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From SOW to WAGE?

Maryam Monsef announced a potentially major change to Status of Women today and it's giving me feeeeeeelings.

All I've got to go on so far is the release, which you can read here.

First of all, I miss Kate. I miss Kate so much, especially in moments like this. Her brilliant mind would be tearing apart the sparse press release and helping us all digest this information.

Fuck cancer.

Living in a world without Kate means I gotta make sense of policy on my own and frankly, I'm torn.

Renaming the department from Status of Women Canada to Department for Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) means it has a fancy new acronym. It should, in theory, mean that the new Department will be truly committed to intersectionality with GBA+; a framework that means looking at every policy decision through a gendered lens while the + means including race, class, age, ability, etc. This is great news!

The release also mentions legislating the Department which is both really smart and really depressing. What does it say about our society that in 2018, we have to enshrine into law that women and marginalized folks need their own policy shop and funder within the Canadian government? Well, living in Ontario, it tells me that this government is not wanting to recreate how DoFo has completely desecrated all the amazing work Wynne and the Liberals did for women here.

So enshrining the department into law is a smart move.

But let's unpack the name.

During my very brief time as a bureaucrat within the federal government, there was a shift in language from "Violence against women" to "Gender based violence". At the grassroots level, I saw people welcome the change thinking it meant trans and non-binary exclusion. But nope. Far from it. It was the Harper era. They didn't give a shit about trans people. They were simply co-opting our social justice language to create space for men's issues. They knew that we wouldn't argue against Gender-Based Violence because it sounds like our jam. But what they meant was "Now we can talk about women being violent to men!" They played us. 

I have this same concern about the new WAGE Department. Yes, they still kept "Women" in there, which is great. But I worry that anytime you move away from centering women, you don't create the inclusive space you think you are; you're instead creating a way for misogynist, but-what-about-the-men to creep in.

And I can't help but wonder: Would people support an increase in funding and support for the department if it was still just called the wee ole department of ladies? If it's the edgy new name and expanded mandate that's so enticing to people, what does that tell us? 

The acronym is telling, too. 

The release and some of the language I've seen in various speeches by the Minister and other leaders is very much focused on economic advancement and that whole "Helping women helps the economy" argument which to be honest - bums me the fuck out.

I am truly proud to live in a country where the Prime Minister travels the world and normalizes feminism. I truly love that he is a role model for healthy masculinity in many ways (That awful boxing match notwithstanding!) 

But to be a true feminist and ally, you have to do the tough work, too. You have to have the courage to say "Gender equality is important because women are human beings who deserve better than what they've got so far. Not because it'll put more money into the economy. Not because it'll grow the middle class. Not because it'll help men. But because women suffered for too long and misogyny needs to end."

And I don't get that strong vibe these days; certainly not from the release. (Again. It's one press release. It's not a lot. Things could change, I know!) 

All this news is bold. It's bold for a government, leading into an election, to make this kind of commitment to any department, let alone one that is seen as inherently controversial. It's bold for a federal government to commit to supporting the women's rights sector, especially since so much of the work needed to eradicate gender inequity is a provincial issue.

Additionally, committing to supporting civil society is not just a nice thing to do. It's proven to be the most effective way of ensuring gender equity

I have spent the last decade or so pondering what that means for Canadian feminism, though. 90% of our sector is funded by various levels of government. We've taken that for granted for a long time but I think it's time to stop and question. I mean, the decade of Harper's reign should have been our wakeup call that relying on government funding means you become absolutely demolished when that government turns against you. It means you tip toe around criticizing them because frankly, governments are known to be thin skinned and vindictive. Nobody wants to bite the hand that feeds.

But a government that genuinely cares about making this country better for women needs to be open to criticism. And by making the federal government another big player in the funding game of women's organizations, I worry that we set ourselves up to be dependent again. And should a conservative government come into power (Big C and little c), then we're seriously fucked.

All in all, I'm here for a boost to Status of Women/Whatever you wanna call it. 

My dear pal Kate showed us that Status of Women's trendiness hasn't translated into much funding and that it remains the saddest department of all, in terms of its spending power.

So I am optimistic that this new announcement means next year's budget won't be so damn demoralizing.

But like any good feminist worth my salt, I'm also cautious. Being a good advocate means setting high standards and I'm hopeful this government will choose to meet them.