March 29, 2011
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) is dismayed and deeply concerned over the New Brunswick’s government ill-informed decision to abolish the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women (ACSW).
The ACSW’s mandate is to promote equity for women in all sectors of New Brunswick society. It was brought into existence in 1975, after New Brunswick women organized a provincial conference that resulted in a law being that created the Advisory Council in 1975, with its first members appointed in December 1977. On women’s issues, the ACSW is the only government body that sets its own agenda, priorities, and positions. The NB government plans to “absorb” the ACSW into the Women’s Issues Branch to “eliminate overlap,” ostensibly to save money. But there is no overlap between the two agencies, and the ACSW’s most important defining feature is that it is an arms-length agency with the freedom to criticize the government. Obviously, a government department cannot act as an independent voice for the New Brunswick women. Further, the ACSW has a budget of only $418,000 and two staff positions will be shifted from the ACSW to the Women’s Issues Branch, so the savings from abolishing the ACSW won’t even be the full $418 000. The small amount of money being saved means that the government’s decision is being made for ideological reasons, not financial ones.The real reasons that the ACSW is being threatened with abolition is because it lobbies effectively for pay equity, releases accurate reports on how much free labour NB women provide in child and elder care, and strongly advocates for progressive change in the province. But the NB government wants women and families to bear the financial costs associated with inequality, and by abolishing the ACSW, the government is actually ensuring that no-one will have the ability to publicize women’s inequality or fight against it.
The ACSW was set up with a mandate from NB’s women, who still have a great need for this agency. Even though it’s over 30 years later, the importance of this agency has not changed, because New Brunswick remains one of the most retrograde places for women in the country. For example, New Brunswick is the only remaining province in Canada that still forces women to obtain prior permission from two doctors before they can get a funded abortion; otherwise, they must pay out-of-pocket for abortion services at the Frederiction Morgentaler Clinic. This stance is harmful and discriminatory against women, especially disadvantaged women, and it is a blatant violation of federal law (Canada Health Act) and Supreme Court precedent (R. v. Morgentaler, 1988).
It is very sad to see a provincial government in Canada that is still so openly hostile to the equality and human rights of half its population. Abolishing the Advisory Council on the Status of Women is a disgraceful and callous move that reveals not just the government’s hostility to and disregard of women, but their palpable fear of women. The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada urges the government of New Brunswick to show respect and concern for NB women by immediately reversing its decision to abolish the ACSW.
Joyce Arthur, Executive Director, Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada