UN Women Canada president calls for gender equality

Simon Poitrimolt / McGill Tribune

Roughly 100 students gathered last Friday, Jan. 27, in Shatner’s Lev Bukhman room to listen to speeches by Almas Jiwani, president of the UN Women Canada National Committee, and humanitarian activist Sophie Gregoire Trudeau. Hosted by the newly created McGill chapter of UN Women Canada, both Jiwani and Trudeau addressed the issues of gender inequality and raised awareness of UN Women Canada.  

Jiwani opened her speech with a fundamental question.  

“What is gender equality?”  she asked. “We hear this phrase quite often, but do we ever spend the time to figure out what this really means? It is a state of society in which men and women are able to share equally in the distribution of power and influence.”

She then discussed the economic and educational disparities between men and women.  

“Women account for two thirds of the 1.4 billion people living in poverty,” Jiwani said. “Women make up 64 per cent of the 774 million illiterate adults in the world.” She added that women around the world continue to be the victims of abuse, discrimination, and oppression.  

“Ignoring the rights of women is an inexcusable injustice against humanity,” she said. “Human rights are women’s rights. Women’s rights are human rights.”

According to Jiwani, respecting gender equality is more than a moral issue. She quoted a recent study which found that the Fortune 500 companies with the highest number of women on their board were significantly more profitable than those with the fewer women.  

“Make no mistake: it has been proven time and time again that the empowerment of women leads to tangible gains in society as a whole,” she said. 

Jiwani suggested that activists focus on creating space for women in political participation, in science and technology, as trade and peace negotiators, and as heads of corporations.  

“It is inconceivable to have progress without involving more than half of the population,” she added. 

Trudeau focused on Canada’s role in empowering women and addressing issues of gender inequality on home soil.  

She shared the story of an Iranian woman she met recently who had been forced into marriage at the age of 12 and was subsequently abused. This woman explained to Trudeau that “I have resilience, I have courage, I’ve seen what is out there, but [because] I’m a woman, I’m going to make it through anything, and I’ve found a new life here in Canada.”

Trudeau emphasized that problems such as sex trafficking aren’t limited to the third world, and can occur in places like Montreal.  

Trudeau concluded her speech with a line from the movie the The Help: “‘Sometimes courage skips a generation.’ I have chills thinking that this generation is not us and it’s not the generation that we’re going to raise as well.”

Celine Ciara, president of the McGill Chapter of UN Women Canada, noted Jiwani’s personal qualities and her ability to serve as an advocate for women.  

 “I was touched by her strength, tenacity, and passion, and I felt that she embodied the spirit and generosity of UN Women Canada.”

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