They are calling it a milestone in Canadian history.
Three organizations have merged with the intent of building a stronger voice for sexual and reproductive health, both nationally and abroad. Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights fuses the experience, expertise and resources of these groups at the right time.
The media is abuzz with the need for sexual education, services and advocacy. People are coming forward in droves with eye-opening stories of sexual violence tagged with #beenrapedneverreported and #AgressionNonDénoncée. New Brunswick and PEI have no abortion clinics, sexual education is not mandatory in Quebec schools, and sexualized violence against Indigenous women, as always, rages on nationally.
The murder of a trans* person is still considered manslaughter, not a hate crime. Sex work has been criminalized in new hazardous ways. Sexual assault and harassment occurs in the workplace across Canada. Reported rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are on the rise. I could go on.
We need nonprofit organizations that understand the complexity of sexual health and rights and address it at the levels of education, prevention, services, and choice. They can advocate for change, applying their expertise in the creation of policy to ensure all Canadians achieve the best sexual health possible.
But the reach of these organizations is often limited by lack of funds, and many people simply do not know about the sexual and reproductive services that are available, many of which are free of charge and delivered in non-judgmental environments. Too often, small community organizations must spend more time seeking the funding to continue their services than advertising them. Planned Parenthood Ottawa receives more than half of its funding through the government, but it also spends much of its budget (18 per cent) fundraising for the other half.
And these organizations, working on the ground with clinical services, doing vital research or delivering educational resources to their communities are often not heard by those who need to listen. Our politicians make decisions based on ideologies rather than the input of these experts. Canada’s new prostitution laws, which are vehemently opposed by many organizations such as the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, are one such example.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights seeks to change that. A respected, powerful centralized voice is needed. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that it will be located in Ottawa.
The three founding organizations had a lot in common as progressive groups working to advance and uphold sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada. The first, the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, was the hub for a national network of community-based organizations offering sexual and reproductive health information and clinical services. It had two full-time employees and received no government funding.
Canadians for Choice, based out of Ottawa, offered a toll-free 24-hour phone line where people could access information on reproductive health services. It also conducted research on reproductive health and promoted sexual health education. It too had two full-time employees with zero government funding.
Lastly, Action Canada for Population and Development was a human rights advocacy organization and a member of the Sexual Rights Initiative at the UN Human Rights Council. It had four full-time employees, with an emerging focus on international migration and development. The executive director, Sandeep Prasad, has become the executive director of the new organization.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights will benefit not only from the first-hand knowledge of the national sexual and reproductive health and rights landscape brought by Canadians for Choice and the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, but also the policy expertise and international partnerships established by Action Canada for Population and Development.
It’s a love story.
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, a registered charity with eight full-time employees, was awarded a boost by SeaChange Lodestar Fund for Nonprofit Collaboration.
The organization recently held a launch for the United Nations Population Fund’s State of the Population report, and it is preparing for Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness week in February. The confidential, toll-free line remains open, offering information and resources to callers 24 hours a day. Most exciting of all, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights promises to use its power to try to hold our government accountable for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The time has certainly come for this meeting of minds. Though sexual and reproductive education and service needs across this country are specific to each diverse community, community-based member organizations can now look to a grander, central force to which they belong. Perhaps this is the way they will see their experience and advice finally amplified and heard.