I have been thinking a lot about what impact President Elect Trump’s inauguration Friday will have on the rights of women and girls — globally and here at home.
Early indications are troubling. Consider, during the US election campaign Mr. Trump consistently vilified and verbally attacked women. He pledged to defund Planned Parenthood and made other spurious claims about sexual reproductive rights. After the election, the New York Times reported Trump’s transition team requested lists of all programs, positions, and funding that support gender equality, violence reduction, and “promoting women’s participation in economic and political spheres” from the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). These inquiries strike fear in many aid and human rights activists around the world.
Then something incredible happened. A few women musing about a march on Washington on social media has become a global celebration of the newly acclaimed International Day of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion bringing women from all walks of life together with male allies to advocate for peace, justice, and human rights in cities across North America and more than 30 countries around the world.
Here in Canada women and their supporters are marching in solidarity in 26 communities and counting. As I sat down to prepare my remarks for the Women’s March to Washington solidarity March in Ottawa this Saturday, I found myself asking “Do marches still matter when one man’s tweets can shift the discourse, move markets, and reshape policy?”
To paraphrase outgoing US President Barack Obama: Yes they Can.
Democracy has long had its roots in the grassroots forums, fields, and streets of the communities in which citizens reside. Organized marches are critical to the practical implementation of change. As Jelani Cobb wrote in a recent New Yorker article, “Movements are born in the moments when abstract principles become concrete concerns.”
The speed with which this emerging grassroots movement has organized the women’s marches, and the public’s response to them, bodes well for a future where people are willing to call out misogyny wherever it is found and to fight for true gender equality around the world.
Those of us who work on women’s rights issues in the global south also understand how critical it is that hard won gains that serve as a beacon of hope to so many are not sacrificed. At Crossroads we see how innovative programming and partnerships, and the volunteer cooperation model in particular, have empowered women and girls, improving lives and bettering communities in Swaziland, Senegal, Ghana, Togo, Tanzania and elsewhere.
We can be proud of our country’s commitment to the advancement of women, celebrate the distinction of our feminist Prime Minister among global leaders, and even to bask in the glow of an U2’s Bono declaring the world needs “More Canada”.
Yet it is precisely because of our role in the world and the moral authority we command that requires us to be a leader in advancing women’s rights globally. The world does need more Canada, and Canada must do more for the world.
Canadians – regardless of gender – can begin by joining a Women’s March on January 21st.