This article was originally published on Huffington Post’s Un seul monde blog. It is written by Chantal Havard, Communications and Government Relations Officer at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC).
I think of Rosa Jimena in Peru, who kept her family afloat thanks to a sewing machine purchased with micro-credit after her husband abandoned the family home. I think of Bernadette in Burkina Faso, a young woman who was initially too shy to speak up in public but eventually took charge of an entire women’s shea butter cooperative.
I think of my aunt Janine, now 85 years old, who defied her father’s authority at the age of 25 to go live and work in Montreal — at a time when independent (and single!) women were far from the norm.
All these women have shown courage and resilience. They were also supported by people and organizations who believed in them and in their potential. In 2015, the struggle for women’s rights is still relevant, both in Canada and abroad. Due to cultural, religious and economic barriers, too many women today still fail to reach their greatest potential.
The profound changes needed to truly change women’s lives for the better require commitment and ambitious political action. They must also be subject to public debate.
Which leads me to ask this you question: how many leaders’ debates have taken place in the history of our federal politics on issues that specifically affect women? Eight? Five? Three?
And that one occurred thirty years ago, in the days when John Turner, Brian Mulroney and Ed Broadbent led the three main federal political parties.
While most of us recognize that the status of women in Canada and around the world has improved considerably in recent decades, the news reminds us daily that there are still many battles to be fought on the path towards gender equality.
Whether in Afghanistan where women are considered minors, in the US Army where there is a culture of rape, or right here at home where the government’s refusal to conduct a thorough investigation into the disappearance and murder of hundreds of aboriginal women suggests that they are second class citizens, there are still too many hurdles that prevent women from living freely and participating fully in their communities.
It is for this reason that an alliance of more than one hundred organizations across the country, created just a few months ago, is calling upon our federal political leaders to commit to a debate on issues that specifically affect women in the lead up the next federal election.
Together, this group has launched the Up for Debate campaign to spark a pan-Canadian discussion on gender justice and equality. It is also a call to all political parties to make meaningful commitments to change women’s lives for the better, both here and abroad.
Up for Debate asks parties to:
- Get serious about ending violence against women and girls
- Take action to end women’s economic inequalities
- Support women’s leadership
To date, Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May have agreed to participate in a debate, but Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper have not. The Alliance for Women’s Rights launched a petition in mid-February asking the two leaders to join the debate.
Will our political leaders make room for such a debate? On behalf of all the Rosas, Bernadettes and Janines of the world, those who face daily gender-based discrimination, those who live with abusive partners, and those who leave war-torn countries for refugee camps that are no safer for them, I truly hope so.