Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being asked to raise the concerns of marginalized women — not just female business leaders — when he champions gender equality around the G7 table at a resort in La Malbaie, Que., in June.
The Liberal government is making gender equality a major theme of its G7 presidency this year, including with expected proposals on the economic empowerment of women and increasing the rate of female participation in the male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math.
Grassroots feminist activists in Ottawa for the ‘W7’ summit this week are reminding the Liberals that women and girls living in poverty and other difficult conditions around the world — including in Canada — know best how their lives could be improved and it is time for the G7 to listen.
“We want the G7 to think more broadly, beyond the focus only on women’s economic empowerment or women entrepreneurs,” said Julie Delahanty, executive director of Oxfam Canada.
“Women’s economic empowerment is key, but we don’t want that agenda to be narrowly defined or for the leaders to neglect other important issues.”
The group of about 70 activists from 20 countries are in Ottawa to craft their own set of recommendations for how Canada and other G7 nations could improve the lives of women and girls, including on climate change, gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health rights.
They shared many of those ideas with Trudeau in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that Delahanty described as challenging but productive.
Those in the room pressed the prime minister on everything from safe drinking water in Canada to the link between the extractive industries and violence against women, Delahanty said. Trudeau’s response, she added, showed he is knowledgeable about the concerns of the feminist movement — including by engaging on how to get funding to human rights groups.
“He was a strong participant in that conversation, understanding some of the limitations in what you’re able to do at a G7, what you’re able to do as a leader of a country.”
While the activists plan to keep pushing, she said, there is also an understanding that even a first step towards incorporating gender equality into the G7 summit process can be a big one.
“One G7 meeting isn’t going to change the future trajectory of the world, but I think it can have an impact in just discussing these issues and having leaders hear about them,” Delahanty said.
Prior to the meeting, Trudeau gave a short speech in which he described how he hopes Canada’s commitment to advancing gender issues at the G7 will help shake things up.
“Canada is using our G7 presidency to challenge the status quo,” he said, adding that he wants the G7 gender equality council, which includes W7 high-profile members such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, to become a permanent part of the summit process.
Yousafzai won’t be there when the council holds its first in-person meeting in Ottawa this week, but most of the other members — including billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates and Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund — will be in attendance.
Trudeau also told the activists he would be listening to their ideas and their concerns. “I thank you for pushing us and for never allowing anyone to get complacent.”
There is always plenty of talk about breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, said earlier in the day. But a lot of women, their needs ignored, are being left behind to sweep up the shards, she added.
Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund, said it would be a shame to lose the momentum sparked by the #MeToo movement on sexual assault and harassment, but it is important to remember there are women and girls around the globe who have never heard of the hashtag.
Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press