"Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha" by Walter Callens (http://www.flickr.com/photos/waltercallens/385807779/. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
“Young Saudi Arabian woman in Abha” by Walter Callens (Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the practice of covering one’s face with a niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-women.” Harper and his caucus have been caught spanking entire cultures and attacking various religions for their practices with regards to women.

Well, if anyone knows about cultures that are anti-women, it’s Harper. In fact, he’s an expert on the subject based on his actions here in Canada and abroad. Perhaps a little self-flagellation may be needed on Harper’s part since our prime minister is more than a little naughty on women’s issues.

Let’s look at Harper’s bad boy behaviour:

  1. In his first year as prime minister he abruptly cancelled the national childcare program the previous government had been negotiating with the provinces. It was replaced with a taxable $100/month bonus. The amount was a throwback to the 1950’s and families across the country said, “you’ve got to be kidding.”
  2. Also in those early days after he was elected, the Harper government shut down 12 out of 16 regional offices of Status of Women Canada offices. Not satisfied with that, he then cut funding to research and advocacy work and effectively silenced a number of women’s rights groups. A chill remains even today due to threats of “advocacy audits” hanging over these and other social justice groups by Revenue Canada.
  3. Even when he promises to advance women’s issues, Harper can’t be trusted. He rejected recommendations from a federal task force to move forward with pay equity, breaking his promise made during the 2006 election. Pay equity calls for equal pay for work of equal value, a concept that many women believe is essential for full gender equality. The idea has gone almost nowhere in the past 10 years.
  4. Going even further in 2009, Harper buried critical changes to the legal definition of pay equity in the omnibus budget bill. The result is that changes in terminology mean higher pay is protected for men even if the work is of equal value. It’s a man’s world and Harper wants to make sure it stays that way.
  5. When the mandatory long-form census became optional, the Harper government cut questions on unpaid household chores and caregiving. This is a dismissal of the substantial contribution of women to our society and our economy. If there’s no data, it doesn’t exist. Stay-at-home moms don’t even register in the Harper ledger.
  6. After initially trying to exclude birth control from his government’s billion dollar investment in maternal and child health in developing countries, Harper had to back down. But the final aid package absolutely excluded funding for access to abortions, something wealthy countries recognize as essential. Apparently, women living in poverty do not deserve equal health treatment in Harper’s world view.
  7. The Conservative Party of Canada and before that, the Progressive Conservative Party, has consistently ranked below the main opposition parties in putting forward women as candidates in every election since 1997. The Inter-Parliamentary Union ranks Canada 48th in the world on their “List of Women in National Parliaments.” Canada ranks lower than countries such as Cuba, Uganda, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Algeria.
  8. The Harper government seems bent on rewarding a system where couples have one person earning a much higher income than the other. The new income-splitting program uses $2 billion of taxpayer dollars (that’s just one year’s loss of revenue) to reward the wealthiest 15 per cent of couples whose incomes are radically disproportionate. Don’t even dream of seeing much of any benefit from that — unless you’re making the big bucks.
  9. After the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s prostitution law because it violated the rights of sex workers, the government promptly reintroduced a nearly identical law, confounding the courts and women’s advocates. Legal experts believe both the old and the newly introduced law will put sex workers (mostly women) at increased risk of harm.
  10. Also “not high on the government’s radar,” according to Harper, are calls from women’s groups and Amnesty International for an inquiry into the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women. All evidence points to a systemic problem with crimes against this most vulnerable group. A compassionate prime minister would undertake an investigation into the issue. Oh, right.

One final smackdown of Harper as “defender of women.” While Sweden, Germany and other countries are turning their backs on Saudi Arabia because their record on human rights is simply untenable, Canada is going forward with a plan to sell the Saudis $10 billion worth of Canadian-made armoured cars.

It’s a country where women are seen as “lacking capacity” to think for themselves so men must look after them. So Harper thinks it’s a good idea to give them more weapons to oppress their citizens?

And it gets worse. Governed by a strict moral code, women must cover themselves head-to-toe when in public. Adultery is punishable by death. One woman was recently tried, convicted and beheaded in a public street by a sword-wielding official. The entire horrific incident was filmed and posted on YouTube to send a message…ISIS-style.

No problem, says Harper, “let’s do business.”

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