Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opened Women Deliver, the world’s largest conference on gender equality, with a warning: “The rights we enjoy in Canada and the rights so many have enjoyed around the world are not guaranteed. Progress can backslide. We’re seeing it happen.”
As countries around the world are beginning to lean towards a more conservative, nationalist ideology, women’s rights are among the first to come under threat. Which is why, later in the conference, Trudeau announced $1.4 billion in annual funding for maternal, sexual and reproductive health rights in Canada and around the world. Maryam Monsef, Canada’s Minister for Women and Gender Equality, also announced the Equality Fund, a $300 million government investment focused on “the sustainability of women’s organizations both in the developing parts of the world and here in Canada.”
Read on for some of the highlights from Day 1 of the conference, and the facts and figures we learned along the way.
1. Justin Trudeau on the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) report
The results of the National Inquiry into the murder and disappearance of thousands of indigenous women and girls in Canada over the course of decades were released earlier this week. The findings of the inquiry, which began in 2016, conclude that “this report is about deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide.” Addressing journalists at a press conference at Women Deliver, Trudeau was asked categorically by an indigenous reporter whether he personally agrees that this was indeed a genocide. While he maintained that he “accepts” the inquiry’s conclusion that what happened amounts to genocide, he went on to add, “There are many debates ongoing around words, and use of words. Our focus as a country, as leaders, as citizens, must be on the steps we take to put an end to this situation, and that is what we’re going to remain focused on.”
2. The link between gender & climate change
At a panel organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), speaker Hwei Mian Lim helped establish how climate change-related natural disasters disproportionately affect women and girls. While not a direct correlation, she says, the fact remains that women’s access to clean water, food and security; their menstrual and maternal health, as well as sexual and reproductive health are all tied to climate change. As an example, she cites an uptick in child marriage in the Philippines following natural disasters. Because of an increase in poverty and lack of resources, many families resort to marrying off their daughters early in an attempt to reduce their burden and risk. A decrease in crop production and access to food due to climate change also affects women and girls in certain countries where harmful social practices dictate that men and boys eat first, women and girls eat last—or not at all if food is scarce. This leads to undernourished and anemic girls, who if married young, give birth to stillborns or underweight babies. In short, the effects of climate change have far-reaching impacts beyond just the environmental and economic.
3. Lack of funding for women in tech
At a panel hosted by Melinda Gates, Women Deliver brought together four feminist entrepreneurs harnessing the power of technology for gender equality including Afghanistan’s first female tech CEO Roya Mahboob, whose organization Digital Citizen Fund provides digital and technological training to young women and girls in her country, and Judith Spitz, who launched WiTNY in an effort to right the gender imbalance in the tech industry. “There’s a culture around technology—occasionally referred to as the ‘brogrammer’ culture—and unfortunately the stereotype is true. We have to change that culture.” So she launched a pilot program in New York pairing tech companies with female students from local universities for winter internships, leading to an uptick (from 5 to 50%) in the coveted summer internships that eventually lead to job offers. “The way we’re going to get more women in tech is by getting more women in tech,” she says, simply. There’s a lot to be inspired by but Melinda Gates leaves us with a sobering reminder: “Only 6% of venture capital funding around the world goes to a woman-founded business.” A reminder that while much has been achieved, there’s still a long way to go.
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