It was recently announced that Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopped on the Malala Yousafzai bandwagon by signing a petition to nominate the schoolgirl for the Nobel Peace prize.
It seems Harper's has sympathy for the young activist for girls' education from a small town in a conservative region of Pakistan. As is the case for the millions of besieged women and girls around the globe, Malala's struggle went unnoticed in the West until gunmen who favour "traditional" roles for women stopped a van carrying the girl and shot her in the head.
Malala had committed cardinal sin: promoting education for girls and wanting to go to school.
The October 8 murder attempt left Malala in critical condition. An uncle described her as being in excruciating pain and unable to stop moving her arms and legs. Days later, Malala was whisked away to the UK to receive the best possible medical care. Like many refugees, Malala needed medical assistance because of the life-threatening circumstances in which she fled her homeland.
As many refugees will attest, the unrestricted medical care they receive in their new country will strengthen their health and it will also strengthen their sense of gratitude towards the people, the nation which opened their doors to them. Perhaps Malala might want to stay in a country that affords healthcare and rights to all its inhabitants while supporting women's rights abroad. Sadly, that country isn't Canada.
Stephen Harper was "proud" to support the Nobel Prize bid for young Malala, but his policies towards refugee claimants fly in the face of everything Malala stands for.
Under Harper's watch, the government of Canada is poised to designate a list of so-called "safe countries" from which refugees would be denied entry to Canada. Will Pakistan will make the cut? Or will the other Malalas be turned away like the Jewish asylum-seekers were in the 1930s?
Girls like Malala are at the mercy of their male relatives and the societal structure -- in this case the Taliban -- which uses violence to impose compliance in the realm of women's education, marriage, attire, heath, etc. The little help Canada gives to the world's Malalas in the form of foreign aid omits a key component of women's heath. PM Harper was scolded by none other than Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at a 2010 G8 meeting in Gatineau, QC for de-funding reproductive health in the foreign aid portfolio. Harper's policy decision does nothing to alter the fragile situation faced by other Malalas in developing countries.
If any of the world's other Malalas get the chance to reach Canada's shores in the near future, they might end up in a mandatory detention camp, as per the new federal law calling for asylum seekers to be "detained indefinitely" in provincial jails. We can only imagine a refugee girl like Malala languishing in a crowded jail, having effectively sailed from one form of imprisonment to another.
Finally, Harper's right hand man, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, has defended the government's callous move to deny healthcare to refugees, drawing protests from doctors and criticism from defenders of common sense nationwide.
By signing a petition, PM Harper may buy some favourable regard from the legion of supporters Malala has garnered through her inspiring and courageous journey. She is a beacon of hope for so many young women confined by the clutches of senseless iniquity. But Harper's singular gesture will never buy respect from the advocates of fairness, equality and human decency. Only policy reversals can deliver that miracle.
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