Nearly 60 years ago, I arrived in a very different Canada than the one I live in today.
Back then, Canada had only recently appointed its first female cabinet minister, Ellen Fairclough. The first black woman elected to a provincial legislature was still to come, Rosemary Brown in 1972, right here in British Columbia. Constitutional protection for gender equality was another 10 years away.
Canada has come a long way, and is now considered a leader on the international stage.
Still, I am impatient for real equality, at home and abroad. It is time we all were.
A few weeks ago, with a hundred others, I attended an event for Crossroads International, an organization I have long supported that contributes to advancing the rights of women and girls in some of the poorest countries in the world. I am pleased author and women’s rights champion Lawrence Hill will be there as well – we need good men in this fight too.
Such events are inspiring as they recognize the work of Canadian volunteers, in the trenches, often doing unglamorous but critical work to help a girl succeed at school, support a woman fleeing violence or poverty or both, and analyze laws that supposed to be furthering gender equality.
Still, it is with mixed emotions that I listened to the horrific reality far too women and girls live with in Sub-Saharan Africa: stories of unimaginable abuse, structural inequality, and seemingly inescapable poverty that is also fueling forced migration.
Why is the world not doing more for these girls and women? Why isn’t Canada? Why are we at least not talking about this humanitarian crisis?
A long election campaign just wrapped up and the only significant discussion of I heard of Canada’s role in the world, were proposals to reduce our role in welcoming refugees and immigrants and a proposal to cut official development assistance by 25%!
WE CAN AND WE SHOULD DO BETTER
Perhaps the answer to these questions lies in a recent shift in rhetoric and attitudes towards women from the fringes to the purported mainstream.
Where once the march to equality seemed steady, if still too slow for me, today I fear we are losing ground on this front.
On this front we are no doubt vulnerable to global trends, the crudest of which is the President of the United States. His harassment of female critics, his jokes about sexual assault, his political attacks on women’s rights – particularly those in the most vulnerable places in the world provide both an excuse and incentive for men, particularly in those of positions of power, to ignore or worse, punish, women.
Many like me believe the President’s behavior is not just a problem, it is a symptom. The #MeToo revelations have exposed the systemic abuse of women and girls by powerful men.
In Canada too many women are subjected to violent ridicule online. Femicide and its lack of visibility as a public health crisis continues to be disturbing. As the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls revealed Indigenous women remain specifically vulnerable.
SEXISM IS ALIVE and well
Even women who are leading academically and professionally face glass ceilings, whether in corporate boardrooms or in political arenas.
Internationally, not even Nobel Prize winning women are safe from marginalization. Esther Duflo, a French-American economist doing groundbreaking work on poverty alleviation, shared the award with her Indian-American husband, Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer, both of whom are professors. Yet India’s self-described leading business newspaper referred to Ms. Duflo as simply the “wife” of Mr. Banerjee.
All of which leaves me feeling deeply concerned for the futures of the young girls. I hope they will look to Rosemary Brown and Esther Duflo for inspiration. But they are also looking to all of us for real discussion and to join with them in taking action.
We cannot let them down. There is no time to waste.
I then think of the young women who are already fighting. Greta Thunberg for climate justice. Autumn Peltier for clean water. Rebeca Gyumi for ending child marriage.
And I keep fighting too. Join us.