Author Archives: cfuwadvocacy

Supreme Court Ruling on Anti-Prostitution Laws Stirring Debate: CFUW Joins in Supporting the “Nordic Model”

If you have been following the news over the past month, you are probably already aware that the Supreme Court of Canada delivered a unanimous ruling on the Canada v. Bedford et al. case that has struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws, including prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients. The laws will however, stay in place for one year to give Parliament time to develop new legislation, if it chooses to do so.

The decision is already stirring up a lot of debate among feminist groups, academics, and politicians in the country, and will likely push the issues of prostitution, sex worker safety, and women’s equality to the forefront in 2014.

In 2010, CFUW’s membership adopted a position on prostitution, sharing the view with several other women’s/feminists groups (e.g. the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, including the Native Women’s Association of Canada and others) that Canada should adopt a model similar to that in Sweden, and most recently embraced by France, which approaches the issue by decriminalizing prostituted persons, helping women and girls to exit the sex industry, and seeks to address demand for the purchase of sex by criminalizing purchasers and pimping, and raising awareness through public education. Former U.S. President, Jimmy Carter, interestingly enough, also chimed in on the Supreme Court decision to express his support for Canada adopting this model in a recent op-ed for the Ottawa Citizen. In terms of Canadian politicians, Joy Smith, a Conservative M.P., has been one of the strongest proponents of the “Nordic approach”, as it’s often called.

There are however, other feminist, health and human rights groups in Canada who support the full decimalization of prostitution, including Terri-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott (i.e. the women who brought the case forward), PIVOT Legal Society, FIRST, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and others. They believe that through the full decriminalization of the sex industry, sex workers will have their human rights respected, and will enjoy increased health and safety. Opponents of this position fear that full decriminalization will only proliferate sex trafficking, as has been the case in other countries that have adopted this approach. See this recent study “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” for more information.

These two competing visions will likely be at the centre of the debate on how best to move forward in 2014.

Irrespective of the criminal laws Canada does or does not decide to put in place in the coming year, CFUW strongly supports the Government of Canada working with provincial, territorial and municipal governments to address structural factors that limit women and girls agency and increase their vulnerability to sexual exploitation. These factors include poverty, inadequate and unaffordable housing, gendered violence, racism, and lack of adequate mental health supports and services. To ensure greater equality for all women and girls, including those involved, or becoming involved in the sex industry, we would like to see all levels of government working together to:

  • Implement national poverty, housing and homelessness strategies that are sensitive to gender differences;
  • Promote equitable access to full and productive employment and decent work for women;
  • Implement a comprehensive national action plan to address all forms of violence against women and girls;
  • Respect Aboriginal rights, treaties, and international human rights of Aboriginal Women; and
  • Improve mental health supports and services, again ensuring sensitivity to gender differences.

In the coming months it is important that Members of Parliament hear from their constituents to help shape the position that the various political parties take on this issue. CFUW Clubs and individual members are encouraged to adapt this template letter and fact sheet when corresponding with politicians. Provincial governments and municipalities also have important roles to play in the supporting prostituted women and girls, so you may also wish to write to your provincial and municipal elected representatives using this template.

See our website for more suggested actions and resources.

What are Politicians saying about the Bedford et al Decision?

To give you an idea of what position the Government of Canada, the various political parties, and key stakeholders are taking on the decision at this point, what follows is a compilation of some of the key statements and commentary made to date.

Statements by the Minister of Justice, Peter MacKay, P.C., Q.C., M.P.

“I am concerned that, with its ruling in the case of Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford et al., the Supreme Court of Canada has found sections 210, 212(1)(j) and 213(1)(c) of the Criminal Code related to prostitution unconstitutional. The court has ordered, however, that these provisions remain in force for 12 months to give Parliament time to consider how to address this very complex matter. We are reviewing the decision and are exploring all possible options to ensure the criminal law continues to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution to communities, those engaged in prostitution, and vulnerable persons. We are committed to the safety of all Canadians and the well-being of our communities. A number of other Criminal Code provisions remain in place to protect those engaged in prostitution and other vulnerable persons, and to address the negative effects prostitution has on communities.”


In another statement, Minister Mackay told QMI Agency that, “I’m not entirely convinced that the direction that has been attempted in other countries, and this Nordic model being one, is the right fit for Canada”.

