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Let’s end violence against women and girls

Thanks to the #MeToo movement, more and more women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse. Women and young girls are finding that powerful voice within them to speak out against sexual violence and crimes against women in general.

On Nov. 25, the United Nations will lead the annual worldwide campaign marking the start of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.  This will be a 16-day campaign with hundreds of events worldwide.

One in three women are affected by violence. According to the UN, 19 per cent of women between the ages of 15 and 49 have said they experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner within the last year. In 2012, almost half of all women who were murdered, were killed by an intimate partner or family member. The same can be said of only 6 per cent of male victims.

The theme for the campaign is Leave No one Behind, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these issues and not allowing them to be normalized. The campaign will educate the public on the types of violence women face and mobilize change.

During these 16 days, iconic buildings worldwide will be lit up in orange, the colour officially associated with the day. Orange symbolizes a brighter future without violence. Local events that could spring up in your city include marches, flash-mobs, concerts, football and rugby games, as well as other unique and creative public events to bring awareness to the issue. The hope is that this movement will mobilize governments and the public to take part in the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’s umbrella campaign to end violence against women by 2030.

“Violence against women is fundamentally about power,” Guterres said in a statement. “It will only end when gender equality and the full empowerment of women will be a reality.”

The rise of the #MeToo campaign on social media has awoken a global protest against sexual harassment and assault. Through this hashtag, women are sharing their stories of violence afflicted towards them from even politicians and celebrities. These women are acting as examples for others, finally bringing some of their attackers to justice. UN Women is now working towards implementation new laws and policies that will offer women and young girls further protection.

The specific theme this year is also directed at refugees and migrants who are at a higher risk of being targeted for abuse. This recognition covers all women and girls despite their age, race, religion, income or citizenship. Women and girls need to be protected and offenders should be prosecuted to ensure that there is a societal message of  a zero-tolerance policy  towards violence of any kind.

For over 20 years, UN Women has been supporting various organizations around the world that have proactively taken steps in reducing community violence directed towards women. Earlier this year there was a collaborative effort with the European Union on a special spotlight initiative focusing on domestic, family , sexual, violence, human trafficking and labor exploitation. This included an initial investment of $500 million (EUR) by the EU.

To show your support during the 16 day campaign, use the hashtag, #orangetheworld and #16days. You can also change your profile picture by adding an orange filter.

Woman of the Week: Sara L. Austin

Sara L. Austin has had a sweeping impact on children’s rights worldwide and has dedicated her life to helping kids. She is the founder and CEO of Children’s First Canada, a non-profit that focuses on educating the public and holding the government accountable regarding their policies on child poverty.

“People often ask me how I got started with this, I’ve worked with thousands of kids. I was a summer camp counsellor in Ontario and responsible to look after five or six year old kids. One of the kids told me she had been sexually abused by her stepfather and didn’t want to go home,” Austin said. “We called Children Aid’s Society and when they finally arrived, she held onto me. I had to let go and trust that we have a system that protects kids. I learned very early in life that lots of kids don’t get the start in life that they deserve. Whether as a parent or a citizen, we need to give children our very best.”

Austin launched Children’s First Canada in November 2016. “There is an idea that kids in Canada have the jackpot of life. Research shows though that we have millions of kids that are falling through the gaps. There are a lot of mental issues, and several children have experienced abuse or neglect,” Austin said. “We haven’t achieved any significant progress in child poverty over the past two decades so we are trying to build public awareness for change.”

Child poverty affects one in five children in Canada and one in three Canadian children have experienced abuse. One of the pillars of Children’s First Canada is to accomplish widespread public awareness and to have a significant impact on the media in educating people on the relevance of child poverty. “We are doing after-school programs or mentoring. We are bringing these organizations together to jointly advocate together and to bring forward solutions that are evidence based,” Austin said. “It is a combination of policy influence and advocacy to make a difference for children.”

