CLC to John Baird: Protect Women’s Rights        Posted: Thursday, 13 June 2013

President Ken Georgetti wrote to John Baird, Minister of Foreign Affairs regarding Canada’s position in the current negotiations toward the UN Human Rights Council’s annual resolution on violence against women:

The Honourable John Baird
Minister of Foreign Affairs
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Minister:

On behalf of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and its 3.3 million members across the country, I am writing to express concern at Canada’s position in the current negotiations toward the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) annual resolution on violence against women. The draft text, prepared by Canada, puts the well being of rape survivors around the world at risk. The absence of references to comprehensive sexuality education, sexual and reproductive health services is contrary to already agreed-upon commitments, including the conclusions reached at the most recent UN Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW).

You indicated in an address to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations that women’s rights are an important part of Canada’s foreign policy and a personal priority of yours. You further said that  “As citizens of a global community, we have a solemn duty to defend the vulnerable, to give voice to the voiceless, to challenge the aggressor, and to promote and protect human rights and human dignity, at home and abroad. Speaking out when we see hate and violence also means we cannot be selective about which basic human rights we defend, nor can we be arbitrary about whose rights we protect.”

At the recent session of the UN Commission of the Status of Women, we appreciated the constructive efforts of Canadian negotiators in ensuring the agreed conclusions did not compromise on existing rights and contained strong language on a range of issues, not the least of which were the importance of sexual and reproductive health and services. Canada’s leadership was noted by many of our international colleagues. So the current state of negotiations at the UNHRC is profoundly disappointing as it represents, in our view, a step backwards from Canada’s leadership at the UNCSW.
Survivors of sexual violence are among the world’s most vulnerable and deserve the full realization of women’s rights, including access to sexual and reproductive health services such as emergency contraception, safe abortion, post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and screening and testing for sexually transmitted infections. You have stated that Canada will promote prevention, protection and remedies in its efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls;  sexuality education is an important measure to reduce and prevent gender-based violence, and access to safe abortion services for survivors of rape is fundamental.

Minister Baird, I urge you to shift Canada’s approach at the UN Human Rights Committee and ensure that the text include (at a minimum), commitments to:

  1. providing survivors of sexual violence with essential sexual and reproductive health services;
  2. providing comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents which would promote not just sexual and reproductive health and rights but also gender equality, and hence reduce gender-based violence; and
  3. reviewing abortion laws and regulations that restrict or deny access to safe abortion in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape.

This resolution must represent a move forward from the agreed conclusions of the 57th Session of the UNCSW, not a step backward.


Kenneth V. Georgetti


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