If you are a woman on this planet, you are more likely to be poor, more likely to be a victim of violence, more likely to be voiceless and more likely to be exploited. You are less likely to have access to education, services or corridors of power.
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When we look at those who earn less than $1 a day globally, 70 per cent are women. Of the 80 million children who aren't in school, most are girls. Every day, 1,400 women die needlessly in pregnancy and childbirth. One in five women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. Women are overrepresented among the 8,000 people who die every day as a result of the AIDS pandemic, mostly in the world's poorest countries.
More than half the world's food is produced by women, rising to 80 per cent in many developing countries, yet tradition, laws and discrimination mean many women cannot own land, access credit or control the fruits of their labour. It is women and girls who have first felt the brunt of climate change as they spend a growing number of hours each day walking ever farther to fetch water and firewood.
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As Canadians, we pride ourselves on the progress we've made to recognize and promote women's rights and equality among women and men. But our record is spotty at best. Women in Canada, too, are more likely to be poor, earn less than men and find themselves the victim of violence. The horrific experience of the disappeared women of Vancouver, Edmonton and elsewhere haunts us.
Women with whom we work in Zimbabwe, in Guatemala, in Ethiopia can't quite believe that in a country as rich as Canada we have women in aboriginal communities and elsewhere across this country who can't exercise their right to access basic services. They wonder how they can overcome huge barriers in their own countries when they see a country such as Canada stepping back from its obligations to ensure women's rights are respected.
The removal of equality from the mandate of the Status of Women department, the gutting of its budget and the closure of most offices sends a chill down the spines of women around the globe who are committed to ending discrimination. Equally disturbing is the prohibition on federal funding to support advocacy and campaigning on women's rights. These actions, after eliminating the Court Challenges program that played such a key role in protecting women's and minority rights, send exactly the wrong signal to the world about Canada's commitment to promoting full respect for women's rights.
When combined with the reversal of the national child-care program and other actions, it seriously undermines Canada's progress toward meeting its obligations under the United Nations Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Tomorrow is International Women's Day. Read this column by Robert Fox, executive director of Oxfam Canada.