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Liberal government’s ‘baby steps’ on women’s issues not going far enough: critic

Click to play video 'Liberals unveil new ‘feminist’ foreign aid, but not much new money' Liberals unveil new ‘feminist’ foreign aid, but not much new money
The Liberals this week unveiled their new ‘feminist’ foreign aid policy, but not much in terms of new money.

Though women’s rights were certainly not at the centre of a couple of busy weeks in Parliament, they were included among recent big-ticket announcements from the Liberals – a shift that gives some advocates and critics hope, though they caution the recent announcements are “baby steps.”

Despite branding themselves as feminists, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government have been widely criticized for talking the talk without walking the walk.

Over the past few days, however, Liberal ministers have announced a collection of policies touching on women’s and gender issues.

READ MORE: Is the Armed Forces’ goal to bring on more women out of reach?

Last week, foreign affairs unveiled an international aid policy suite aimed at women’s rights, while National Defence announced more family- and health-oriented programs within the military.

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This week, the government announced investments in child care, a list of projects to advance gender equality that will receive federal funding and that Canada will play host to a 2019 international conference on gender equality.

Is the Liberal government starting to walk the walk on women’s issues?

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Closing the gender gap in B.C. politics

Just a few months ago, Oxfam Canada issued a scorecard on the government’s actions regarding women’s rights – not just its rhetoric.

The scorecard rated the Trudeau Liberals in eight categories affecting women’s welfare in Canada and abroad. The Liberals won praise in only one category (representation and leadership), failed another (jobs and pay equity) and were acknowledged for making at least some progress in the other six (care work, violence against women, global development, tax, climate change and conflict and crisis).

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READ MORE: Ottawa signs $7B national child care deal with provinces

Steps the government has taken since the score card’s release in March – which includes those mentioned above as well as some measures in the 2017 budget – have been positive, said Lauren Ravon, Oxfam Canada’s director of policy and campaigns, said in an interview this week.

Though she said she and her colleagues are not yet satisfied.

“The trend toward announcing funding for women’s rights organizations – grassroots women’s rights organizations – is encouraging for us,” Ravon said.

“Whenever you look at funding levels for this, the amounts are always so small compared to other areas.”

Indeed, the defence policy included a significant boost of spending over a number of years. The “feminist” foreign aid policy suite, however, had no funding increase.

“When you look at that, it begs the question: can you really do more with less?” Ravon asked.

It doesn’t necessarily all come down to money – at least not immediately, she said.

Having women’s issues as a cornerstone of foreign aid policy is “huge,” she said. Plus, it can potentially position the minister to seek further funding in the next budget, she said.

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While the government’s recent steps give women’s rights advocates hope, Ravon and her colleagues still need to keep an eye out and make sure the government continues moving forward, she said.

For example, she said, the issue of the gender pay gap is still big problem, she said.

NDP status of women critic Sheila Malcolmson pointed to the same issue, describing the pay gap as a “huge hole.”

READ MORE: Why the gender pay gap still exists and what women can do to close it by 2066

“Pay equity is still a huge problem,” she said before acknowledging some actions the government has taken. “The child care framework is a baby step, though.”

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The Liberals campaigned in 2015 on a promise of inclusive growth, though they’ve taken few steps since their majority win to ensure a woman is paid and valued equally to her male colleagues.

Statistics Canada data shows female workers earn 68.4 per cent of what their male counterparts take home, and represent two-thirds of part-time workers.

“Canadian women have been waiting a long time for equality, and they had high hopes given the Liberal’s rhetoric,” Malcolmson said. “[The Liberals] have raised expectations so high, and now it’s time to put the legislation and dollars down to make it work.”