The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: gender equality

Women & Global Peace: Inseperable

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WE KNOW THAT THE GOVERNMENT OF CANADA IS undergoing a significant review as to where it would like to place its 600 peacekeepers in the near future. In this troubled world, the opportunities for involvement seem almost endless, although it appears likely that the deployment will occur somewhere on the African continent.

Many Canadians like the idea of returning to peacekeeping as a valid Canadian extension to the world, whether or not people choose to describe it by another term like peacebuilding or peacemaking. Yet given this country’s heightened awareness placed upon the role of women in its development programs, it would be helpful to look through a similar lens when considering anything to do with military peacekeeping. We’re not talking about female soldiers here, but the possibility of putting a gender lens over our involvement in conflict areas.

Only a week ago, the United Nations Security Council held an Open Debate on women, peace, and security to discuss the protection of women and girls in conflict areas. The timing is crucial since violence in Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, Colombia, and Nigeria has greatly increased the threat to women and girls. It’s all part of a larger picture, where international assistance has tripled in 10 years and some 80% of those targeted by such aid are affected by armed conflict.

Let’s put it another way. The cost of all this violence is $13.6 trillion (US). With all these numbers on the rise, the risk to girls and women threatens to undermine much of the global advancement made in gender security and programs in recent years.

So, this is pretty serious stuff. But it’s also essential that it be dealt with – not because protecting women and girls is just the right thing to do – it is – but because it puts things on a faster track to peace, which everyone wants. A huge study put out by the United Nations, involving peacekeeping operations, peacekeeping architecture, and the role of women, came to an important conclusion: the vital participation of women is the most vital and frequently neglected component of peaceful security. Put plainly: the more we invest in women and girls, the more effectively peace can be planted in troubled regions. This doesn’t come as a shock, but it is a reminder that building future peace through peacekeeping without empowering the role of women is a poor investment. One aspect of the UN study showed that over the course of 15 years, the chance of peace enduring is 35% higher when women are included in the follow-up.

The UN report ended up listing over 100 recommendations of how women could be better included in peace negotiations and their aftermath. A key recommendation – game-changing if it were enforced – is for the establishment of an Informal Expert Group on Women, Peace and Security as an extension of the Security Council itself. This recommendation was implemented in February and already the input from around the world has been significant. Eventually, the goal is to infuse the necessity of these findings throughout the entire UN architecture.

For all this to have real effect, UN member nations must actively support this Informal Expert Group and implement their recommendations. This is where the true test will come, for there are still nations that don’t mind giving verbal support to such ideas but have no intention whatsoever of implementing them. Canada, with its strong emphasis for the past decade on women and girls, could play a leading role in not only steering the recommendations through the UN system, but in also using its reputation and economic clout through trade and development to bring recalcitrant nations online. And should it up its support of such a role, it must be broadcast to the Canadian people in general, instead of being isolated in the lengthy corridors of the UN structures themselves, it’s successes and failures destined for obscurity.

For those of us involved in international development in regions of conflict, especially in Africa, this new UN effort is what many have sought for years. For women’s groups in advanced nations, the initiative is a workable way of showing solidarity for their struggling counterparts half a world away. And for the state of the world in general, especially as it seeks to find a peaceful future, it is one of the greatest investments that can be made.

It’s 2016: Ideas on Implementing Equal Pay

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SPEAKING AT A BUSINESS BREAKFAST LAST WEEK, I fielded a few inquiries in a Q & A session regarding my last week’s blog posts on the issue of equal pay for equal work. Nothing really surprising there; the corporate community increasingly explores evolving issues like social good, living wage, environmental upgrades, and wage parity between the genders. One medium-sized business manager asked how best would a business go about implementing an equal pay strategy.

Obviously I’m no expert (30-year firefighter), but some lessons gleaned from the equal pay movement have a clear and pressing sense to them.

The first thing to remember if you’re thinking of evolving a business into an equal pay employer is that there a clear business case for it. Three important studies came out in the U.S. recently – McKinsey and Company, Ernst & Young, and PriceWaterhouseCoopers – confirming that companies with greater board diversity consistently outperformed competitors who hadn’t made that progression. Initial research has determined that achieving gender parity in the U.S. would initially boost the economy by $4.3 billion annually. These three reports derive from companies that are hardly slackers and their findings deserve some weight.

Secondly, do some of your own internal research. An internal gender pay audit would reveal to more businesses than we can imagine that discrepancies exist between men and women tasked with the same work. Government audits in Canada, the U.S. and in the European Union, revealed cumulative gender biases that will eventually need to be dealt with. Understanding pay disparity is ultimately about learning and knowledge and the best way to move forward is take a deeper look within your own company.

Third, speak with other leaders within your organization about their sense and the possibilities of implementation. It’s likely you’re not alone in wondering as to the responsibilities regarding equal pay for equal work. Put the concept on the table. Assess the likely costs, the ultimate financial benefits, and the place of your company within the community when it comes to leadership.

Fourth, map out a possible map for implementation. It’s not urgent to accomplish something so significant overnight, but it is important to move forward in a timely fashion. The gender equality movement in Canada and elsewhere has taken on more importance in the public, private, and political consciousness – everyone is “in process” on issues of this magnitude and time should be taken to do it effectively.

