While there has been considerable attention in the United States to political moves intended to reduce access to women’s health services, our neighbors to the north are also experiencing conservative-led cuts that affect women’s health. Six Canadian organizations focused on research and communication in women’s health have been told that their funding will be cut off next spring.
The six organizations forming the Women’s Health Contribution Program focus on issues including: the women’s health implications of the federal government’s regulation of toxic chemicals; the hyper-sexualization of girls; the inter-generational legacy of residential schools on Aboriginal women and their families; the need for trauma-informed counselling for women with addictions; a working guide for conducting sex and gender-based analysis in health research; and a critical analysis of funding for the HPV vaccine. The Program’s work has also focused broadly on how to best deliver prevention and health care programs to women and their children.
Staff and directors managing the centres and networks add their voices to the growing body of Canadians who are shocked and outraged by the short-sightedness of the federal government cuts to programs, services and the federal civil service. These cuts are in direct contradiction to the pledges regarding gender equality that Canada has made both in international commitments and to Canadians. Women are being hit particularly hard with these cuts, and, because the research being eliminated generated proactive, preventative strategies for health promotion, these cuts will cost everyone in the long term. The end of this work will be most strongly felt by the disadvantaged and the disempowered.
A spokesperson for Canada’s Health Minister has said that the organizations should compete for funding for individual projects via the $33 million budgeted for “gender health research” through the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR). Critics of the cut have suggested that the move is one more sign that the current administration, led by Conservative Party leader and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is not interested in receiving the groups’ policy advice on women’s health (the non-CIHR groups being cut had a mandate to advise the federal government on policy).
An opinion writer in the Vancouver Sun calls the cuts “penny wise and pound foolish,” writing that:
Set adrift will be researchers and staff with specific expertise; lost will be the opportunity for better and more-effective care and prevention programs for two of the poorest and most vulnerable groups in Canada – elderly women and children growing up in poverty.
Federal budget cuts are also directly affecting programs targeting the health of Aboriginal women in Canada. The Native Women’s Association of Canada points out tremendous health disparities faced by Aboriginal women, calls on the government to rethink its decision, and directly addresses how the move further hurts a vulnerable population:
…more is needed to help local communities struggling with health disparities, but cutting the head off the national voice for Aboriginal women’s health shows a lack of commitment to address the issues that affect the most marginalized population in this country — a country that is envied by many other nations across the globe for its ‘great’ health care system and quality of life