What is the present state of organizations providing services to women in Canada? (Part I)

This is the first entry in Reflect & Learn’s blogging series on women and organizations. Please visit us again in the coming weeks for more posts on this topic.

By: Efrat Shemesh

As a research fellow, I have decided to study the topic of organizations providing services to women in Canada and publish my findings in a series of blog posts.

Following discussions and a brainstorming session with peers at The Universalia Management Group, my colleagues and I decided to start close to home, in Montreal. However, we do plan on expanding this research to include Quebec organizations and even national organizations. We are especially interested in the values that different organizations foster, and how their daily operations and services reflect those values.

While researching, I asked myself, “do organizations that provide services to women positively impact on women’s rights?” These organizations clearly effect change in the lives of individual women, but do they contribute to or generate changes in society’s perception of women? If so, how? Do they contribute to greater equality between women and men in Canada?

Through my research and this blog series, I intend to explore these questions in greater depth. I look forward to your comments and insight!

Efforts to Eliminate Violence against Women and Advocacy Work: Are They Related?

Violence against women is rampant both at home and abroad. Why do we, as a society, allow it to continue?  What is stopping Canada and its NGOs from taking definitive action in this regard?

A new fact sheet from the Canadian Research Institute for the Advancement of Women, titled “Violence against Women in Canada,”[1] states that: “For prevention to be effective, violence against women must be recognized as a gender and human rights issue, rather than as a problem for individual women.” The fact sheet also suggests addressing the root causes of the problem, and that engaging the public requires education, advocacy and campaigning to raise awareness.

Are Quebec organizations addressing this issue by attempting to engage the public?

While conducting online research about organizations that provide services to women in Montreal, I also studied the terminology used to define their services. I looked for the use of human rights terminology, and sought to determine whether or not the services provided directly promote human rights, or if the promotion of human rights is simply a by-product of their services.

What I found was that at the organizational level, many vision statements utilized human rights terms and expressions, including “defend the rights,” “gender equality,” “to end discrimination,” and “human rights worth defending,” to name only a few. In general, these organizations wish to convey that they promote human rights and, in this case, women’s rights.

However, in most cases, advocacy efforts are not as visible on organizations’ websites. Are Montreal-based NGOs shying away from the active defense of women’s rights? Or is there another explanation for this information gap?

What I found was that, in Canada, some lobbying and advocacy work might actually be illegal.[2] To qualify for or to maintain charity status, an organization must be constituted and operated exclusively for charitable purposes and activities. Indeed, the Income Tax Act only allows a registered charity to conduct political activities if it continues to devote practically all of its resources to charitable work. An activity is presumed to be political if a charity: explicitly communicates a call to political action; urges the public to oppose or change a law, policy, or decision of any level of government; or explicitly communicates to the public that a law, policy, or decision of any level of government should be retained.

Thus, the legal framework might dissuade organizations from undertaking the activities that might actually be the most beneficial for women in the long term (i.e. promoting human rights through legislation and policies in Canada and abroad). This has been the case especially over the last 5-10 years.

Indeed, many organizations choose not to do any advocacy or lobbying work at all, focusing instead on service-provision at the local level or on providing services to women in immediate need, who are struggling financially, for instance. However, it may be worth studying whether or not the CRA policy framework actually pushes the NGO community to be more passive than it should in terms of addressing this important social issue.


Image courtesy of iStock and stevecoleimages.


Efrat Shemesh Idelson, LL.B, LL.M, is a research fellow at the Universalia Management Group. She is currently conducting research on the characteristics of organizations that serve women in Quebec and Canada. More particularly, she is interested in the emphasis these organizations place on women’s rights.

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