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Canada’s (cis male) Leaders refuse to bring women’s issues Up for Debate

A lot has happened in thirty years. Canada has continued to adapt to the pressures of globalization while tackling internal questions on citizenship, the francophone identity and recognizing indigenous rights.  Advances have been admittedly slow on all fronts – especially with the reign of Stephen Harper – but one major group that has been left out of the debate arena (that also has the potential to touch all the topics named previously) is women.

Since 1984, there has not been a leaders’ debate on women-indicated issues in Canada and, it seems like we are going to have to wait a little longer.

There was a monumental event panned for the end of the summer by a group called Up for Debate which would bring four party leaders together to discuss topics chosen by women for women. Initially, after very slow traction, Trudeau (Liberal), Elizabeth May (Green) and Gilles Duceppe (Bloc Quebecois) had all invested in the public debate. But, tensions between the Harper (Conservative) and Mulcair made both of their attendance precarious and, ultimately, failed.

Mulcair has vowed to abstain from any debate Harper will not attend. Politically, on one hand, this makes sense. As the leader of the official opposition, the NDP leader wants to use debates as a platform to spar with his perceived biggest political opponent. For voters and socio-political activists, however, this is frustrating.

For Up for Debate, this means that a whole slew of women’s issues will not be discussed because the men refuse, yet again, to show up to the table.

Some of the topics defined by Up for Debate include gendered violence, economic inequality and promoting women in roles of leadership. One very important issue the debate has the potential to bring forward for meaningful debate s that of missing and murdered indigenous women. While Harper continues to claim it’s a non-issue, indigenous girls and women face a significantly higher rate of violence from men.

The public debate has been cancelled, but there is a plan B. Up for Debate will privately interview each candidate on the chosen topics and air the results later this fall.

While yesterday’s news was disappointing, we remain determined to put women’s issues at the centre of this election!…

Posted by Up for Debate on Tuesday, August 25, 2015

As much as the ‘boys club’ mentality of discussing women’s issues is perpetuated by this set-up and election as a whole (despite Elizabeth May’s participation), discussion is still the first step. Showing young, elderly, all self-identifying women that their struggles and ideas are valid is progress towards empowering and creating political space for the future.


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Written by Sarah Foot

Sarah Foot is a native Vancouverite who, conveniently, loves the smell of rain. A recent graduate from Simon Fraser University, she is passionate about the topics of feminism, agency and sexuality. When she isn’t writing up a sweet-smelling storm, you can catch Sarah dancing, petting dogs or on her blog Ink and Jam. You can also follow her day-to-day ponderings on twitter @sarahfoot.

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