Source: Sun News

Minister Mackay also said in an interview with the Prince Arthur Herald that “[i]t’s going to take a much more concerted effort than what any local government or jurisdiction could do. So for that reason I think you will find that there is a necessity within that 12-month period that the Supreme Court (of Canada) has granted that we will bring forward legislation, and amendments that will address what we think are significant harms that flow from prostitution.”

Source: Toronto Star

Conservative Party of Canada

In November, the Conservative party policy convention in Calgary adopted a resolution stating it “shall develop a Canada-specific plan to target the purchasers of sex and human trafficking markets through criminalizing the purchase of sex as well as any third party attempting to profit from the purchase of sex.”

Source: The Canadian Press


“NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin said she was in favour of drafting new legislation to deal with prostitution that does not put women’s safety at risk but draws a legal distinction between those entering the trade by choice and those who she said are being exploited….

Boivin said Canada should not simply adopt legislation from Sweden or the Netherlands, but rather develop an approach that responds to prostitution as it is carried out in this country.

‘We will have to work on the real concept of prostitution, of human trafficking – I think we will need a bigger study and I do hope the government will take the prudent approach.’”

Source: Tobi Cohen, Postmedia News

“NDP Leader Tom Mulcair…[did not] directly respond when asked if he’d consider legalizing prostitution. He said the issue is complex and needs to be studied by a parliamentary committee, hearing from police, health experts, community groups and sex trade workers.”

Source: Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Liberal Party of Canada

At the upcoming national Liberal convention in February, the party’s youth wing is proposing a resolution to treat (and tax) the sex trade just as it would “any other commercial enterprise”.

“When asked about the resolution, a spokesperson of Mr. Trudeau’s office said, ‘ultimately, the government must respond [to the Supreme Court ruling] in a way that addresses both community safety and the security and safety of all those involved in the sex trade’.”

Source: Chris Selley, The National Post

“In French, Trudeau [said that] it is important to recognize that ‘prostitution itself is a form of violence against women.’ He called for a ‘responsible, informed debate’ on the issue.

Trudeau also said Liberals are ‘certainly going to look at’ the so-called Nordic model, which penalizes those who purchase sex, not those who sell it.”

Source: Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Green Party of Canada

No Statements to date

Bloc Quebecois

No Statement to date

What are NGOs Saying About the Decision?

Equality-Seeking Women’s Groups continue to demand a Change in Prostitution Laws
Read the full statement here:

NWAC deeply concerned with Supreme Court Ruling on Bedford v. Canada
Read NWAC’s full statement here:

Asian Women look to Parliament after Supreme Court offers partial support for progressive position on prostitution
Read their full statement here:

A Bittersweet Victory for Sex Workers
Read the full article here:

Health and Human Rights Organizations Applaud Supreme Court Decision Striking Down Unjust Sex Work Laws
Read the full statement here:

Celebrating Morgentaler’s Legacy

By: Kelsey Sunstrum

henry morgentaler

January 28 is an important day for women in Canada. Today marks the 26th anniversary of the monumental R. v. Morgentaler case, which afforded women the right to abortion, and ultimately, to take control of their body and their ability to reproduce. Before this ruling, Canadian women were only able to obtain abortions from designated hospitals and after being granted approval by the hospital’s three-doctor Therapeutic Abortion Committee.

The 1988 ruling was a long time coming for abortion activist, Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who passed away this past May. In 1967, Morgentaler presented a brief to the House of Commons on the topic of illegal abortions, stating that women should not have to risk their lives for the procedure. At this time, if a woman was not granted hospital approval, her abortion would not be performed, which forced women to turn to different, often unsafe, outlets to end their pregnancy. After this, women began reaching out to him for abortions though he refused at the time, referring women to two other doctors.

However, in 1968, knowing that Canadian women needed safer and more accessible abortion practices, he opened the first freestanding abortion clinic in Canada, the Montreal Morgentaler Clinic. In 1970, his clinic was raided by police and he was charged by authorities for performing illegal abortions.

This would be the first of many times that Morgentaler was charged for offering safe abortions to women. Throughout the early- to mid-1970s, Dr. Morgentaler was charged and acquitted multiple times for the services provided by his clinic. Despite this, in 1983, he opened two more clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg, both of which were also raided multiple times over the years.

