Women's Human Rights Campaign BC and Yukon 0

Defend women's spaces, don't defund them

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Petition and open letter to:

  • United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
  • Canadian Ambassador to the UN
  • BC Council for International Cooperation

Defend - don’t defund - vulnerable women and girls! Women are more in need of crisis services than ever before.

British Columbia, Canada -- In the context of the ongoing pandemic and increasing rates of poverty, violence, and economic coercion drastically affecting the lives of millions of women and girls across Canada and around the world:

We are united in our opposition to those working to strip resources from women and girls in crisis. We must push back against those lobbying to defund and disenfranchise groups that provide services specifically for vulnerable and abused women and girls.

All persons deserve respect, support, dignity, and bodily autonomy, regardless of their physical sex or how they identify. We live in a world of finite resources, and any attempt to disenfranchise service to vulnerable people is deplorable -- even when those attempts are carried out in the name of human rights.

Clearly, given the current crisis and the spike in violence and abuse, women and girls are more in need of resources, not less. Charitable service organizations devoted to female-bodied people have become a crucial lifeline.

The Canadian province of British Columbia is home to the Highway of Tears and the Pickton serial murders, which claimed the lives of dozens of women and girls. More than one hundred Canadian women and girls are murdered every year, almost all at the hands of men. Vancouver is a hub for child prostitution and sex trafficking. The rates of male violence against women are increasing everywhere in the province.

BC is also home to the Morgane Oger Foundation, a charity that is demanding that the government revoke charitable status for groups dedicated to the service of female-bodied people. Despite its ostensible mission of gender equality, this foundation successfully lobbied the city to cancel a $30,000 grant to Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter, the longest-running women’s shelter in Canada.

This punitive action by a supposedly progressive foundation has shocked the conscience of the community. Women across BC, including thousands of past and current clients of the shelter and counselling centre, are horrified that a charitable group that purports to advocate for transgender people is focused instead on “cancelling” women in desperate need of help. Cancelling the grant was purely political; it did not benefit either the lobbying foundation or the larger transgender community. Fortunately, community donations made up for the shelter’s loss, but the political message remained loud and clear: Women in crisis don’t matter.

We support projects and spaces specifically for transgender people, such as the multimillion dollar housing development now underway in Vancouver. We support mixed spaces for people of all genders. We also support the right of all equity-seeking groups to gather in self-defined spaces with self-defined boundaries in order to organize, speak and act without fear of repression.

Survivors of rape, incest, and male violence have an absolute right to seek refuge from biological males, regardless of how they identify. Such refuges for women have existed for centuries.

Women are a protected class under the Human Rights Code, and biological sex is a protected characteristic. As an equity-seeking group, women are fully within our rights to work exclusively for the specific physical, social, and psychological needs of those born female, and to serve them before others. (BC Human RIghts Code, RSBC 1995, Section 41)

According to human rights law, a group organized for a specific demographic may prioritize those individuals, even to the extent of excluding others. This is not “discrimination” but a bona fide and reasonable exemption. That is why Indigenous groups, for example, are not required to admit people who are white or who “identify” as Indigenous. That is why the BC courts upheld Vancouver Rape Relief’s policy of recruiting only women-born women to help women and girls victimized by male-bodied people. (Vancouver Rape Relief Society v. Nixon 2005 BCCA 601)

Attacks on women’s spaces are as old as patriarchy itself. Anyone who pursues an agenda of shutting down women, our spaces and services, is not our ally. We see through those who hide behind a facade of human rights, even at conferences like this one. We are raising this issue now on the occasion of the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women to proclaim, once again, that women have human rights based on sex, and we will not compromise those rights.


Followup: We're sending updates to our supporters as this story evolves. Please email us at whrc.bcyk@gmail.com for more info.

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