UN Human Rights Committee Finds Social Programme Cuts Discriminate Against Women

For immediate release
April 12, 1999

(Vancouver) On Friday April 9, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed its concern about high rates of poverty among Canadian women and about the harmful impact on women of recent cuts to social programmes. These cuts, the Committee says, have exacerbated the inequality of women and other disadvantaged groups.

"This is the second UN Committee to find that the high rates of poverty amongst Canadian women signal Canada's failure to meet its obligations under international human rights law. Clearly, women's poverty is a human rights concern," said Margot Young of the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL). "The Committee particularly noted the very high incidence of poverty among single mothers and cited the negative effects on women of recent social programme restructuring as one of the reasons for such poverty."

Canada has faced two reviews by international human rights Committees within the last five months. The first Committee reviewed Canada's performance under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva last November.

The second, the U.N. Human Rights Committee in New York, has assessed Canada's compliance under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Submissions were made by NAWL in both review processes.

Young stated, "Canada stands taken to task by both Committees for Canadian women's poverty and economic inequality. Both Committees have recommended that Canada take immediate steps to address discrimination against women resulting from reductions in social programme provision."

"This is a precedent-setting decision on the part of the Human Rights Committee," said Shelagh Day, Special Human Rights Advisor to NAWL. " The Committee has addressed the joint issue of women's poverty and the harmful impact of social programme cuts on women as an equality issue. This is important recognition that discrimination against women can have economic dimensions and that cuts to social programmes have discriminatory impact on women."

"The Human Rights Committee recommends a thorough assessment of the impact on women of recent changes in social programmes and action to redress the discriminatory effects," said Day. "Now Canadian women are looking forward to the response of their governments."

NAWL is a on-profit equality-seeking organization whose members are lawyers, law students, judges, academics, and other equality-seeking individuals and groups. For twenty-five years, NAWL has worked for and achieved progressive law reform.

Margot Young is a member of the National Steering Committee of NAWL and an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Victoria. She can be contacted at (604) 822-4669.

Shelagh Day is Special Human Rights Advisor to NAWL and Senior Editor of the Canadian Human Rights Reporter. She can be contacted at (604) 872-0750.