Later that year, Dr. Morgentaler, as well as Dr. Leslie Frank Smoling and Dr. Robert Scott, were charged with performing illegal abortions during a raid of the Toronto clinic. After appealing the charges, the Supreme Court overturned section 251, the previous abortion law, in 1988.

Morgentaler, Smoling, and Scott held the position that section 251, which declared that women could only receive an abortion after an approval from an in-hospital committee, was unconstitutional based on section 7. Section 7 defends the autonomy and personal rights of Canadian citizens. There are three types of protection in this section, and Morgentaler argued that section 251 violated the security to person type. This type denotes primarily an individual’s ownership of their body, health, and psychological well-being. Because of this ruling, abortions are now considered medical procedures that are governed by the Canada Health Act rather than the criminal code.

The legacy of this case is far-reaching. Before, women’s reproduction was dictated by an in-hospital approval committee. Morgentaler fought for women’s right to make their own decisions about their body, and to have access to safe and healthy outlets. Unfortunately, on the 26th anniversary of this ruling, Canada’s abortion services still have much to be desired.

It is almost unbelievable to think that Prince Edward Island currently offers no surgical abortions. P.E.I. will cover abortions performed off-Island if they are performed in a hospital and with a referral from an in-Island doctor. It will not cover abortions taken place in private clinics. Poorer and younger women are impacted the most by P.E.I.’s lack of abortion services. Many do not have access to obtain off-Island procedures due to costs, working schedules, family pressures, transportation, and a lack of information about abortion services. The scary truth is that abortions are still done in P.E.I. Women self-induce abortion which can result in infertility, suicidal thoughts, and a decreased likelihood of pursuing academic goals.

New Brunswick’s abortion access is not much better than P.E.I. Abortions are publicly funded if they are completed in a hospital with the approval of two doctors. However, if they are performed in a clinic, the woman must pay the expenses as the province will not cover the cost of the procedure outside of publicly funded institutions. Moreover, only obstetrician/gynecologists are permitted to carry out the surgery whereas common practice in Canada is that the family physician is responsible for the procedure.

Women in rural Canada are also at an extreme disadvantage in terms of proximity and quality of abortion services. Rural physicians who perform abortions face the following obstacles: operating room scheduling; logistics; extremely long waiting lists; geographic and professional isolation from colleagues; absence of replacement providers; and fear of response from community. Often, the distance between rural areas and abortion providers is just too far for some women with less resources and/or support.

Rural communities are much less likely to have clinics dedicated solely to abortion procedures, so local hospitals and providers need to work together. Because of moral and religious opposition, this can be quite a difficult feat. Moreover, a very real problem in rural communities is the rate of burn out experienced by physicians performing these services as they are often the only provider in close proximity.

Unfortunately, it is clear that abortion and reproductive rights and services in Canada leave much to be desired. For the rights and services Canadian women do have, thank you, Dr. Henry Morgentaler. May his brave spirit be remembered, and the historical R. v. Morgentaler ruling which gave women in Canada greater choice.

The 2013 Highs and Lows for Feminists in Canada

2013 was an eventful year for feminists in Canada, filled with highs, lows and other noteworthy events that fall somewhere in between. Compiling and categorizing such a list becomes a challenging task given that feminists are not a monolithic group that share all the same viewpoints, experiences or locations. None-the-less, below are some of 2013’s noteworthy events.

This is certainly not exhaustive, so please share any additions you may have in the comments section!





What were some of the big moments for gender equality on an international scale? Check out UN Women’s 2013 Gender Equality Year in Review and a video produced by the Association of Women’s Right’s in Development, Significant Moments for Women’s Right in 2013 .

Popular culture

In Canada we share a lot of a media with our neighbors to the South, so here are some of the highlights from American popular culture in 2013:

Give the Gift of Equality and Social Justice This Holiday Season

If you’re still looking for gifts to give to family and friends this holiday season, why not consider making a donation in their name to one of the many organizations improving the lives of girls and women here in Canada and abroad? Charitable donations also make excellent birthday gifts throughout the year!

A few options to consider:

The CFUW Charitable Trust, which funds Fellowships and Awards for Women (Canadians and Permanent Residents) pursuing graduate studies.

Canadian Women’s Foundation is the only foundation in Canada that specializes in helping women and girls move out of violence, out of poverty, and into confidence through community programs, and support for hundreds of women’s shelters across the country.

