Monthly Archives: October 2013

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.

Sincerely,

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.

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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.

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

CFUW Marks World Mental Health Day with a Focus on Older Women

OTTAWA, October 10, 2013 – The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW) is marking World Mental Health Day today by raising awareness about older women’s mental health concerns. The year’s theme is “Mental Health and Older Adults”.

Older adults are those over the age of 65, and according to Statistics Canada, are the fastest growing age group in Canada, with women outnumbering men by almost 2:1 by age 80.

Women of all ages may struggle with their mental health. The gender specific risk factors leading to mental illness in women include violence, poverty and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and continuous responsibility for the care of others.  There are however some marked differences in women’s mental health needs across the lifespan. Younger women for instance may require mental health supports related to pregnancy, post-partum depression, gender-based violence, body image issues and eating disorders, among others. Older women on the other hand, have particular needs associated with diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia, but may also suffer from mental illnesses that stem from ongoing, or histories of violent victimization.

Many other factors affect the mental health of older women including grief, loneliness, retirement, financial instability, and physical health issues. Some of facts associated with older women’s mental health include:

  • Depression is twice as common in women, and recent research suggests it may be more persistent. It is also particularly common among the elderly, many of whom are undiagnosed;
  • Older adults have the highest rates of suicide, compared to other groups;
  • Older women are also twice more likely to develop dementia, in part due to their greater longevity than men; and
  • Financial abuse is particularly common among older women, which can have profound and long-term impacts on their quality of life and mental health.

“CFUW strongly supports the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s work to improve the lives of those touched by mental illness”, said Susan Murphy, President of CFUW. “Last year CFUW passed a resolution at our Annual General Meeting supporting the MHCC’s Mental Health Strategy for Canada, and calling for its full implementation. We want to see the strategy implemented across Canada in ways that are responsive to age, gender and socio-economic status differences.”

CFUW encourages Canadians to reach out to their local representatives and join us in this call.  

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.

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For more information, contact: Tara Fischer, Advocacy Coordinator, CFUW; email: advocacy@fcfdu.org; phone: 613-234-8252 ext. 106.