This last point is crucial in the operation of any business. The corporate world is clearly changing and being challenged by social movements that are increasingly based upon inclusion and law. Governments are progressively responding to citizen pressure and eventually laws will be passed guaranteeing equal pay for equal work between the genders. It’s best to get out ahead of that, or as the CEO of one of the most successful brands in the world put it recently:

“It is not good enough to do what the law says. We need to be in the forefront of those social responsibility issues” … Anders Dahlvig of IKEA

It’s not just about law but democracy, and the need for a better integration between business and citizenship. It’s coming and market share will slowly erode from those companies that refuse to undertake what the rest of the world is pressing for. It’s about leadership, community responsibility, and progress, and, ultimately for many, it is about better business. Or as Peter Robinson, SEO of Mountain Equipment Co-op plainly put it: “Ethics is the new competitive environment.” It is 2016, and time to catch up to consumers and the change they seek.

Half the Sky? Think Higher

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WHEN MAO ZEDONG (CHINA’S CHAIRMAN MAO) noted that women hold up “half the sky,” he might have greatly underestimated that figure. Best selling author, and New York Times columnist, Nicholas Kristoff wrote a book, co-authored with Sheryl WuDunn, and filmed a documentary that used “Half the Sky” as the title for both. He made his intentions clear at the very outset of both projects:

“So let us be clear about this up front: We hope to recruit you to join an incipient movement to emancipate women and fight global poverty by unlocking women’s power as economic catalysts. That is the process under way – not a drama of victimization but of empowerment, the kind that transforms bubbly teenage girls from brothel slaves into successful businesswomen.  This is a story of transformation. It is change that is already taking place, and change that can accelerate if you’ll just open your heart and join in.”

Hundreds of researchers and writers besides just Kristoff have repeatedly noted that economies simply can’t flourish unless women are permitted and encouraged to apply their entrepreneurial skills to their local environments. Nowhere is this more true now than in farming and agricultural businesses.

Recently, the United Nations spoke of how former rural dwellers are now migrating to cities by the millions, but a deeper look reveals that the majority of that great migration are men either searching for new lives, or seeking employment to send money back to their families in rural regions. Whatever the reason, the result is that women are having to pick up the agricultural slack left as a result. This represents, for women in developing countries worldwide and their communities, the opportunity they have been waiting for.

But as we might suspect, there are problems – lots of them, as farming increasingly transitions from men to women.

To begin with, women farmers are frequently deprived of land ownership. Laws haven’t kept up with the changes and an entirely new field of lawyers and researchers are rising up to correct such historical oversights in an attempt to assist women to gain a fighting chance. Today, half of all farmers are women and half of the food grown has come from their hard work. But it could be better. According the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), if women could just enjoy the same land rights as their male counterparts, their combined efforts could lift some 100 – 150 million people out of hunger. But that’s not happening because women can’t own the land they till.

But it’s not just about land; it’s also about animals. Women are greatly limited in the animals they can own, and they don’t even get all the revenue raised from the animals they do possess. We see this in South Sudan whenever we visit and it takes dedicated effort to change the culture over many years.

All this is important because it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Women most often have less educational opportunities than men and experience far more difficulty gaining access to seeds, technical information, fertilizers, pest control measures, and tools. That’s a lot to overcome, but they also carry advantages that men don’t. Their understanding of local market operations is vastly superior to that of their male counterparts, and the networks they establish in tireless efforts to feed their families would dwarf what others possess. Combine that seasoned expertise with the tools mentioned above and the developing world would go through transformational change.

We don’t have to venture overseas to witness the distinct disadvantage women face when gaining ownership of their lives is such an uphill climb. Just consider the matrimonial property rights dilemma that confounds our First Nations communities and how aboriginal women can lose a sense of ownership virtually overnight. This isn’t just a developing world phenomenon, nor merely a Canadian aboriginal problem – it is a global travesty of injustice, a lack of political will, and a refusal of many to build legal ownership into communities and countries as they modernize.

Given that women are quickly increasing their oversight over agricultural operations as the men depart to municipalities, it likely is true that the idea women hold up “half the sky” isn’t even close to reality. The task of beating world hunger is now squarely within their opportunity to rectify, but only if the global community fights to win them the rights, opportunities, and the tools to get the job done.

Promise Fulfilled

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THE WORK OF FOUR REMARKABLE Canadian women in South Sudan has been so inspiring that I am including my new London Free Press article here on their efforts.  Just link to http://www.lfpress.com/2015/02/26/pearson-a-london-groups-promise-14-years-ago-to-build-a-high-school-in-the-south-sudan-region-of-aweil-was-fulfilled-this-year-the-school-will-open-in-apriland see some great pictures, along with a description of their efforts.  This is inspiring stuff in a new nation struggling to find its feet.  Proud to know these four great champions.

The Gender 8

Just a brief observation from the G8 sessions today on food security and child and maternal health. CIDA minister Bev Oda and her colleagues were kind enough to include me in many of the events today – something that provided me a ringside seat. It was only as the morning session was underway that I noticed the makeup of the large conference table seating all the development ministers from the G8 countries. Every single one was male. Except for Canada, that is. It was striking to witness Bev Oda and CIDA president Margaret Biggs seated at the head of the table and ably leading the discussions dominated by men.

All this reminded me once again what a special place CIDA has held in the world community in terms of gender programming and equality. In fact, I sat with the CIDA contingent for the morning session and was the only male – something I found heartening. Wherever CIDA goes in the future, its belief and practice of gender equality will remain one of its core strengths and a source of pride in all things Canadian. It was just odd for these two leading figures to be the only women present during a discussion on maternal health. Good on you CIDA.

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