Written by Kelly Bowden
National Campaigns Manager, Oxfam Canada
That’s why Oxfam teamed up with the Up For Debate campaign.
Up For Debate has a very clear goal: to put women’s rights and gender equality on the 2015 electoral map. And on September 21st, Up For Debate made headlines for doing just that – releasing highlights from four federal leader’s interviews on women’s issues. While coverage from Monday night’s event in Toronto focused on childcare commitments, infrastructure funding and rape as a weapon of war, the media largely missed the real story of what happened across this country to bring the four leaders to the table: the collective strength of women’s organizations with a shared agenda.
The Up For Debate campaign was led by the Alliance for Women’s Rights – a network of over 175 women’s organizations and their allies.
Research by Laurel Weldon and Mala Htun tells us that women’s organizations working together has even more impact on influencing government policy than the presence of women legislators, or national wealth. These findings come from extensive research in 70 countries over the course of 30 years. It is not, therefore, one little example – it is a worldwide phenomenon.
Oxfam’s Raising Her Voice project worked to enhance women’s voices in governance, and recognized that for women to speak up, we need to invest in building their confidence. It is not apathy that has limited women’s voices in the public sphere here in Canada and around the world; it is a series of complex and interwoven barriers – from fear of violence to lack of resources – that have too often muted the voices of strong women.
In Nigeria, Oxfam supported a successful advocacy effort that led to the passage of the 2013 Violence Against Persons Prohibition Bill. Advocacy tactics included a tightly orchestrated text message campaign targeting ministers and highly publicized mock tribunals. Effective mass communication ensured that Nigerians could plainly see the absurdity of women and men being treated inequitably – an essential part of the strategy to influence those in power.
Oxfam believes that change happens through the power of people. Citizens must stand up and hold their governments to account, whether in Nigeria or right here in Canada.
In addition to the interviews with four of the five party leaders, Up For Debate has put together a package of questions that you can take to your local all candidates’ debate. And there is a poster-campaign to plug into to raise awareness in your neighborhood. We are building grassroots support to make women’s rights and gender equality a ballot issue – and it is working!
We’ve seen thousands of Canadians sign the petition calling on party leaders to address women’s issues. We’ve seen announcements from party leaders committing to childcare programs, a national action plan to end violence against women, an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women, and assurance that our foreign aid programs will ensure that women everywhere have the right to a full range of sexual health services.
Beyond these achievements – Up For Debate has also set an important precedent.
While it has been 30 years since all party leaders stood together on the same stage to discuss women’s issues in an election campaign, it certainly won’t be 30 years before it happens again. In the next election there will undoubtedly be a televised leaders’ debate on these issues. The women’s movement has seized this electoral moment to put these issues at the top of the political and policy agenda. And until women have fully and finally achieved every kind of equality, we will ensure that our issues remain where they belong: an inarguable priority in a healthy society.
In Laurel and Htun’s words “Autonomous feminist organising ensures that words become deeds.” Up For Debate has worked hard to compel party leaders to speak openly and honestly about women’s issues. When October 19th has come and gone, then the even more important work begins – making sure we see words become action.
WATCH THE LEADER’S INTERVIEWS ON WOMEN’S ISSUES HERE:
DOWNLOAD CAMPAIGN RESOURCES TO SPREAD THE WORD HERE: