By Lilian Chatterjee
High Commissioner of Canada to Guyana
Do we still need to devote an entire day to women? Haven’t we already achieved enough? Women don’t just vote – we are heads of government; we don’t just participate in the workforce – we are titans of industry. We are leading political movements and “having it all”. Globally, we’ve never had so many opportunities available to us.
And yet, gender equality is still elusive. Despite all our strides as a global community, we are still woefully lagging behind on equal pay, equal representation in decision making seats, and equal responsibility in the home. Women suffer disproportionately from intimate partner violence, sexual harassment, and discriminatory labour practices. The majority of victims of human trafficking are women and girls. Women and girls make up 60% of the global chronically hungry population. 75% of the world’s illiterate adults are women. And when unpaid work is counted alongside paid work, women, on average, work four more years than men during their lifetimes. At the same time, women are still more likely than men to live in poverty.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is an opportunity to celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women past and present all around the world. It is also an opportunity to look to future achievements and hold ourselves and our communities accountable to pressing for even greater progress.
Feminist Foreign Policy
I want to address the taboo “F” word – feminism. Too many people equate feminism with advocating for female superiority. Gender equality means just that – equality. Equality of rights, equality of access, equal pay for work of equal value.
I am proud that my Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, says he is a feminist. When media questioned why he insisted that 50% of his Cabinet be comprised of women, he replied, “Because it is 2015”.
Last week, Canadian Minister of Finance, Bill Morneau, unveiled Canada’s first gender conscious budget, entitled “Equality + Growth, A Strong Middle Class.” It has undergone the most thorough gender based analysis yet to be seen in a public budget in Canada because Minister Morneau understands that gender equality is not just about fairness; it’s our best chance at a prosperous future.
This is a future we envision for everyone. Last year, our Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, Marie-Claude Bibeau, launched our Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). FIAP is a first for Canada, placing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at the heart of our development efforts – in Canada as well as globally. FIAP focuses on six interlinked areas: gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, human dignity, peace and security, inclusive governance, environment and climate action, and growth that works for everyone. It is rooted in the conviction that the best way to reduce poverty and build a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world is to empower women and girls.
The IWD theme for 2018 is #PressforProgress in honour of the growing global movement of advocacy and activism for gender equality. This isn’t just for the benefit of women. Studies have shown that the full and equal participation of women and girls in all aspects of social, economic and political life, the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, and women’s economic empowerment are all critical to peaceful, democratic, and economically prosperous societies.
This is why I commend the efforts of the Government of Guyana, local civil society organisations and other key enablers in pushing for the protection and advancement of gender equality in Guyana. I fully agree with His Excellency, President David Granger that we can, we must and we will achieve gender equality. Every time the First Lady’s Office organizes a vocational workshop for young teenage mothers, Guyana takes another step towards greater equality. When Guyana launched the Sexual Offences Court, Guyanese took a landmark stance against violence against women. The Ministry of Social Protection’s entrepreneurship and micro-financing schemes are a boon to women’s economic empowerment, increasing their access to and control over their own livelihood.
Although it will not happen overnight, we must continue to push for better standards, better policies, greater recognition and greater respect for women. We must press forward toward greater progress. I invite you to join us on March 10 to celebrate our collective achievements. We are organizing a concert featuring Canadian Guyanese artist, Faith Amour, and an exhibition of some of us here in Guyana pushing for gender equality, including government agencies, NGOs, and international organizations. Join us on March 10, 2018 at 15:00 hrs – 18:00 hrs to #PressforProgress in the Promenade Gardens to celebrate International Women’s Day 2018.