Why Women’s Rights Remains a Global Issue

PLAN Canada’s Dreeni Geer: From Rwanda to Canada

Drawn in by the sweet smell and the long stalks lining the roads on the drive back from one of the local communities in Rwanda, Dreeni Geer, advocacy manager for PLAN’s Because I am Girl campaign asks her fellow staff members travelling in the car along with her: “Is that Sugar cane?”

“Yes, we have lots of sugar cane in Rwanda, would you like to stop? “

“Yes, maybe we can buy some from a local person,” she replies motioning to a family selling the crop outside of their home.
The car with the PLAN Canada employees halts. Dreeni steps down from the car. Outside the small rural dwelling comfortably sits a man drinking something out of a flask. Beside him is a pregnant woman alongside her three daughters, aged approximately four, seven, and eleven.

“We’d love to purchase some sugar cane from you,” Dreeni requests smiling while getting her currency out from her black fossil messenger bag.

Without hesitation the pregnant woman gets up with her cutlass in hand, and hastily cuts the cane from the stalks. The young girls complete the transactions. After receiving extra payment for the sweet treat from Dreeni, the girls hand over the money to their mother who returns to the doorway of her home. She safely places the payment into her money pouch.

As the beautiful children return to playing, Dreeni surprises them with vanilla cookies from her car; the girls are overcome with smiles and laughter. The whole time the man refuses to move and indifferently continues to drink from his flask…

…“Who are hustling, who are hustling to make that money work, to be that real oil of economy? It’s women and girls. And there’s no credit for all they do” exclaims Dreeni Geer passionately back in Canada.

Yet are these female hustlers only in the Global South? What about the state of women and girls here in Canada? Are things that different in the North?

Canada isn’ t that different: PLAN’s Because I am a Girl Campaign

According to Plan Canada’s Because I am a Girl campaign, the answer is no. The campaign encourages Canadians to invest into the untapped potential of girls and young women and explicitly talks about gender discrimination as a global phenomenon. At Plan “we say girls around the world, face discrimination and barriers because of age and gender.”

Yet this gender discrimination is exacerbated by poverty and political instability unique to the Global South, resulting in the qualitative differences in opportunities available to these women.

Statistics and news about the ‘developing world’ that document the low numbers of educated girls in comparison to boys; social issues, such as genital mutilation; and the high numbers of women and girls limited to the domestic and sex trades may lead us to believe that Canadian women and girls are better off.

However, as Geer points out, in Canada “1 in 4 women are still raped, personal violence is such a big issue, and women still do a majority of the domestic work. You’re gonna go to school with a boy sitting next to you and the minute you graduate he is going to get paid 30 percent more than you just because he is a boy.”

So “why is this world so dominated by men and boys? Is it because they have some intrinsic superiority? No, its because boys and men live on the backs of women and girls who have been stuck at home doing all the domestic work, that unrecognized labour, that allows boys and men to focus on school and work.”

Khan: Recognize the Identity Barriers

Similarly, Fatima Khan, a social worker at an Ontario rape crisis centre comments on our societal responsibility: “If we do not recognize the power and privilege that men do have, then I don’t know what progress we can make.” Equal opportunity becomes “just this notion that we think we are going to get to.”

Drawing on her experience as a counselor that provides support and trauma recovery for women survivors of sexual violence, Khan remarks, “Women are not just facing oppression and discrimination based on the fact that they are women. Social barriers appear when we look at what is intersecting with the woman’s identity. So…this is a woman of colour, or a woman from a minority group or a disabled woman…”

These identity intersections determine a woman’s social location and in turn indicate the unique challenges in her life.

Putting Constitutions into Practice

Geer demystifies the meaning of our notion of universal rights for women: “Most governments and policies are pro-gender equality. All constitutions talk about universal human rights, equality of the citizen, everybody as equal members of state.” Rather, the barriers to equal opportunity for women and girls are a product of implementation challenges. Recognizing this, Geer assists governments in her fieldwork to recognize the gaps in their laws or inherent gender barriers in certain services. But in poorer countries these problems remain unfixed since governments’ lack resources due to poverty or political corruption.

All Governments Possess Strengths

However, remarkable countries in the Global South like Rwanda, which just came out of a conflict and a 15 year genocide, remind us that all global players may learn and share something from each other despite levels of development. “Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament in the world,” meanwhile Canada lags behind with one of the highest gender gaps in political representation.

According to Plan this interdependent learning across the global community is the key to bettering the lives of women and girls. “The world is small place. The ripples of decisions in the North and South affect each other…the South is not so far away anymore. Everyone has the same rights and what are we doing to ensure that our neighbors have the same rights? “

A PLAN of Action

As Canadians and Global citizens we first need to “acknowledge the roles that girls and women have played, that unseen and unaccredited labor force.” Then, raise awareness about issues, such as violence against women and pay equity that pertain to our national context. Once we do this we can overcome the stereotype that gender inequality is a foreign phenomenon.

Finally, join Plan Canada in making September 22nd the National Day of the Girl by signing a petition to the government. This calendar marker will force duty bearers to make progress each year on the state of women and girls in the form of policy implementation, both nationally and internationally.

Support Girls Around the World through Plan Canada

Why should you choose to do any of this? Because 50% of the world’s population can truthfully answer, “Because I am a Girl.”

Learn how you can  contribute, visit Because I am a Girl.ca