Fears that the divisive politics which characterized Brexit and the U.S. presidential election will undermine liberal democracies across the globe, and put the world's most vulnerable people in harm's way, have never been greater.
They are not misplaced -- right now real lives and a meaningful Canadian identity are at stake.
In the face of protectionism, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia and sexism, Canada must take the lead by reasserting a global vision that reinforces the fundamental principles of human rights -- the equal value of every human life and the right to equal protection against all forms of discrimination.
Right now real lives and a meaningful Canadian identity are at stake.
This stance, brought to life by intentional work towards achieving gender equality, is critically important to ensuring the world's most vulnerable are not left behind.
Canada is uniquely positioned to stand up for human rights and the world's most vulnerable by taking the lead on gender equality. It has spent six decades earning a reputation as builder of peace and progress, was the principal founder of the United Nations, and one of its own penned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
And with a feminist at Canada's helm -- as well as significant efforts to deliver an international assistance policy focused on the poorest and most vulnerable, especially women and girls, and people living in fragile states -- the country is poised to be the example and raise the bar.
A young girl from Kenya carries a bundle of firewood for sale. Many girls in Kenya are forced to drop out of school and devote their time to household chores, or work to survive. (Photo credit: Plan International)
The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations in 2015 sets the international stage for Canada to take a lead role advocating for the world's most vulnerable via gender equality.
The SDGs are the framework for Canada to be successful in this role because they aim to not only end poverty and protect the planet, but also to ensure prosperity for all nations and peoples, starting with reaching the most vulnerable first.
Every extra year a girl stays in school, her income increases 10 to 20 per cent [and] women invest 90 per cent of their income into their families, whereas men invest 35 per cent.
To be successful, they prioritize achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.
Reaching the most vulnerable through gender equality is not make believe. Evidence shows that it is not only realistic, but is replicable and sustainable. Take for instance the girls and women who represent 70 per cent of the world's poor: the Center for Global Development reports that every extra year a girl stays in school, her income increases 10 to 20 per cent.
This new income is crucial: as the Nike Foundation finds, girls and women invest 90 per cent of it into their families, whereas men invest 35 per cent.
While women and girls, especially adolescent girls, are among the most vulnerable populations in the world, they are also inherently powerful.
What the numbers show, and what Plan International Canada sees every day, on the ground through our international development work across the globe, is that when women and girls are educated, healthy, protected and empowered, they pull themselves, their children, their communities, and even their nations, out of poverty.
Two girls from Ecuador - Plan International aims to promote the rights of adolescent girls, unleashing their power and potential. (Photo credit: Plan International)
The phobias and isms that flow through our television screens, social media feeds and newspapers cannot be polluting fumes that makes us choke, debilitating us through fear of the other. Rather, the current political theatre calls on Canada to be loud and clear about who it is and what role it will play: Canada is not a nation built on defining itself against others.
The current political theatre calls on Canada to be loud and clear about who it is and what role it will play: Canada is not a nation built on defining itself against others.
Canada is a nation defined by its inclusion of others. And upholding this distinguishing characteristic is Canada's respect of the equal value of all people and the right to be free from discrimination, regardless of whether they live within or beyond the nation's border.
Canada must be the actor on the world's stage who defines itself in these ways through deliberate action -- not just for all Canadians, but for everyone who cannot be left behind. A critical step in this regard is heading an feminist initiative to reach the most excluded adolescent girls and women.
The curtain is up and the most vulnerable need Canada to play its part as the lead. This pivotal role demands Canada give an epic performance that everyone can applaud.
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