Girls Action Foundation supports empowerment programs for girls, training for educators, and seed grants for young women change-makers in Canada. They ensure all our projects reach girls & communities who benefit most from their support, and that’s why 90% of the girls & women who participate in their programs come from marginalized communities.

Inter Pares is an organization dedicated to promoting international social justice, with a focus on women’s rights. In Canada and overseas, they support people’s struggles for peace, justice, and equality; their efforts to challenge structural obstacles for change; and their alternative development approaches.

MATCH International Women’s Fund is a first of its kind grant-making organization based in Canada that funds women’s rights organizations around the world to make lasting changes in the lives of women and girls. The fund supports projects that dismantle barriers, change systems, challenge perceptions and transforms societies.

Oxfam Unwrapped is a unique source for charitable gifts that provide supports to people and communities in developing countries. For example, your donations can build a well for an entire community, school books for children, or a goat for a family, among others. You can also give to specific Oxfam programs and projects such as the Marion Dewar Fund that supports training and development for women and girls’ leadership in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, or a project that supports women farmers in Nicaragua.

Plan Canada’s Gifts of Hope to Support Girls is another ethical gift-giving program with over 40 gifts to choose from, with 15 that specifically support girls. You’ll also receive free personalize greeting cards with your purchase.

The Malala Fund is the official organization led by Malala Yousafzai focused on helping girls go to school and raise their voices for the right to education around the world.

YWCA Canada is the country’s oldest and largest women’s multi-service organization. Their Turning Point Programs for Women address personal safety, economic security and well-being, reaching out to 1 million women and girls across Canada. They are also the largest national provider of shelter to women, children and teen girls.

You could also consider giving to organizations serving women and girls in your local community, such as your local women’s shelters and transition houses, sexual assault support centres, women’s centres, drop in centres, your local YWCA and other programs that support women and girls, such as through leadership development and economic empowerment.

Of course this list is not comprehensive, so please share yours ideas in the comments!

A Gender Neutral Gift Guide For Children

Many toys on the market today are extremely gendered and can reinforce gender stereotypes. While some companies are trying to change their products and marketing by offering more gender neutral options, it can still be difficult to navigate the toy aisles. If you’re looking for some gender neutral gift options for the children in your life, particularly this holiday season, we’ve compiled a list of toys that don’t conform to the traditional pink vs. blue, Barbie vs. trucks norms. Hopefully this list helps stimulate further ideas, which we would love to see in the comments section!

Ages 0 – 3

Gender Neutral Gift Guide

  1. Nighttime Nursery Rhymes: A Bedtime Shadow Book. $11.69. This book contains transparent pictures which you shine a flashlight through to project the images onto the wall as you read to your child. A fun and interactive way to introduce your toddler to classic nursery rhymes.
  2. Radio Flyer Grow ‘N Go Tricycle. $59.99. Every kid loves riding a tricycle, and this trike’s easily adjustable metal frame enables it to grow with them so you can get use out of it for years to come. Also contains a convenient storage bin at the back for toys
  3. Fisher Price Classics Changeable Picture Disk Camera. $24.95.You loved it as a child, now you can share it with your child. It comes with three picture disks: nursery rhymes; Goldilocks and the Three Bears; and animals.
  4. Bathtime Fun Water Flutes. $15.00. Turn bathtime into music time! These adorable water flutes are tuned by filling them with different levels of water to produce a variety of sounds. Also comes with waterproof song sheets.

Ages 4 – 6

Gender Neutral Gift Guide 2

  1. Wooden Cutting Food Box. $19.95. This wooden cutting set familiarizes your child with different foods, their preparation, and can even be an opportunity to teach them safe kitchen practices. This set comes with a child-safe knife and a cutting board.
  2. Large Standing Easel. $79.95. Let your child explore their artistic side with this versatile standing easel. It features a dry-erase board on one side with a chalkboard on the other. It is equipped with attached cup holders for convenient loading of art mediums.
  3. Playmobil Take Along School. $39.95. Get your child excited for school with Playmobil’s Take Along School. It can be folded up and carried around with your child, and includes many school accessories, such as desks, chairs, chalkboards, and many more.
  4. Goldie Blox and the Spinning Machine. $74.55. Goldie Blox is a book series and construction set that aims to boost girls’ spatial, engineering, and problem-solving skills. While Goldie Blox’s packaging and accessories are still quite gendered, it is a step in the right direction and is worth a mention.

