Happy International Women’s Day 2015!!!!
As we celebrate this day I want to highlight some remarkable achievements. Internationally and in Canada I have witnessed girls and women overcome great adversity and odds to have their human rights respected.
I would like to highlight three of them, all of whom made significant achievements in 2014.
Embodiment of Empowerment.
Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head in a school bus in 2012 by the Taliban for advocating the education of girls in Pakistan.  She survived. In spite of being shot she continues this advocacy. Her actions led to her winning and sharing the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her advocacy of children’s rights and education for girls.
With an international audience watching, we witnessed this Pakistani teenage girl and survivor of gender-based violence say the following when receiving the award:
“We should all consider each other as human beings and we should respect each other. We should all fight for our rights; for the rights of children; for the rights of women; and for the rights of every human being.”
She thanked her father “for showing to the world a girl is not supposed to be a slave. A girl has the power to go forward in her life. She’s not only a mother. She’s not only a sister. She’s not only a wife. A girl should have an identity. She should be recognized that she has equal rights as [those of a] boy.”
I was humbled listening to her. I admire her for her courage. I am encouraged that she, her father and her family have been able to build on the aspirations of the people who put together the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action 20 years ago as well as subsequent calls for actions to eliminate violence against women and girls and ensure their rights.
Challenging our norms.
In September 2014, Emma Watson, UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador delivered a speech to launch a UN Women campaign called HeForShe. Feminism, gender relations, the impact gender violence has on women and men as well as how we address gender-based violence were debated, examined and reflected on.
I have listened and watched conversations unfold on social media, with friends and with colleagues. They have been impassioned and have made people feel unsettled. This actually makes me feel encouraged.
In order to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence we must have exactly these kinds of difficult conversations.
Through Ms. Watson’s speech, many have taken time to pause, reflect and re-assess gender relations and violence.
She triggered something in many people. Whether they agreed with her or not, she was able to get many people around the world to talk about something they normally wouldn’t talk about. What came out was honest and potent with personal experiences of how the gender debate and dialogue has impacted men and women positively and negatively. It left many with questions and few answers. The key here is that people were curious, people asked questions, people shared experiences and over time all of this is marinating in people’s brains and hearts.
The seeds have been planted and I am excited to see what ideas germinate.
Putting a face to Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
In December 2014, I was humbled by Rinelle Harper. She is a 16 year old Aboriginal who was sexually assaulted and left for dead by a river in Winnipeg in November. She said the following at the Assembly of First Nations in December:
“I am Rinelle Harper and I am from the Garden Hill First Nation.”
“I am here to talk about an end to violence against young women.”“I ask that everyone here remembers a few simple words: love, kindness, respect and forgiveness.”
“As a survivor, I respectfully challenge you all to call for a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women.”
As I listened to her I took a moment to quietly thank her for her courage. Had I, or any other woman or girl experienced what she had, would we, in front of all those people and in front of social media beaming the message to a larger audience, be able to say what she said? – One month after her ordeal! I take a moment now to thank her again.
Rinelle not only put a face to the plight of Aboriginal women and girls who face a disproportionate level of violence compared to non-Aboriginal women and girls in Canada, she gave this reality a voice.
On March 9th 2015, people working to implement women’s rights, country representatives and UN entities, will gather at an annual UN conference on the Status of Women at the UN headquarters in New York. This year they will focus is on how far we have come in achieving gender equality and women’s rights and what we need to do.
Let us take a moment to see how far we have come. We are nowhere close to gender equality, women’s rights implementation or considering the full impact gender violence has on all genders and communities. We are living in a world where our incremental gains have paved the way for such women, like those mentioned above, to keep reminding us that our work is not done. These individuals also remind us that there is the will to make gender equality and elimination of gender-based violence a reality.
I’ll let you sit with that. Marinate on it and let me know your thoughts.
Ask me a question via the comments or in a private message. Talk amongst your friends or to strangers. Let us keep the conversation going and let us take action!
 Malala: The girl who was shot for going to school.” October 7, 2013.
 Malala Yousafzai - Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech (Full) | October 10, 2014 | HD
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF6HlDolATE Accessed March 8, 2015.
 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’s aim is women’s empowerment and gender equality. You can learn more about the declaration here: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/ Accessed March 5, 2015.
 Watson, Emma. “Gender equality is your issue too.” September 20 2014.
 Vincent,Donovan. “Rinelle Harper delivers emotional plea to Assembly of First Nations.” December 9, 2014.
 “Rinelle Harper calls for inquiry into missing Aboriginal women.” CBC, December 9, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkjJGVwuOME Accessed March 8, 2015.
 See statistics of violence against Aboriginal girls and women in Canada here http://www.fafia-afai.org/en/solidarity-campaign/ Accessed March 8, 2015.
 The fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 20 March 2015. Representatives of Member States , UN entities, and ECOSOC-accredited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from all regions of the world attend the session. - See more http://www.unwomen.org/en/csw/csw59-2015#sthash.ImyrBQ3V.dpuf Accessed March 5, 2015.