Maryam Monsef on her position as Minister of Status of Women and Women’s Issues in light of International Women’s Day

In a message in support of International Women’s Day, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres commented on how women’s rights were being “reduced, restricted and reversed”. He couldn’t have been more right. International Women’s Day found its origins in the working class woman’s story. Before the United Nations adopted the day, it was celebrated by the socialist movement. International Women’s Day began because of working women.

Although Sophie Trudeau recently advocated celebrating men along with women for being “respectful and supportive,” some people saw this as negating women’s struggle in light of a day intended to celebrate them and how they persevere with or without such support.

Arthur took the opportunity to speak with our Minister of Status of Women, and Liberal MP for Peterborough-Kawartha, Maryam Monsef. In the last few months, as new information about her birthplace came to light, Monsef’s refugee status has been questioned and sensationalized in the media. However, Monsef is not only this country’s first “Afghan-born” MP, she is above all a woman who has achieved remarkable success politics since the day she has started playing the game. With this in mind, Arthur sought to gauge Monsef’s thoughts on gender inequality, issues facing Indigenous women, and her plans as the Minister of Status of Women.

[Pictured] Maryam Monsef at Equal Voices
In your own words, could you please describe what being a Minister of Status of Women entails? What sort of goals do you have for your new position?

I have immense honor and privilege to be the Minister of Status of Women, at a time when we have an openly and proudly feminist Prime Minister. He has mandated me to essentially to prevail, to work for gender equality in Canada.

The first is to address and prevent gender-based violence. The second is to work towards women’s economic empowerment and the third is to enhance leadership opportunities for women and girls, whether it is on corporate boards or in the political sphere.

So, to deliver on that first aspect of my mandate, the government has been working with survivors across the country to hear their thoughts and to develop the first federal framework for addressing and preventing gender-based violence. This is something I very much look forward to releasing in the days and weeks to come.

As far as economic empowerment goes, I’m working with colleagues like Minister Duncan (our Minister of Science) to enhance women’s participation in fields that they have traditionally not been active in. [Areas] such as stem fields; so that’s science, trades, technology, engineering, mathematics, because we know that these are really good jobs.

The fastest way to lift women out of poverty, research shows, is to get them working in the trades. So, that’s one area. The efforts that are happening around developing a framework for early learning and child care is a part of the work that’s been done to ensure that more flexible work hours and compassionate leave is granted to federal employees. This takes into account that it is women who are often tasked with providing the majority of care whether for their children or their elders.

Indigenous women disproportionately face physical violence, sexual violence, and lack of access to safety and clean water. As Minister of Status of Women, what is your plan for addressing such issues? So far these women have been entirely forgotten. The Canadian government has historically attempted makeshift solutions without addressing the fundamental causes.

As you heard our Prime Minister say, this is the most important relationship to build upon. For me, as a settler, I carry a certain obligation for the first people of this land so their children and grandchildren are offered the same opportunities that I have been. So that’s what motivates me.

The work that the government is doing to improve the outcome for Indigenous people, particularly allowing an outcome for women and girls, is led by Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett.

However, as Minister of Status of Women, my collaboration with her, for example, involves the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. As you know, the inquiry has been launched and is now under review of an independent commission. Which is what we heard from the families of these women and girls—that it was really important that the federal government not lead, but rather place its trust in an independent commission.

Our gender-based violence strategy was developed in consultation with the Indigenous community’s survivors and leaders. It takes into account all the proportionate ways that Indigenous women and girls are subject to violence, addressing the root causes of this violence, and having an anti-oppressive approach to how we work with survivors is very much at the heart of the strategy.

So that we are clear; there is a lot of talent and resilience within Indigenous communities and we recognize that having Indigenous women and girls in positions of power and influence is an important part of improving outcomes for not just Indigenous communities, but all Canadians. So, making sure that corporate boards, and our own [government] appointments are including the diversity of the Canadian experience, is very important. We want to make sure that Indigenous voices are around tables of power and influence whether it is in the House of Commons or the appointments the government of Canada makes.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s data, Canada ranks 62nd ranking out of 190 countries on the proportion of national-level female politicians, and with female representation in the parliament being 26 percent, it is apparent we have a long way to go for women to achieve equal status and representation in Canadian politics. What are some of the initiatives you have planned to combat this?

One of the ways that we are working to enhance diversity around corporate boards is with Bill C-25, which has been introduced by my colleague (Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development) Navdeep Bains; his focus on innovation is what has driven him to introduce this amendment.

As far as the parliament goes, one of the highlights of my time in Ottawa has been the Women’s Day Celebrations a few days ago where the Government of Canada invested a significant amount of dollars into a partnership with Equal Voice, so that they could work with their partners and we could host 338 women from across the country as part of the Daughters of the Vote.

These young women took their seats in the house on Wednesday and their passion, the grace they demonstrated in their interactions with one and other with the rest of us parliamentarians, was an important reminder of why we need a greater diversity in the House of Commons.

Yes, we are at 26 percent right now and yes, we have for the first time a gender-balanced cabinet.

Wednesday was a reminder of how much work we still need to do to enhance the diversity in that place, and how much talent and potential we are missing out on as a nation by not having women and diverse backgrounds.

Given these statistics about inequalities that women face, how do you assess Sophie Trudeau’s recent statement about celebrating men for International Women’s Day?

I believe, in order for us to achieve gender equality, it is imperative that we take into account gender alliance. When I was at the UN in 2013, representing Peterborough, this is a message I left that place with.

Our efforts need to be intergenerational, they need to be cross-sectorial, they need to be multicultural and we need to, we have to include men and boys. I can tell you from personal experience, as someone who has the great privilege of having power and influence here in Canada, I wouldn’t be here if my grandfather didn’t believe in me and in my mother. If my grandfather hadn’t protected my mother from early marriage and supported her in all the ways she could be supported, she would not have grown up to be this strong woman she is and I would not be the person I am if he hadn’t, for example, spent time teaching me how to deliver a speech I wouldn’t be an effective communicator. If he hadn’t taken the time to instill in me a sense of responsibility and empowerment, not only would I never have made a difference in the lives of others through the pain and privilege that I have experienced, I would not be here today.

If we are to attain gender equality and see that in our lifetime, women must walk shoulder to shoulder and hand in hand with our allies, and that includes men and boys.