By Melodie McCullough
Preventing gender-based violence is a top priority of Maryam Monsef, federal Minister of the Status of Women Canada, now and in the coming months.
The Ministry’s Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence was released June 19.
“It’s basic. Without women’s safety and freedom, it’s hard, if not impossible, for them to achieve empowerment and equality,” she said, in an interview with JOURNEY Magazine.
“We’ve seen what happens when women are empowered. They move mountains. We’ve also seen what happens when they haven’t been.”: Monsef
Leaving behind a tumultuous year as Minister of Democratic Institutions, Monsef is confident that in her new role, she can make a difference in the lives of girls and women across the country, and locally in her home riding of Peterborough-Kawartha.
But women’s equality in Canada has regressed over the last two decades, says the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action in a January letter to the Prime Minister and three cabinet ministers, including Monsef.
“In 1995, Canada held 1st place on the United Nations Gender Equality Index; Canada is now at 25th. Recently, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada 35th on gender equality out of 144 countries. We know that Canada can do better,” the letter says.
So does Monsef and the Liberals have a plan for Canada to “do better”?
“It’s been 41 years since the Status of Women Ministry was established,” she said. “We still have so much work to do.”
To start, the government has been connecting with survivors of violence and experts across the country to develop the first federal strategy designed to address and prevent gender-based violence, Monsef said.
It will create a centre of excellence to both study and try to solve the problems of gender-based violence, by collecting and sharing cross-country data. Other money will go towards prevention, providing better support for survivors and making the justice system more responsive to those who experience sexual assault or other forms of violence.
Her other top priorities, Monsef continued, are wage parity for women with men — “work towards pay equity is a really important part of our mandate” — and the development of more leadership roles for women economically and politically.
“We need to ask why it is that the statistics for violent crimes are decreasing, but the statistics for violent crimes against women are increasing,” she said. “We need to ask why do women earn 73.3 cents for every dollar men make (measured by annual wages). We need to ask why Rwanda and Afghanistan have more women in their Parliaments than Canada.”
Right now, only 21% of the seats around corporate boards in Canada are women and only 26% of members of Parliament are women, she said.
“That’s not because there are no talented, strong women capable of doing these jobs,” Monsef said. “It’s really important to me because we’ve seen what happens when women are around the table, for example the Cabinet table. Diverse voices lead to the best possible decision.”
Monsef, who came to Canada as an Afghan child refugee with her mother and two sisters, said she has “proudly” been a feminist for as long as she remembers.
“I believe I come from a family of feminists, from my grandfather and my father, to my mother. My sisters and I were raised to believe that we could do everything and anything that the boys could do. We were raised to ask questions, raised to believe in ourselves, raised with a sense that we had a responsibility to make things better for others.”
“We were also taught that being strong women isn’t about excluding or taking away from others, because we saw what strong women in our families and communities did. They worked to improve things for everyone,” she said.
To her, gender equality means “that our sons and daughters have the option to grow up in a world, in a country, where they have equal freedoms and equal opportunities to succeed, and to reach their full potential and safety and security.”
Monsef said the Status of Women Ministry works horizontally with other government ministries to ensure every piece of programming, legislation and policy has a gender-based lens, because awareness is needed of each impact on women and other marginalized communities, including the realities faced by Indigenous women.
“For the first time, the federal budget will have a gender statement. (It was released March 22). It’s not the be-all and the end-all, but it’s an important first step in order to ensure the federal government is doing everything it can toward gender equality.”
It means a lot to Monsef.
“My ancestral land is broken now. I think that has a lot to do with the consequence of excluding half of the population from participating,” she said. “I’ve been raised by a single mom and a family of strong women. We’ve seen what happens when women are empowered. They move mountains. We’ve also seen what happens when they haven’t been.”
About Gender-Based Violence http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/violence/strategy-strategie/gbv-vfs-en.html
Government of Canada Announces Measures to Combat Gender-Based Violence https://www.canada.ca/en/department-justice/news/2017/04/government_of_canadaannouncesmeasurestocombatgender-basedviolenc.html