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Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose speaks with U.S. and Afghan officers during a Canada Day visit to Kandahar on July 1, 2011.

U.S. Army/Getty Images

Rona Ambrose told an international feminist conference in Ottawa that as a woman in politics she is "always surrounded by men" and that she was feeding off the energy and enthusiasm of the women in attendance.

But the Status of Women Minister should be using that energy to push her cabinet colleagues into action, NDP critic Francoise Boivin says.

Ms. Ambrose was speaking Sunday to about 1,600 delegates at the opening of the five-day Women's Worlds 2011 gathering, which is looking at everything from Barbie as a role model to sex trafficking.

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The minister – who had just returned from a Canada Day visit to Kandahar where she and other Conservative minister said "thank you" to departing troops – spoke about violence against women, what Canada has contributed to help women and girls in Afghanistan and programs for aboriginal women in Canada.

"We must work on prevention, not merely prosecution," Ms. Ambrose said in highlighting the government's efforts to combat violence against aboriginal women and girls.

In response, Ms. Boivin said that although it's clear Ms. Ambrose is committed to combatting violence against women, "there is so much missing" in the government's approach.

"I'm back in the House five years later," the NDP MP said. "I feel like it's been a standstill. Nothing really has advanced."

Ms. Boivin served as a Liberal MP from 2004 to 2006. During that time she was also the chair of the Liberal women's caucus. "Nothing really moved. Pay equity has almost gone backward.," she said.

The New Democrat said that it's good Ms. Ambrose is putting money on the table but she is critical of the fact the money is going into "in-your-face" programs and not research and advocacy aimed at addressing the "core issues" of what causes violence against women.

Ms. Boivin says in her new role she has to get out there and "kick some butts again."

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"I do think Rona is sincere and it's coming from the heart," she said. "She'll need to push on her cabinet and on her Prime Minister mostly and they need to realize, especially for natives when they are making 46 cents for every dollar, it's already bad for women – but it's even worse for them.

"They have to realize these things they cannot hide poverty and housing. They'll have to push really, really hard," she said.

Speaking to The Globe on Monday, the minister countered: "We want to work with all women of all political parties and our approach is that women should work together to make a better Canada."

Ms. Ambrose, who also spoke of programs aimed at helping 50,000 women and girls in Libya who are at risk of sexual violence being carried out by the Gadhafi regime, noted that the government announced support Sunday for the Girls Action Foundation, which is aimed at helping young aboriginal women.

"The disturbing issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women is one of serious concern to us all and, as Canadians, we know aboriginal women deserve respect, dignity and the right to feel safe," she told the conference delegates.

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