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Trudeau’s neo-liberal trade, water & energy policies negate his self-described feminism

Trudeau’s failure to respect the free, prior and informed consent provision of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples contributes to violence against women in Indigenous territories.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau describes himself as a feminist, his policies that endorse ‘free trade’, water privatization, tar sands pipelines and resource extraction hurt women. Trudeau reportedly will make inclusive growth and gender equality the major themes of the G7 summit he will host at a luxury resort in Quebec next May/June, but the review below suggests his own policies fail in that regard.


The U.S.-based National Organization for Women (NOW) has commented, “There have been two established patterns with free trade agreements: they tend to export jobs abroad and depress wages. …This makes the Trans-Pacific Partnership a feminist issue. When wages are lowered, this disproportionately affects women who are still subjected to gender-based pay discrimination and persistent patterns of low pay in occupations dominated by women – especially women of color — such as retail, food service and day care/nursing home and home health care attendants.”

NOW adds, “Another controversial and deeply troubling aspect of the TPP is its inclusion of Brunei, a country that [in 2014] passed horrific anti-LGBTQIA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer, Intersex, Asexual] and anti-women legislation. Under these new laws, a penal code calls for the stoning of people who engage in same-sex relationships, the jailing of people who have abortions, and fines or imprisonment for women who give birth out of wedlock. A trade agreement that supports a country with such barbarically restrictive laws cannot call itself ‘free’.”


Nicole Hurtubise, the CEO of WaterAid Canada, has commented, “In the developing world, women and girls collectively spend as many as 200 million hours fetching water every single day. All of that wasted time denies girls the opportunity to go to school regularly. But it doesn’t end there. Many schools do not have decent, private toilets. Without them, girls are often forced to drop out of school altogether when they start menstruating. In fact, over one third of women and girls worldwide suffer the daily indignity of relieving themselves in the open, vulnerable to prying eyes and subjected to harassment or even rape every single time they need to use the bathroom.”

A report by the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health (to which the Blue Planet Project’s Meera Karunananthan was a contributor) notes, “Here in Canada, perhaps the most important consideration is that women tend to make up a large percentage of low income households, and privatizing water, which can lead to consumer price hikes, more disconnections from the water supply, poorer water quality, and increased health risks will disproportionately impact women in a negative way.”

It adds, “Given the vast number of ‘boil water advisories’ and ‘do not consume’ orders still plaguing many First Nation communities, [Indigenous women] are least likely to have access to clean drinking water.”

And it notes, “Privatization in the form of using bottled water will likely only add to their poverty, and fails to address Aboriginal women’s fundamental spiritual connection with clean water. This is compounded by the fact that Aboriginal people often lack sovereignty over their own water sources and have often seen the closure of their water sources by government or the overuse and contamination of water sources due to industrialization.”


In an October 2016 blog, David Suzuki wrote, “Human-rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Kairos have also drawn attention to resource development in Indigenous territories, where the influx of transient workers — along with money, alcohol and drugs from outside the community — puts Indigenous women at risk of aggressive harassment and violence by men.”

He adds, “As environmentalists, we often emphasize the impacts of mining or oil and gas development on wildlife and ecosystems but ignore the staggering social consequences for Indigenous communities, especially women. Amnesty International’s research on the social impacts of resource development in northeast B.C.’s booming Peace Region – in a report titled Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Gender, Indigenous Rights, and Energy Development in Northeast British Columbia, Canada – has uncovered numerous accounts of attacks on women and girls, including ‘domestic violence, encounters with strangers that ranged from aggressive harassment to brutal violence, including unsolicited offers of drugs and money for sex, sexual assault and gang rapes’.”

There are also the key issues of pay equity (even though women earn about 74 cents for every dollar made by men – and there are committee studies dating back to 2004 that call for action – Trudeau has called for another study and postponed legislation until the end of 2018) and the national inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women (which Pam Palmater says is “fatally flawed” because its terms of reference does not include a review of all the known police case files of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls nor a comprehensive review and investigation of police behaviour, specifically racism, abuse and sexualized violence of indigenous women and girls by police forces).

Commenting on Trudeau’s failure to legislate pay equity, The Globe and Mail’s Rita Trichur says, “It’s high time for our feminist Prime Minister to walk the talk. Trudeau told the United Nations that he’ll continue calling himself a ‘feminist until it is met with a shrug’. Thus far, his policies aimed at helping women ought to elicit just that.”

While her point is well-taken, Trudeau’s policies should also be met with outrage and a call to make real change.