Last spring a budget was announced that stirred media frenzy, especially amongst anti-poverty advocates. There would be no increase in social assistance rates for 2013. And while debates raged over this, a perverse set of cutbacks lurked on the back pages of the budget, initially unread.
Cuts were made to discretionary benefits such as cribs, eyeglasses and household medical supports like bath benches and grab bars. Transitional Benefits which used to ease the way from social services to employment, have been discontinued. Most sinister were the cuts to Community Start Up Benefits and changes to funding formulas for shelters.
Women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage earners. They are the ones most likely not to have benefits, savings or enough hours to qualify for Employment Insurance under new federal regulations. When women are denied a living wage, their efforts in the workforce are demeaned and depreciated.
We march to end violence against women, while our government perpetrates a different form of violence and neglect upon us.
Women struggling to find gainful employment are now left without recourse or mobility in the event of unhealthy living conditions such as bed bugs or mould. Mothers who battle in courts for support are left without cribs and mattresses in the mean time for their children. Household aids provided to those struggling with physical issues are removed, reducing if not eliminating their independence.
And what about the violence? Fleeing abusive situations will only become more difficult for women. As shelters deal with less funding, women and their children are the denied the Community Start Up Benefits to relocate to a safe home and start new lives. As they move out of shelters more slowly, others are left in dangerous and precarious circumstances, waiting for space.
This night there are tears in my eyes for those who wait in vain.
Our government officials disregard our safety; are budget cuts more important than a woman’s life? Where is our outrage as our sisters are left with the choice of street or starvation? Where is our horror when they cannot leave the violence they face?
What of the unseen, unspoken violence against those who are stripped of dignity, opportunity and a future in our community? Women we forget, excluded from participating in community, engaging in civic discussion. Women altered by years of neglect, trapped in a social system that leaves them degraded and dejected.
This night my body trembles and my voice shakes in anger.
This violence is a theft of my power. Our power. To exclude and systemically eliminate the participation of any of us is an attack on us all. To disempower me, disempowers you. None of us are less than another.
To allow in silence, any one of us to be left behind, is to condone the behaviour. Speak my sisters. Tell our government that austerity is not acceptable when it tears at our very security and safety.