Canada Must Lead – Not Backtrack – in the Global Fight to End Violence Against Women

June 14, 2013

Canadians expect their government to be a leader on the world stage, standing proudly for Canadian values – not an obstacle for progress. Chairing the negotiations of the annual Human Rights Council resolution on Violence Against Women offers Canadians an opportunity to express our deeply-held beliefs in defending human rights, and to bring countries and civil society together to advance protections for women and girls against violence.

In the past, Canadians have been proud of Canada’s actions at the HRC. This year, however, the Conservatives have abdicated a leadership role in yet another area at the United Nations, putting forward a regressive and damaging approach to the annual resolution on Violence Against Women. Canada has not treated the topic of sexual and reproductive rights and health with the meaningful consideration and respect that it deserves. The government has used its position as chair of the negotiations to undermine any and all explicit references to essential sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, reaffirming the Conservatives’ failure to recognize the linkages between sexual and reproductive health, sexual and reproductive rights, and sexual violence. As many have noted, refusing to include a comprehensive package of services that are essential to survivors of sexual violence is a serious attack on women’s rights and the health and wellbeing of those survivors.

Minister Baird’s speeches include numerous references to the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls. So why did he instruct the Canadian delegation at the UN to dismiss key proposals related to the prevention of sexual violence, including references to reproductive rights and gender equality?

Liberals firmly believe that the Canadian government must be an advocacy leader for the rights of women and girls, and that includes standing up for their sexual and reproductive rights and health. We must push for high international standards, not roll back on international agreements that we are party to, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. With the adoption of the Conservative language in the Human Rights Council’s resolution on Violence Against Women, Canada has demonstrated that it can no longer be counted on for strong leadership on women’s rights at the UN, or as a leading force to push for concrete steps that will provide survivors of sexual violence with the support and services that they urgently need. The United States objected to the omission of specific provisions for survivors of sexual violence, while Brazil, representing a coalition of 19 countries including many Nordic states, expressed dismay that the resolution did not reaffirm commitments agreed to almost 20 years ago at the Beijing World Conference on Women.

The Conservatives have to put aside their regressive views and advocate for the inclusion of essential sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, including crucial services such as emergency contraception, safe abortion, and diagnosis and screening for sexually transmitted infections, among others. We owe it to our women and girls.

Bob Rae

Liberal Foreign Affairs critic