Austin launched the non-profit in Calgary, motivated by the Children First Act, a provincial law in Alberta that protects children and is one of the strongest child protection acts in Canada. Her hope was to inspire the rest of the country to follow suit.  “I was inspired by the social innovation in the city of Calgary and the province of collective impact as well as the role of the private sector,” Austin said.

Previously, Austin worked at World Vision and held a number of positions including Director of the President’s Office and Policy Advisor for Child Rights and HIV/AIDS at World Vision Canada, Senior Advisor for Child Rights at World Vision International, and Manager of Operations at World Vision Thailand.  “I started researching children in South East Asia and I was directly interacting with children in prostitution and brutal child labour,” Austin said. “We can’t treat children as objects, they are experts in their own lives. They have their own views on how things can get better. It has been a consistent thread throughout my career.”

One of Austin’s proudest achievements was creating the ‘Optional Protocol’, an international UN law that allows a child, or an NGO, to act on behalf of the child to launch a complaint if their human rights aren’t being protected through international law. The protocol was passed in 2014. “The law had been discussed for children for decades, but it hadn’t been developed. That was what prompted me to do my master’s degree at Oxford University,” Austin said. “It was a bittersweet moment, but at the same time the Canadian government didn’t support it and still hasn’t signed onto the protocol. The new government has pledged to sign onto the protocol and we are following the government to hold them accountable.”

Along with helping children, Austin is also a huge advocate for women. She won the Women’s Executive Network (WXN) top 100 award in 2010 and also sits on the advisory board for the organization. “WXN celebrates women leaders across the country and their motto is ‘We inspire smart women to lead’,” Austin said. “They celebrate women from all walks of life. They provide mentorship opportunities as well.”

When Austin is taking a break from work, she loves to go skiing with her family and be out in nature. She also enjoys biking and hiking in Calgary. “Having a family keeps me grounded every day. I flew home and it was nice to come home to my own son and be reminded everyday how lucky I am to provide for and care for my own son,” Austin said.

Austin is a leader for advocacy relating to children and she teaches us how to stick up for the people who need us most. Her life-changing impact on an international and national level makes Canada a better place for kids to live in and gives public awareness to the fact that child poverty still exists today.

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Fictional character to be UN ambassador for female empowerment

I’m very confused.

The United Nations has appointed Wonder Woman, a fictional character, as the honorary ambassador for the empowerment of girls and women. According to a press release, this means she “will be tasked with raising awareness about Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2030.”

I’ve always been a big fan of Wonder Woman. There’s something incredibly satisfying about seeing an Amazon warrior outperform all of the male superheroes in the Justice League. She is strong, fierce, and completely independent. While other heroes need sidekicks or weapon experts, Diana Price just needs her wits (and maybe her lasso of truth).

But, does that mean I think this fictional superhero, no matter how iconic, should be representing the struggles of women in an international agency — no, it does not.

There are a lot of people fighting for the rights of women and young girls. There are people building schools in under-developed nations, working on gender parity in boardrooms, and fighting for a woman’s right to choose. There are those trying to end sex slavery and the forced marriage of young children. And yet, despite all of that, the UN, with the combined wisdom of political leaders from across the world, has chosen an imaginary character as the representative for women. Someone who can’t answer questions and doesn’t have to be accountable — because it’s just easier when they don’t’ have to deal with a real woman. Am I right gentlemen?

What makes me truly angry is that this whole scenario is likely a marketing stunt. DC Comics will be releasing a Wonder Woman movie next year, which means they will benefit from having the character’s photo plastered all over the world. The president of DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. Consumer Products was at the ceremony to support the new partnership and did not seem concerned that the position of ambassador was not given to an actual living-and-breathing human being.

“We believe that in addition to the exemplary work that amazing real women are doing in the fight for gender equality, it is to be commended that the UN understands that stories – even comic book stories and their characters – can inspire, teach and reveal injustices.”