Ages 7 – 9

Gender Neutral Gift Guide 3

  1. Hape Pallina Game. $79.95. A fun game the family can enjoy together that encourages creative problem-solving. The goal is to remove sticks without dropping any of the balls. This will keep kids of all ages entertained.
  2. Curious Chef 17 Piece Measure & Prep Kit. $24.95. Knowing how your food is made and preparing it yourself are important steps in growing up. Allow your child to explore food and nutrition with this measure & prep kit, which they can use to help you during meals or making her lunch.
  3. Eco-Friendly on the Go Artist Travel Kit (21 Piece). $26.99. Let your child create wherever they go with this artist travel set! The natural cotton carrying case houses a sketchpad, pencils, pencil crayons, rulers, stencils, and more. This is a great activity in the house but very handy when you’re going out to dinner or travelling to keep your little ones entertained.
  4. Sea Monkeys. $32.55. For the child that’s begging for a pet… Sea Monkeys can be a great ‘starter pet’ to acclimatize your child to the responsibilities of petcare without making the commitment of a dog or a cat.

Ages 10 – 12

Gender Neutral Gift Guide 4

  1. Little Passports. $131.40 + $20 shipping for 12-month plan.Get your child interested in geography and international cultures, as well as learn about their own, with Little Passports! The first month, your child will receive a fun travel suitcase with a world wall map, passport, activities, and access to more online games. For every subsequent month, they will receive a new adventure letter for a new country to explore.
  2. Apples to Apples Junior. $21.99.Teach your kids to have fun with their friends and family while learning! Apples to Apples Junior is a game of comparisons that will further develop your child’s vocabulary and analytical skills.
  3. Fabric Screen printing Kit. $49.95. If your child is into fashion and design, foster their creativity with this fabric screen printing kit by Mindware. The kit teaches your child the basics of screen printing and various techniques. Your child can make clothes, paper prints, textile art, and more with this gift.
  4. Puffin Classics Deluxe Edition. $47.50. Introduce your child to the magic of reading with this beautiful book set of eight classics, including Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables, which they can cherish for years to come.

Looking for more ideas? Check out this Girl Empowerment Gift Guide from A Mighty Girl.

Canada Needs a National Action Plan on Violence against Women

OTTAWA – December 5, 2013 – On Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) will be commemorating the 14 young women who were senselessly murdered at École Polytechnique on December 6, 1989 and calling for stronger federal measures to address gender-based violence.

“As we take pause to reflect on the inequality and beliefs that caused the École Polytechnique tragedy twenty-four years ago, we are reminded that violence continues to be a reality for far too many women and girls across Canada every day”, said Susan Murphy, President of CFUW.

 One in 3 women in Canada will experience some form of gender-based violence in their lifetime.

Not only does violence jeopardize the security and wellbeing of women and girls, it also has a large economic impact on survivors and Canada as a whole. Statistics Canada and others have estimated the cost of intimate partner violence and sexual violence at $7.4 and $1.9 billion respectively, including the costs of social services, healthcare, the justice system, and lost productivity.

“Ending violence against women is priority for CFUW,” said Ms. Murphy. “Our members across the country are working on a diversity of projects to prevent and respond to violence against women in their communities, and at the national level we continue to advocate for more effective responses from government. While there are many worthwhile initiatives current underway in our communities, Canada must adopt a comprehensive and coordinated approach to help address the root causes of gender-based violence. This is why we are calling on all federal political parties to support the creation of a National Action Plan on Violence against Women and Girls”.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon has called on all member states to develop National Action Plans on Violence Against Women and Girls by the year 2015. Several countries including Australia already have national plans underway. A recent report released by the Canadian Network of Women’s Shelters and Transition Houses, “The Case for a National Action Plan on Violence against Women”, clearly demonstrates Canada could be doing much more. The Government of Canada however, continues to deny the need.

Each year, the CFUW Fellowships Program also offers two École Polytechnique Commemorative Awards, totaling $12,000, to outstanding graduate students whose research or area of study is related to women.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace.


For more information, contact: Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, 613-234.8252 ext. 106 or


Bill C-13 Ignores Gender-Based Violence as a Root Cause of Cyberbullying

Legislation has been introduced via Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, that will criminalize the non-consensual distribution of intimate images online. This bill is delivered to the Canadian public after an onslaught of tragic tales of cyberbullying and violence, particularly amongst the youth population.

