OPINION: It’s Canada — not murderous regimes — that is the unfortunate focus of the debate over the definition of genocide
Girls married shortly after puberty or even before. Female genital mutilation. No access to school. No access to menstrual products or contraception. Violence.
These are real issues faced by many women in the world and the issues that dominate discussions this week in Vancouver at Women Deliver 2019.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that genocide found its way to centre stage at what is the world’s largest global conference on women’s health and women’s rights.
But it is the host country, Canada — not murderous regimes — that is the unfortunate focus of the debate.
It was a bomb dropped when opening day coincided with the release of the report from the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women’s inquiry.
It repeats the 2015 accusation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the residential school system amounted to cultural genocide.
It’s a word that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Gender Equality Minister Maryam Monsef and others in the Canadian government can’t bring themselves to use.
“We accept their findings, including their finding that what happened amounted to genocide,” Trudeau said at the conference.
“There are many debates ongoing about words and use of words but our focus as a country, as leaders and citizens, must be on the steps we take to put an end to the situation.”
Asked about it at a news conference Tuesday, Monsef replied,” It is not for me to say. … Our job is to focus on solutions.”
The G-word reflects the frustration of the inquiry’s commissioner, families and Indigenous communities over the slow-moving and on-going tragedy that can’t be separated from the systemic problems in what has been a racist and patriarchal society.
Perhaps gendercide or femicide might be more apt. But parsing murder is a grotesque exercise that devalues the lives lost. And it’s perhaps fitting that murder of women now forms part of the narrative here among the world’s leading feminists and activists.
Because globally, if women were a particular ethnic group, it is difficult to argue that there haven’t been concerted efforts to kill, silence, wound and hobble the effort of women to be full participating members of societies.
For all but the most privileged women in the world, the lives of women and girls remain circumscribed by their gender.
Change is glacial. Not a single country in the world, for example, will be able to meet the United Nation’s goal of gender equity by 2030.
Every two minutes, a woman dies from complications from pregnancy or in childbirth that could have been easily prevented.
As many as 130 million girls still don’t go to school.
Rape has been weaponized and is one of the most disgusting and disturbing tools used by aggressors in conflicts.
Only 11 countries in the world have gender-balanced cabinets. Canada is among the few, although Canadians have yet to elect as many women as men to Parliament and yet to elect a female prime minister.
In Canada, the lives of Indigenous women and girls are unlike other Canadian women’s. They are not only much more likely to be murdered or to disappear, their health outcomes by every measure are considerably worse.
What matters more than what we call this is what happens next.
Trudeau has promised a national action plan in response to the murdered and missing Indigenous women’s inquiry recommendations. But it remains to be seen what that will look like, how much money will be committed and how far Canadian citizens are willing to do to reform some of our fundamental structures to allow greater participation for everyone.
However, he may have inadvertently set the bar very high with the announcement made in conjunction with the Women Deliver conference.
Before it began, the equality minister announced a $300-million fund for non-governmental organizations working to achieve women’s equality.
On Tuesday, Trudeau announced an unprecedented, 10-year commitment of $1.4 billion annually to fund women’s health including sexual and reproductive rights in developing countries. (A commitment that builds on the $1.1 billion fund that former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government established to help reach the UN’s maternal health goals.)
Canada’s own first citizens — and particularly women and girls — deserve nothing less than an unprecedented investment and unparalleled change.
Their problems are rooted in the same kinds of colonialism, religious and cultural patriarchy that also plague many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Change — whether for Indigenous women or for all women of the world — requires investing in them.
But it means more than that. It means investing in educating boys and men as well.
What’s underscored at this conference is that women and girls are more than ready for wholesale systemic change.
As victims in an unfair world, women and girls in Canada’s Indigenous communities and around the world don’t need any convincing that change is necessary.
The challenge is convincing those who have benefited from their victimization that their time is up and that change is the only way forward.