Up for the Debate
Thirty years ago Canada held its first and only federal leaders’ debate on women’s issues. The televised debate provided an important opportunity for Canada’s political leaders to address the issues that specifically affect women and tell Canadians how their policies would impact women’s lives.
The world has changed significantly since that first debate. More women than ever before are graduating from university, entering new professions, and running for public office.
But the world hasn’t changed enough. Because of enduring gender inequality, women continue to form the majority of people living in poverty in Canada.
Domestic and sexual violence directly impacts women from every walk of life – driving more than 8,000 women and children in Canada to seek protection from a shelter or transition home on any given day – and levels of violence against Aboriginal women and girls are completely unacceptable. Young women graduating today will still earn 20% less than their male peers for the same full-time work, will be promoted less often to senior management positions, and will spend twice as much time doing unpaid work at home.
In spite of women’s crucial contributions to the economic, social and democratic life of Canada, their concerns received scant attention in the 2011 federal leaders’ debates. The word ‘women’ was rarely pronounced, and only one policy issue specifically affecting women (violence against women) was mentioned – once. Yet in that election, over half a million more women turned out to vote than men.
175 women’s organizations campaigned together to coordinate a national campaign called “Up for Debate”. Once the election was called, the Up for Debate campaign (through petitions) put pressure for a nationally broadcast debate for the leaders to tell voters how they intended to build a Canada that works for women. Over 500,000 participants supported the concept through online petitions. When leaders wouldn’t come to the table, the campaign went to Plan B and pushed for one on one exclusive interviews with each leader on the issues. It may not have been the debate that was first aimed for – but we’ve set an important precedent – women and their rights were taken as a ballot box issue! – WHAT A HISTORIC MOMENT!