Columnists

Women Deliver beyond a simple conference

PAMELA O’DONNELL
FROM June 3 to 6, Canada will host the Women Deliver global conference in Vancouver, British Columbia.
It is the largest international gathering on gender equality and the health, rights and well-being of women and girls. We expect more than 7,000 participants from more than 160 countries – and another 100,000 participants if you include those watching online.
Canada is very proud to host this event because Women Deliver goes far beyond a simple conference. It is a global movement to promote gender equality, a cause that can make a real difference in the fight against poverty and in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are essential to grow the economy and the middle class. They are key to reducing poverty and creating more peaceful societies around the world. Canada is a strong supporter of gender equality at home and around the world.
Domestically, we took concrete action to advance gender equality – from appointing Canada’s first gender-balanced federal Cabinet to introducing the first federal budget with a gender lens in 2018 to making historic investments in women’s organisations to launching the first federal Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence.
Internationally, we have a feminist foreign policy that integrates gender equality considerations in all aspects of our engagement abroad. We are including gender equality provisions into our free trade agreements with a view to ensuring that all segments of society can take advantage of the opportunities that flow from international trade and investment.
We are promoting international norms and actions to prevent and respond to violence against women and girls, including in digital contexts.
We are supporting the meaningful participation of uniformed women in UN peace operations. Canada is delighted to now be partnering with Zambia to increase women’s meaningful participation in UN peace operations in policing roles. Canada chose Zambia, as one of two partners globally, because of Zambia’s demonstrated leadership in deploying a high percentage of female police peacekeepers.
We are implementing a feminist international assistance policy, and we have increased our investments in an area crucial to the empowerment of women and girls: sexual and reproductive health. Evidence shows that when women and girls are educated and have control over their sexual and reproductive choices, maternal and child mortality rates decrease and families thrive. However, when girls cannot access sexual health services, they are more likely to miss school, drop out due to pregnancy or face health problems and discrimination.
During our G7 presidency last year, Canada garnered support for the Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for Girls, Adolescent Girls and Women in Developing Countries, while also announcing a historic US$3.8 billion investment by various partners to support education for women and girls in crisis and conflict situations. Educated girls are empowered girls and this is the key to making greater gains in sustainable development.
As a long-standing partner of Zambia, Canada is reaching out to all its citizens, civil society, businesses and political leadership, asking that they join us and our efforts to accelerate progress towards inclusion and gender equality.
In recent years, a cornerstone of our relationship has been our partnership as champions of gender equality and women’s empowerment. His Excellency President Edgar Lungu’s commitment has been instrumental to the progress we are seeing. For example, we have made significant strides towards ending child marriage, working together multilaterally and in Zambia. Later, marriage and smaller families make it easier for women to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. Child marriage often ends a girl’s access to education, which reduces their opportunities to obtain a good job and support their families.
Canada is also pleased to support Zambia’s development agenda in critical areas such as nutrition, sanitation, and the economic empowerment of women with approximately US$14 million of Canadian development assistance annually.
Recently, I had the distinct honour and pleasure of having Zambia’s Women Deliver Youth Leader, Natasha Mwansa, join me for a series of meetings to advance women, peace and security with Government of Zambia officials. This was an opportunity for Natasha to be exposed to Women in Leadership in Action and to present her views to high-level officials. Natasha’s thoughtful, informed and enthusiastic approach was an inspiration to all who attended these meetings. Young ladies like Natasha represent the future, including their views and enabling their participation in decision-making will result in better leadership, more informed decisions and more inclusive societies.
We can all promote gender equality in our daily lives. We can cultivate inclusive attitudes and combat discrimination at work, among friends and on social media. We can push for positive change by supporting the rights of women, girls and other marginalised people. The world needs us all in this good fight.
The author is High Commissioner of Canada to Zambia.

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