While this effort may act as somewhat of a deterrent, as well as provide legal ramifications for cyber bullies, it is certainly not a fix for Canada’s cyber violence problem. The bill ignores  the many root causes of the issue, particularly gender-based violence and sexual harassment.

Cyber ‘bullying’ is very often sexual harassment conducted in an online setting. However, employing the term ‘bully’ instead of ‘sexual perpetrator,’ for example, ignores any gender connotations present in the issue.

Using the term ‘bully’ is also guilty of infantilizing the matter. The word traditionally conjures the image of kids behaving badly. Unfortunately, the experiences of Amanda Todd and Rehtaeh Parsons, both of which resulted in their self-inflicted deaths, prove that cyberbullying is much more serious and is a real threat to Canadian girls and women. For instance, a 2011 study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that boys who are “bullies” are nearly four times as likely to be physically or sexually abusive as adults.

Eyes are on the Government of Canada and how they can improve the online safety of girls and women. The Status of Women Canada (SWC) recently issued a call for proposals for programs and initiatives that will eliminate or reduce cyber bullying and sexual violence. While this is a positive step, the SWC only provides short-term funding and not every community will be supported.

The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) and other related organizations on the other handhave been advocating for a National Action Plan on Violence against Women and Girls. This development would seek to comprehensively address all forms of gender-based violence, including the issue of online gender violence by having the federal, provincial, and municipal governments and stakeholders collaborate to establish long-term, multi-sector, initiatives aimed at preventing cyber harassment of girls and women.

At CFUW’s 2013 Annual General Meeting, members echoed the need for all levels of government to cooperate in finding resolutions to this problem. Other suggestions to the Canadian government from CFUW members were that they raise public awareness on the topic of cyberbullying and violence and conform to the legal sanctions in place; integrate programs on bullying and cyber violence into training and core curriculum for educators and counsellors so that they are able to identify and take steps to resolve it in their institution; and encourage such institutions to offer workshops to parents and caregivers on recognizing cyberbullying and teaching anti-bullying strategies.

CFUW membership also suggested the Canadian government consider and utilize the six recommendations of the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights reports on “Cyberbullying Hurts: Respect for Rights in the Digital Age,” published in 2012.

The six recommendations include the levels of government cooperating with each other and related stakeholders to develop strategies; establishing consistent definitions of cyberbullying and messaging on the issue; conducting long-term research on cyberbullying that will give new insights into its contributing factors as well as new initiatives in combatting it. Unfortunately, Bill C-13 will only address Recommendation #4, which calls on the federal government to work with industry stakeholders in creating strategies to protect children online through removing or blocking inappropriate content.

Current efforts, such as those of the SWC mentioned above, are useful and important to the cause of cyberbullying and violence. To end cyber violence against all girls and women, however, requires an honest and in-depth look at the underlying perceptions, attitudes, and social trends that are creating cyber bullies and developing strategies to confront them.

In a letter to the Minister of Justice and Minister of Status of Women Canada dated December 2, 2013, CFUW raised these concerns and recommendations with the government.

Take Action During the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence

Today commences the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, a global campaign first developed in 1991 by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL) at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

The campaign’s theme this year is “From Peace at Home to Peace in the World: Let’s Challenge Militarism and End Violence Against Women!” This is the fourth consecutive year that the CWGL has elected this theme, which focuses on militarism as a product of a culture of fear that is propagated by violence and on military intervention in political and social conflicts or to implement a particular economic or political agenda.

16 Days has continued with the three priority areas they identified in the 2012 campaign: violence perpetrated by state actors; domestic violence and the role of small arms; and sexual violence during and after conflict.

Violence perpetrated by state actors refers to the acts of aggression women encounter that are supported by government or political figures. Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and other activists are particularly vulnerable to this abuse, being assaulted both physically and sexually. Women’s voices are silenced by authority figures, and in some places, they are punished for the crimes committed against them by facing social prejudice and ostracization.

The second priority area, domestic violence and the role of small arms, highlights a major danger to women inside their own homes. The unfortunate fact is that the majority of the world’s women will experience violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lives. Statistics have shown that the presence of a gun in a household almost triples the risk of death for women.

The last priority area, sexual violence during and after conflict, is a real threat to all women internationally. Women and girls who are living in refugee camps or who work or live near military bases are particularly vulnerable to this peril. This kind of violence can stay with women physically, psychologically and socially long after the abuse has ended.

