Some of my most painful memories are of my friends and cousins crying as they were taken away to be married to men they didn't know, often much older. I grew up seeing young girls sheltered by my mother in our house from being forced into early marriage. Those were the fortunate few. There are many complex causes driving this violence against women and girls. But it is ultimately rooted in the reality that women and men are not treated equally.
Eliminating violence against women and girls requires the implementation of laws, services and access to justice for women and girls that experience violence, and raising awareness among influential actors and everyday people. Transforming what is "normal" in society -- expected, naturalized, unsaid -- is the critical piece of the puzzle, and one that we can all help put in place. We can challenge what we hear and see, check our own behaviour and beliefs, and defy expectations that promote gender inequality.
Last week, Canadians came together to celebrate their country's 149th birthday. This week, South Sudan marks five years as an independent nation. Yet for many there is little to celebrate. For half of its brief life, the world's youngest nation has been ripped apart by war, leaving tens of thousands dead.
The North American Leaders Summit is one of the first major opportunities for Prime Minister Trudeau -- a proud feminist -- to turn words into action and put his vision of a feminist foreign policy into practice. The human rights crisis in Mexico should be top of mind as he heads into his meetings with Presidents Obama and Peña Nieto tomorrow.
Whether through civil war or other forms of conflict, natural disasters or climate related disasters such as drought, the global scale of displaced people is unprecedented. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates there are now over 60 million forcibly displaced people around the world including 19.5 million refugees -- the highest number on record!
In South Sudan, domestic violence is widespread and largely tolerated. In the all-too-common words of two young women from Warrap State: "We are often beaten. When we make a mistake, we are beaten -- and there are so many mistakes." It was unfortunately not surprising that gender-based violence was a major threat for women living in IDP and refugee camps.
I have a lot to be thankful for. Good health, a loving family, a home and a gratifying job. But like many, I often take these blessings for granted. This year, however, is different. Today I am thankful for having shared a cup of coffee with Syrian women refugees in Sawere, a small town in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.
The searing images of three-year-old Alan Kurdi have moved through cyberspace and galvanized reaction around the world. For Canadians, there are layers and hard questions that go further than our basic human response of sorrow. That's because Alan Kurdi's family could and should have been in Canada by now.
When we ask our political leaders to talk about issues affecting women what we're asking for is a conversation about the unseen and largely unacknowledged inequalities that affect girls and women throughout their lives. I have a daughter. Like every Canadian woman, she's growing up in a country where to be female is to be overrepresented in poorly paid part-time work; under-represented at every level of authority and power; and so devalued as a worker that virtually any sector that attracts a female workforce pays less than sectors dominated by males.
The Seventh Summit of the Americas will take place in Panama on April 10-11, 2015 and it is set to be an historic occasion, given Cuba's participation for the first time since the founding summit in 1994. In the 2012 Summit, all Latin American and Caribbean countries voted to give Cuba a seat at the table. The United States and Canada opposed Cuban participation. Although Latin America and the Caribbean have been able to make some headway in reducing economic inequality, it is still the world's most unequal region. Much more will be needed to address extreme inequality than what is contemplated in the Mandates for Action.
A report released today by the University of Victoria's Environmental Law Centre calls for sweeping reform of Canadian charitable law in line with other jurisdictions such as the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and England. Current rules around "political activity" are confusing and create an "intolerable state of uncertainty," the report says.
Oxfam will take on the most powerful and wealthy organizations and individuals in the world. And the voice on this occasion is Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam's international spokesperson, speaking to the global elite as they gather this week in their annual state of the global economy meetings in Davos, Switzerland. And does she ever have a story to tell, backed by research and motivated by a deep sense of social justice. Byanyima will hit those people present with a remarkable and troubling truth: as of next year, over half of the world's wealth will be owned by the top 1 per cent. This is staggering, perhaps even representing the end of the economic order we have known and which sustained the West for decades.
Recently, Canada's Parliament introduced the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act, which could have a huge impact on people around the world experiencing the "resource curse." Too often, poor communities have no say in the extraction of resources from their land and receive little information about the scope of these projects, the revenues they generate, their timelines and potential impacts. The Canadian government has an historic opportunity to make a low-cost contribution to fighting corruption and improving the lives of thousands of communities around the world.