News  UN panel talks gender, development, Canada

The McGill Students for UN Women Canada National Committee hosted a panel discussion last Wednesday titled “Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the New Development Agenda.”

The panel included UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri, UN Women Canada National Committee President Almas Jiwani, McGill Law professor and human rights lawyer Pearl Eliadis, and other UN, non-profit, and government representatives.

Panel members discussed issues that developing and developed countries face in achieving the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) concerned with promoting gender equality. MDGs are international benchmarks set by the UN with the goal of alleviating extreme poverty by 2015. The panel also discussed goals that ought to be set post-2015.

McGill Students for UN Women Canada National Committee member Jassie Badion said she hopes that the event will raise awareness of inequalities abroad, as well as in Canada.

While the panel discussed the issue of women’s empowerment in developing countries, it highlighted that developed nations also face many problems with gender parity.

According to Puri, “Countries forget this is a struggle, [and that] nowhere is the battle totally won.”

The World Economic Forum ranked Canada 20th in its 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, placing it behind Sri Lanka and Lesotho.

According to Jiwani, “Canadian women continue to experience a wage discrepancy for comparable employment…and are over-represented in low-skill, low-wage sectors.”

Canada was also ranked 45th in the world for parliamentary representation of women by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, behind Iraq and Lesotho.

According to Eliadis, Canadians see the MDGs “as things for other countries.”

She also claimed that the greatest threat to women’s empowerment and gender equality in Canada comes from the U.S., where women’s right to birth control and abortion are currently under debate.

The discussion also addressed the codependent relationship between gender equality and other objectives of sustainable development.

As an example of this, Puri cited  the statistic that women in developing countries spend forty billion hours each year fetching water. If drinkable water were more accessible, she said, these women might be more able to reach their economic, intellectual, and political potentials.

Puri said she hopes that the post-2015 goals will focus on the “unleashing of exponential potential of women…. the most untapped resource.”