UN report highlights gender inequality in Canada

First Nations women protest to raise awareness of missing and murdered indigenous women / Fred Thornhill (Reuters)


A recent United Nations report highlights the numbers of barriers women face in Canada when it comes to gender inequality, and calls on the country to step up its efforts to stop violence against indigenous women and girls.

The review is conducted by the Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and covers a wide variety of issues facing women, from the wage gap, to poverty and violence.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who considers himself a feminist, has made removing the systemic barriers women face and improving the situation of Indigenous peoples in Canada two key government priorities. The report did give some praise, particularly for Trudeau’s equal representation of men and women in the federal cabinet ‘because it’s 2015’.

It also cited numerous concerns, such as the “continued high prevalence of gender-based violence, especially against the indigenous population. It is also brought up the “very low” victim report rate, and the low number of convictions against perpetrators.

The report coincides with the decision by prosecutors in Quebec not to lay charges against six police officers in Val-d’Or, after 21 indigenous women and seven men filed complaints against police including excessive use of force and sexual assault.

“It’s difficult enough when you’re dealing with violence in your personal life,” said Francyne Joe, Interim President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. “If you can’t go to police expecting to be protected, that’s going to lead to such despair and depression and anger … and disrupt any growing positive relationship with the policing system.”

Recommendations from the report included the creation of a mechanism for “the independent review” of cases where police are believed to have performed inadequate investigations. It also highlighted how “insufficient measures” have been taken to ensure that all cases regarding indigenous women and girls are followed up on. Additionally, the report shared concerns about the national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, suggesting the inquiry should take a more comprehensive approach and investigate police at all levels.

“If we’re talking about reconciliation, and restoring trust of indigenous peoples in the justice system, certainly, there are a number of things that need to happen — and one is making sure there is independent oversight,” said Jacqueline Hansen, women’s rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada. “And investigating the role of systemic racism in law enforcement.”

The UN report also targeted the disproportionate incarceration of indigenous and black women in Canada, suggesting the country look into alternative measures for people who commit non-violent crimes.

It also recommended the government abolish the practice of solitary confinement, urging that it should only be used as a “measure of last resort,” and never used against women or those with mental illness.

Canada has rapidly declined in international rankings on gender equality. The World Economic Forum places Canada in 35th, down from its first-place ranking in 1995.

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