I’m all for the power of comic books and stories, but when there are girls who are being banned from attending school, who can’t get jobs, and who are being sold for their bodies, is this really the time to get commercial? The world needs results, not an imaginary woman in a glorified metal bathing suit to act as a symbol of empowerment.

I am absolutely disgusted in this decision. If the UN was having trouble coming up with a name for the position of ambassador, they should have asked Women’s Post. I have a lengthy list of women who would be better suited for the position than … well, no one.

While the decision to appoint Wonder Woman may have been intended as a symbol of power, all it’s done is show how far behind the United Nations is in terms of its goal of gender equality.

If the UN can’t think of a single woman who would be capable of empowering other women — then they have already failed.

 

wonderwoman

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Just imagine

By  George Patrick

Imagine, if you can, a new and better Canada — a Canada free of those vices that cause so much havoc in our lives — a Canada free of alcohol, cigarettes, illegal drugs, and gambling.

Imagine a booze-free Canada where drunken drivers no longer slaughter innocents, leaving devastated families behind.

Think of a Canada where there is no tobacco addiction. Think of the enormous savings on healthcare if nobody smoked.

Imagine a Canada free of illegal drugs. No more pathetic addicts and the crimes they commit to feed their habits.
And imagine no gambling. No lives ruined, and no families destroyed, by the uncontrollable need to place one more bet, play one more slot, buy one more lottery ticket, back one more horse.

Can you imagine a Canada like that? As a nation, Canada would undoubtedly be much healthier and wealthier. Crime would go down, prisons would close, police forces shrink. In short, Canada would be a much better society. Who could not want that?

Of course, to bring about this new Canada, there would need to be a strong central government commanding support in all regions of the country, and unfortunately, that is rarely the case in Canada. Typically, the Liberals are weak in the West, the Conservatives are weak in Ontario. The government might need some outside support — some temporary back-up — in its laudable attempt to stamp out the terrible addictions that plague our society.

So let’s imagine once again. This time imagine a new, cutting edge international force — the New Addiction Transformation Organization (or NATO for short). At the behest of the United Nations, it intervenes in Canada to bolster the weak central government in its noble pursuit of a new improved, non-addictive Canada. It quickly sets about bulldozing casinos, smashing slot machines and liquor stores, turning Woodbine Racetrack into an organic farm, and spraying Agent Orange on BC marijuana fields.

Around the country many people resent this assault on their traditional way of life. Opposition grows. Angry citizens begin to purchase large amounts of ammo for their unregistered firearms. Increasingly, the NATO forces are seen as invaders trying to force their alien ways on the Canadian people. Illegal booze, cigarettes and weapons flood in from the USA.

The slaughter, destruction, chaos and terror seep into every corner of Canadian society. After seven years and thousands of deaths, NATO throws up its hands, declares victory and skedaddles.

Within 12 months, Canada is showing signs of recovery. Jack Daniels is once again plentiful; racetracks and casinos spring up again; more people than ever before are smoking; and junkies lie around with needles in their arms. Canada is Canada once again. And they all live happily ever after (sort of). The End.

OK, you’re right. This story isn’t really about Canada at all. It’s a fiendishly cunning literary device to make a point about our involvement in Afghanistan.

Chances are, nothing like my little fairy tale will ever happen here.  How strange then that people think we can intervene in utterly alien, primitive tribal societies and transform them in a few short years into some kind of liberal democracy.

Sooner or later, our intervention will fail; the people of Europe and Canada will demand the recall of NATO forces; the corrupt, ineffectual, and unpopular “democratic” government will fall; some Talibanish kind of theocracy will return; and the girls schools will become schools where boys will learn radical Islamicist propaganda. I wish it weren’t so, but that is almost certainly what is going to happen. Anyone who thinks this Afghan venture is going to have a happy ending is dreaming in technicolour, and unfortunately the dream is being paid for with Canadian blood.

 First published in Dec. 2006