destabilizing and it erodes health.

So far the governments of Canada and Nova Scotia have thrown a few crumbs at non-profit housing developers -- enough to keep most of them quiet. Meanwhile, the enormous need for better housing is not being addressed in any serious way because community groups aren't able to get the kind of support they would need to make housing projects work. Community groups can't work with the conditions that the two levels of government have imposed, and they can't access enough funding to make a project viable.

How do the candidates running for office propose to correct this problem? Go ahead and ask 'em!

N.S. Liberal leader Stephen McNeil supports women's services: First positive response to campaign

This morning, the Women and Girls Matter! campaign received confirmation from Nova Scotia Liberal leader Stephen McNeil that if re-elected, he will support Women's Centres' request for fair, competitive salaries.

As part of a non-partisan campaign to increase support for women's services, Nova Scotia Women’s Centres Connect! is contacting every candidate and asking him/her to commit to supporting adequate funding of Women's Centres in the province. McNeil's response was the first of many positive responses we hope to receive over the next four weeks. Stay tuned - regular updates will be posted as the campaign continues!

Nova Scotia Politics: Who's talking about women?

The answer: hardly anybody.

A few days ago I discovered the website of the Nova Scotia Hansard Office (http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/house_business/hansard.html), which provides "a complete and accurate verbatim record of the Debates of the House of Assembly, and of the proceedings of Committees of the House." I decided to search the term "women" to see who's been talking about us, and the search turned up very few results (unless you count women's hockey and women's rugby, which seem to be favourite topics in the House).

There are some notable exceptions to this resounding silence. Liberal MLA Diana Whalen seems to be one of the few members talking about violence against women and the need for adequate funding of women's services. On December 13, 2007, she asked this question in the House:

"Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Community Services. Women's centres in this province provide important services to women and adolescent girls who are facing a range of complex and challenging issues in their lives including poverty, sexual violence, inadequate housing, depression and family crisis - to name just a few. The women who work at women's centres are without question - each and every one of them, highly skilled, knowledgeable and committed to making a difference in their communities and in the lives of these women and girls. Yet they are underpaid and there's no provision in the province for enabling salary increases. My question to the minister is, why hasn't the minister addressed the terrible underfunding of salaries for women centres' staff in this province?" (http://www.gov.ns.ca/legislature/hansard/han60-2/house_07dec13.htm#H[Page%201690])

This was over a year ago. Since then, the word "women" has scarcely been uttered in the House of Assembly, and when women are mentioned it is usually in a depoliticized context (i.e. awarding women for their accomplishments in business). Occasionally Carolyn Bolivar-Getson, the Progressive Conservative minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women Act, acknowledges the importance of women's services and the hard work that women around the province are doing to address poverty and violence against women. But where is the government support behind these words?

We need to put women and girls on the political agenda in this election. If this brief survey is any indication, it looks like we have our work cut out for us!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What matters to you in the 2009 Nova Scotia election?

Women, girls and our allies - what issues are important to you in this election? If you could send a message to all the candidates and party leaders, what would it be?

Here are some of my thoughts...

  • Women's Centres are underfunded and need provincial government support so they can provide adequate salaries and attract/retain staff.
  • Women seem to be invisible in political discourse surrounding the economy, rural poverty, etc. Women's voices need to be heard in this election!

What do others think?

Nova Scotia 2009 Election - Links

I've been browsing the 'net and I found some websites that have useful, up-to-date information on the election. I thought I'd share them here!

CBC: Nova Scotia Votes
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nsvotes2009/
Has articles, analysis (albeit not feminist), and a neat feature where you can track where the party leaders are going from day to day.

Nodice.ca Nova Scotia Provincial Election
http://www.nodice.ca/elections/novascotia/
Has info on all the ridings and candidates, plus polls, results etc.

CBC Nova Scotia Votes: Your View
http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nsvotes2009/yourview/2009/05/what_matters_to_you_1.html
Here you can post comments about what matters to you in this election.

Welcome!

Welcome to this brand new blog, Women and Girls Matter! Women (and our allies, I think) all across Nova Scotia and beyond are invited to share their analysis, commentary and ideas on issues affecting women in our province. In particular, if you have any news or analysis to share surrounding the 2009 Nova Scotia election, you are welcome to post your thoughts here! Women are encouraged to use this blog as a forum for discussion, so please share this with everyone you know.

In sisterhood,

Betsy (blog administrator)