The 16 Days campaign has created a strong social presence for itself to encourage active global participation in this important event. For instance, their Twitter account engages people using a “Question of the Day” to be answered by individuals using the #16Days hashtag. They also have a Facebook page, a Campaign Calendar where organization’s and groups can report on their activities during the 16 Days, and forums where individuals can discuss issues relating to gender and violence.

One very useful resource provided by the campaign is the Take Action Kit, available through their website. It provides documents containing more in-depth information on the campaign and each of the three priority areas, as well as document templates so groups can do their own advocacy in the community.

Canada’s National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women also falls within the 16 Days campaign on December 6th. Established in 1991 by the Parliament of Canada, December 6th marks the anniversary of the murders of 14 young women at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal in 1989.

Since CFUW is engaging in a National Initiative on Violence against Women this year, a number of resources have also been created for our members to use during the 16 Days campaign, particularly December 6th:

The campaign will conclude on December 10, International Human Rights Day. To find out more about the campaign, and to find ways to participate in your area, please visit the 16 Days website at

CFUW joins in calling on the Government of Canada to Fund Abortion Services Abroad

October 21, 2013

The Honourable Christian Paradis, P.C., MP
Confederation Building Room 507
Ottawa, ONK1A 0A6

The Honourable Kellie Leitch, P.C., MP
House of Commons
Ottawa, ONK1A 0A6

Dear Ministers Paradis and Leitch,

As organizations who are deeply committed to the rights of women and girls, we are very concerned by recent statements regarding the Government of Canada’s refusal to fund safe abortion services abroad, including in cases of rape and for young women and girls in forced marriages. This approach represents a serious setback on women’s human rights and the health and wellbeing of survivors of sexual violence and girls in early and forced marriages.

As many as 70%of women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and the first sexual experience among up to a third of them is forced. These women are twice as likely to experience unintended pregnancies. A significant proportion of these women and girls seek to terminate these pregnancies. Legal and social barriers and a lack of availability of quality services lead to the 22 million unsafe abortions that the WHO estimates take place each year, which result in 13% of the maternal deaths that occur worldwide. Death and injury from unsafe abortion increases dramatically in conflict situations, where women and girls are often vulnerable to rape, sexual assault and other gender-based violence. In such situations, 20-50% of maternal deaths are related to unsafe abortion. UN Secretary General, Ban-Ki Moon has made clear that “access to safe emergency contraception and services for the termination of pregnancies resulting from rape should be an integral component of any multisectoral response.”

The health needs, including the sexual and reproductive health needs, of the millions of married young women and girls must also be addressed by Canadian efforts on early and forced marriage overseas. Married girls are twice as likely to experience sexual violence, encounter unwanted pregnancies and seek to terminate those pregnancies. WHO evidence shows that restrictions placed on abortion services or the lack of availability of safe services do not reduce abortion rates. They force women and adolescent girls to turn to unsafe methods and unskilled providers which can result in permanent disability or death. These deaths are entirely preventable. In low and middle income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19.

The majority of countries worldwide permit abortion either in cases of rape or to preserve a woman’s mental health. Globally, 134 countries permit abortion to preserve a woman’s mental health, in cases of rape and/or upon request. Twenty-four out of Canada’s thirty-three[1] “countries of focus” for international development permit abortion on grounds of women’s mental health, rape or without restriction. Given the legal permissibility of abortion in most of these countries as well as in Canada, there is ample scope for Canadian international cooperation efforts to support increased access to safe and legal abortion services for women and adolescent girls as part of a comprehensive and integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services. According to the WHO: “Ready access to contraception and to early, safe abortion significantly reduces high rates of maternal mortality and morbidity; it prevents the costs currently imposed by unsafe abortion on health systems and on society and individuals.”

Canada’s refusal to provide women with access to safe abortion services constitutes not only a deeply troubling inconsistency with Canadian law, which permits abortion regardless of reason as an essential medical service, but also international agreements that Canada has made. In the ICPD Programme of Action and the Beijing Platform for Action, governments agreed and committed to provide women with a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion. Failing to provide women and adolescent girls with access to a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, which includes safe abortion, denies them their human rights, including their fundamental rights to life, to health, to bodily autonomy, to decide freely about the number and spacing of children, to self-determination, to freedom from torture, and to freedom from discrimination as well as the right to be protected from violence. By insisting that Canadian funds cannot be used to fund access to safe abortion services, Canada is complicit in the continued violation of women’s and girls’ human rights overseas.

