Tuesday, May 12, 2009

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!


  1. It has been increasingly difficult to keep women and the issues most heavily impacting women and girls on the public agenda. I am old enough to remember federal elections when there were televised leaders debates specifically on women's issues. As well there were numerous debates in provincial ridings on women's issues.

    When I think about the many, many ways women have contributed and continue to contribute to building this province, I am mystified about the lack of recognition accorded to this work. Women have created women's centres, sexual assault centres, transition houses, homeless shelters, second stage housing, family resource centres -- all services that have literally saved lives. Almost every committee on which I sit that is concerned with creating and maintaining our social safety net is woman dominated if not made up exclusively of women. This includes committees working on issues relating to health and health care, education and training, food security, poverty, violence, affordable housing, and youth programs to name a few. Even the men's health centre in our community was largely established by women.

    Although women are instrumental in building and maintaining healthy communities, we are still more likely to live in poverty, to lack pensions, to be under-employed and under-paid, and to experience violence at the hands of people we know and care about. So let's try to get women on the public and the political agenda.

  2. One of my concerns is the role women play as caregivers with little social of monetary assistance.They are literally on house arrest often in their homes due to the responsibility they carry for the sick ,the disabled, and children. With few resources to pay someone to take care of their love one or loved ones,their own mental health is at risk. This effects older women with their invalid husbands. Recently U.N.B.Faculty of Nursing did a survey on care- givers of Alzheimer's and Dementia family members. The results should prove to be interesting in looking at this problem. signed a caregiver Madeline Taylor