Today’s Globe and Mail reported that Ignatieff is calling for Harper to make abortion part of his push for maternal and child health. Harper’s response, via a spokesperson was “[Saving the lives of mothers and children] has nothing to do with abortion. This has nothing to do with gay marriage. This had nothing to do with capital punishment.” The spokesperson then refused to comment on whether or not Harper believes contraception and abortion are important in achieving improvements for maternal and child health. I don’t know about you, but I’m coming up short in trying to figure out what the death penalty and who can marry who has to do with letting women make choices about their bodies and their health. The Conservative spokesperson started off on the right foot by saying, “Saving lives of mothers and children should not be a political football”. That’s a statement we can all agree on – too bad he didn’t stop there.
I’m pretty impressed that Ignatieff is already pushing for Harper to include contraception and abortion in his push for improved maternal health. Even though I was a couple days ahead of Ignatieff (my post last Thursday stated that maternal and child health is a fantastic development goal for Harper to be pushing at the G8 so long as real sex education, not abstinence-only, is included) and his agenda is at least partially driven by recapturing the women’s vote, it is good news that there is a push for contraception and abortion to be included in any plans.
For me, real sex education includes not only contraception and abortion, but also the message no means no. For many people in Canada, it is reminiscent of bra-burning feminists marching in the streets. While that may be the origins of ‘no means no’, it doesn’t take away from the truth and the importance of the message. Men and women, whether in same-sex or opposite-sex dating relationships, one-night stands or long-term monogamous partnerships, should always respect the fact that no means no when it comes to sex.
In Nunavut, where overcrowding due to limited housing is a significant issue (some houses have 12-14 people sharing who must sleep and eat in shifts to accommodate all the bodies) and jobs are difficult to find for many Inuks, it is not uncommon for women to trade sex, not for drugs or money, but for food and shelter. What happens to the ‘no means no’ message when it is undermined by the powerful reality that is the need for food and shelter, especially when children are involved? How can we expect women to tell their male partners no if the consequence is homelessness in a small, isolated community with temperatures perpetually in the miuns 20 range, or lower?
Empowering women goes way beyond bra-burning and marching in the streets. ‘No means no’ can’t be a stand alone initiative. If we are really committed to ensuring its importance, than we need to have the programs in place to support women who say it to their partners and face extreme consequences.
Actions speak louder than words and while all the media campaigns in the world to support ‘no means no’ are great, until they are backed by government action when it comes to shelters for women and children and concrete ways that women can support themselves and their children (if applicable) economically amongst other programs, ‘no means no’ will just be a lot of hot air.
So, to Mr. Ignatieff’s staff, if you are reading this, and Mr. Harper’s spokesman: The Millennium Development Goal of improving maternal health specifically includes “universal access to reproductive health”. Put your money where you mouth is and put education and services on the ground to increase the contraceptive prevalence rate and meet the need for family planning – both targets Canada’s government agreed to way back in 2000. Maternal and child health has to be “more than a political football” and more than hot air and empty words. Women need access to services, and they need them now. Go to it… the clock is ticking. You’ve got 5 years and 331 days. Good luck.
**I’ll write on the issues that arise when comparing the issues in ‘the developing world’ and Nunavut in another post. Its so important, it needs its own space.