We call on the Canadian government to: 

  1. Include access to safe abortion services as part of the package of sexual and reproductive health services funded by Canadian international cooperation initiatives;
  2. Support effective strategies to ensure that survivors of sexual violence and young women and girls in early and forced marriage have access to a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, including safe abortion; and
  3. Produce clear policy for Canada’s international initiatives that adopts a human rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health.

The lives of women around the world, particularly survivors of sexual violence and married young women and girls, depend on their access to a life-saving service. Canada can be a leader on these issues: let’s not let women and girls down.


The undersigned organizations:

  • Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) / Coalition pour le droit à l’avortement au Canada (CDAC)
  • Action Canada for Population and Development / Action Canada pour la population et le développement
  • Amnesty International Canada (English)
  • Amnistie InternationalCanada (Francophone)
  • Canadian Council of Muslim Women
  • Canadian Federation for Sexual Health
  • Canadian Federation of University Women
  • Canadian Women’s Foundation
  • Choice in Health Clinic
  • Clinique des femmes de l’Outaouais
  • Fédération du Québec pour le planning des naissances (FQPN)
  • Kensington Clinic
  • Institute for International Women’s Rights – Manitoba
  • Inter Pares
  • MATCH International Women’s Fund
  • Oxfam Canada
  • Oxfam Quebec
  • Planned Parenthood Ottawa
  • West Coast LEAF
  • Women’s Health Clinic, Winnipeg
  • Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund / Fonds d’action et d’education juridiques pour les femmes
  • YWCA Canada

CC The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C.
Prime Minister of Canada

CC Hélène Laverdière, NPD, MP
NDP International Development Critic

CC Kirsty Duncan, Liberal, MP
Liberal International Development and Status of Women Critic

CC Paul Dewar, NDP, MP
NDP Foreign Affairs Critic

CC Marc Garneau, Liberal, MP
Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic

CC Niki Ashton, NDP, MP
NDP Status of Women Critic

[1]Includes the 14 countries of the Caribbean programme.

CFUW Celebrates Achievements and Pushes for Ongoing Progress in Education on the International Day of the Girl Child

OTTAWA, October 11, 2013 – The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) invites all Canadians to join in celebrating the second annual International Day of the Girl Child this Friday October 11th. This year, the United Nations theme, “Innovating for Girls’ Education”, encourages us to reflect on the progress Canada has made in this area and envision where improvements can continue to be made. It reminds us that millions of girls are denied the basic right to attend primary and secondary school in many countries.

“The present condition of education for girls sets the stage for the future condition of humanity,” said Susan Murphy, President of CFUW. “We must celebrate what we have been able to achieve in education for girls in Canada, but remember that many girls across the world are not as fortunate. A country like Canada can make a huge difference in the lives of girls and societies at large, by providing development assistance specifically for the purposes of educating girls at all levels”.

Globally, two thirds of the world’s 775 million illiterate adults are female.  In primary school, progress has been made in achieving parity between girls and boys; however, only 2 out of 130 countries have achieved that target at all levels of education. Poverty and violence against girls remain major barriers to secondary education, especially among older girls.

While outcomes in education have improved dramatically for Canadian girls, innovation is still possible and necessary. In the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) women are under-represented; new approaches are needed to address these imbalances. As the harmful effects of hyper sexualizing women and girls through the media become more evident, the role of the education system, particularly in promoting media literacy, becomes critical. The growing concern about bullying calls for educational tools to be developed to help counteract this increasingly alarming trend.

“The recent implementation of a Gender Studies course in the Ontario Secondary School curriculum is an excellent example of the continuous innovation that is possible. This course will enable students to learn about the nature of gender roles and norms, sexism and power relations, and the impact of representations of women and men in the media, popular culture, and the arts”, said Murphy.

CFUW is a non-partisan, voluntary, self-funded organization with over 100 CFUW Clubs, located in every province across Canada. Since its founding in 1919, CFUW has been working to improve the status of women, and to promote human rights, public education, social justice, and peace. CFUW is the largest affiliate of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), the leading girls’ and women’s global organization run by and for women, advocating for women’s rights, equality and empowerment through access to quality education and training up to the highest levels.


For more information, contact: Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, CFUW; email or 613-234-8252 ext. 106.