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Member Profile February 2016


Oxfam Québec - profile

Denise Byrnes (Oxfam-Quebec's Executive Director) and Oxfam GB's Chief Executive meet the Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp, Jordan.

This month CCIC met with Denise Byrnes, Executive Director at Oxfam-Québec to discuss women’s rights, the new volunteer sending program, why Canadians should care about tax havens and much more…!


CCIC - March 8th is International Women's Day. This year's theme is Pledge for Parity, celebrating and championing the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women. Why is it important to focus on gender parity in 2016?

Denise Byrnes - Because it's 2016!  Humour aside, achieving gender equality is key if we want to realise the sustainable development goals and build equitable societies.  We know that women continue to do the bulk of unpaid work, earn lower salaries for the same work as men,  and in many countries, are concentrated in the informal sector, with little security and poor wages.  This leaves many women unable to pay for adequate health care for themselves or their children or to send their children to school.  This is a cycle that perpetuates poverty from one generation to another.   How can a society move forward economically and socially if it leaves half its population behind?  We know that when women have decent pay and access to adequate social services, they and their children can achieve their full potential and break free from this cycle.   Unfortunately, even in Canada, women continue to face strong barriers when it comes to gender equality, both in the private and public spheres.  Gender-based violence, discrimination and poverty continue to limit equality. The reality is that women continue to make up the bulk of the world's poor so our work is far from over!


CCIC - Women's rights and gender equality is at the core of Oxfam-Quebec's mandate and programming. Please tell us about a recent or current project related to women's rights or gender equality for which you are particular proud.

Denise Byrnes - We recently ended a five year project in women's rights and economic empowerment across four countries in the Middle East.  The project brought together women's organisations from Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Tunisia to form a network for women's empowerment.  Each group brought a particular expertise to the table: financial and non-financial support services for women, marketing and product promotion, advocacy and campaigns and research.  Building the network was a big challenge, but the end result was amazing!  Together, the partners were able to build and develop women's businesses from the micro level to small and medium sized enterprise and organise trips to countries in the region to market products. They organised trade fairs and one business woman from Palestine even signed a procurement contract with a company in Montreal for her organic essential oils.  They produced research in four languages that shed light on the barriers to the development of women's business in the region and ran a very successful campaign on changing inheritance laws that discriminate against women.  In Palestine, they put pressure on the Chamber of commerce to create services that were adapted to women, including reduced fees and access to credit for micro businesses.  I met some really amazing and strong women through this project.


CCIC - Oxfam Quebec has a long history of youth programming and volunteer sending. Please tell us about your new Programme ACCÈS INNOVATION (PAI) (which focuses on building capacities for social and economic advancement through innovation) and why young Canadians should get involved.

Denise Byrnes - Oxfam-Québec has indeed been working with youth both here in Québec, and overseas for many years.  We have recently adopted a new strategic plan, and we have decided to focus all our programming on women and youth.  Our new volunteer program is focused on building the capacity of our partner organisations to affect change in 12 countries.  Our volunteer technical advisors work in several key areas: combatting violence against women and women's economic empowerment, youth empowerment and active citizenship, food security and building resilience of communities to better face climate change and disasters.   We will support groups and communities to claim their rights and hold their governments to account. In Québec, our presence in schools and on campuses will continue to promote young people's involvement and understanding of development issues. Oxfam-Québec has created an alliance with others including Amnesty International and the YMCA, called the "Engagement journey", which offers collectively a series of engagement opportunities for high school students and culminates with a recognition as a member of the group "Engaged youth for change". We are very excited about this partnership.  Our campaign on inequality will continue to mobilise students in CEGEPs and universities, in particular on the issue of tax havens and fair taxation. Our petition has already collected thousands of signatures.


CCIC - Oxfam Quebec's current campaign 'Mettons fin à l'ère des paradis fiscaux' highlights the relationship between tax havens and inequality. What does this campaign aim to achieve? And why should Canadians care about this issue?

Denise Byrnes - Our campaign wants to raise the volume on how tax havens and an unfair tax system contribute to increasing inequality.  One year ago, Oxfam reported that the wealthiest 80 people in the world owned as much wealth as the poorest half of humanity.  One year later, they are only 62!  Concentration of wealth is increasing rapidly, increasing the gap between rich and poor.   At the same time, the use of tax havens and loopholes allow corporations and individuals to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.  The billions that are sitting in tax havens deprive governments of important revenues to provide universal public services like education and health to their citizens.  This loss of revenue is fueling inequality as governments make cuts in health and education budgets, claiming that funds are insufficient to provide for all.  Recent research has demonstrated that if we stop revenue flows to tax havens, the money coming to African governments would be sufficient to hire enough teachers to ensure education for all African children.  Can you imagine the impact of that for development?  Canadians should care because development outcomes and poverty reduction have positive impacts for everyone.  The refugee crisis we are seeing in Europe, for example, is directly linked to people fleeing poverty and conflict. People are looking for a better life.  Here in Canada, we are seeing the same trend - cuts to health and education and erosion of our basic services, so the use of tax havens, and the existence of a tax system that allows the wealthiest to avoid paying their fair share, concern us all.


CCIC - Oxfam-Québec is a very engaged and active CCIC member. Why is CCIC membership important to your organization's work? 

Denise Byrnes - We have been a member of CCIC for decades, and we continued to support CCIC through the difficult period when they lost all their government funding. Although it was a challenge for us to increase our contribution significantly, we do not regret stepping up to the plate.  It has been a long journey, but Oxfam-Québec is convinced that we need a collective voice for the sector to advance certain issues.  CCIC has a small team but they are able to accomplish a significant amount of work!  They provide precious policy analysis to the sector, can advocate for policy changes that have impact for all our organisations as well as for our programs.  Their convening role is important to facilitate learning, sharing and improved development practice. For many of us, CCIC provides important analysis of issues or policies that we often don't have time to do. 

I have been a board member of CCIC for the last 3 years and I am very impressed by the members' engagement and collective appropriation of our shared network. 



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