No Longer a Champion of Women’s Rights?

Senator Mobina Jaffer
August 15, 2013

Canada has historically been a champion for women’s rights. Since 1994, Canada has led the negotiation of resolutions on violence against women in the United Nations Human Rights Council. Each year, Canada works to make the resolutions stronger, providing more protections and security for women around the world. Unfortunately, our government has taken a major step backwards on women’s rights.

On Monday June 10, our government presented a draft resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council on sexual violence against women. The text ignored entirely the importance of sexual and reproductive health rights for survivors of rape, even though it has been widely recognized that education and health services play a fundamental role in responding to the widespread sexual violence that women and girls continue to face. Yet, the proposed resolution excluded references to sexual education for adolescent girls. It also failed to mention a number of critical health services that must be made available to survivors of sexual violence including emergency contraception, safe abortion, post-exposure treatment for HIV, and screening and testing for sexually transmitted infections. This absent language did not go unnoticed.

Immediately following the presentation of the resolution, Amnesty International launched a campaign to call on Canada to work quickly and actively to reintroduce stronger language on sexual and reproductive health in the text. Without stronger language, this resolution will be seriously incomplete.

Alex Neve, the Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, explained, “From women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women and girls in Canada—all rape survivors have the right to life, physical security, equality and the right to health. For these rights to be realized, women and girls must have access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and they need champions in government to stand up for these rights.”

Unfortunately, the weak language in the text submitted by Canada has led some to question whether Canada will continue to be a champion for women’s rights. The Director General of Amnesty International Francophone Branch questioned, “Does Canada no longer care about sexual and reproductive health services and their vital importance for survivors of rape?”I have always been proud of the leadership Canada has shown on women’s rights in the past. As chair of the Human Rights Committee and a dedicated voice for women’s rights, I find this truly concerning. On Friday June 14, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted this text, effectively lowering the bar for women’s rights. This step backwards is unacceptable.

Canada has previously been a champion of these issues and yet, this step backwards occurred while our government was the lead negotiator on this resolution. I am calling on our government to reassess this text in the future to ensure we are standing up for women’s rights and ensuring the full and necessary protections to victims of sexual violence around the world. Women’s rights are what Canadians value.


Senator Mobina Jaffer represents the province of British Columbia in the Senate of Canada, where she chairs the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights. From 2002 to 2005, she chaired the Canadian Committee on Women, Peace, and Security. Most recently, Senator Jaffer chaired a Senate study on the sexual exploitation of children in Canada and the need for national action.

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