International Women’s Day Q&A with Oxfam Canada’s Executive Director, Julie Delahanty
- In your view, why do discrimination and violence against women and girls continue to be so prevalent today in Canada and around the world?
Violence and discrimination against women and girls continues to be so prevalent because the power imbalance between men and women is so deeply rooted in our societies. Power is linked to economic status, financial security, physical and sexual health and rights and personal freedom.
Gender is a main predictor for who will be poor and who will have power. If we work to build more power, and more voice for women, then we can change things.
Good laws are an important way to challenge power imbalances and build more equality. Yet, there is anti-violence legislation in over 125 countries around the world, and violence against women and girls continues to be a major issue even in countries with strong legal frameworks.
This problem continues because at the end of the day, underlying beliefs about what are 'appropriate' roles for men and women can have a huge impact on violence against women and girls. These norms create a culture of violence, but they are hard to see and to change because they seem, well, "normal". They contribute to making violence seem acceptable or expected even if there are laws in place to prevent violence.
- What is the rationale between Oxfam’s motto that the end of poverty begins with women’s rights?
Our work around the world and in Canada points to gender as the most persistent predictor of poverty and powerlessness in our world today.
All human beings are of equal value and everyone should have the same fundamental rights upheld at all times. Only with those rights can people achieve fair wages for their work and access to basic human needs.
Women’s empowerment and gender equality are key to protecting the rights and improving the lives of women and girls. Improving their lives has a positive impact in other areas as well, from food security and the environment to peace-building and good governance.
An example of how our work does this in practice is Oxfam’s project "Restoring Coastal Livelihoods", which resulted in changing social norms that led to improved economic security and increased women’s rights. Specifically, on Tenekeke Island, Indonesia, Oxfam partners provided women in the community with field training to help optimize the island Mangrove forests which play a vital function in fish stock and seaweed. Working with community leaders, the project supported local women’s engagement in developing the mangrove (now “womangrove”) rehabilitation program which led to the creation of a seaweed cooperative and increased food security for the Island, while at the same time increasing women’s voices and shifting the attitudes towards the role and status of women.
- What are some of the measures that have been found effective in supporting women and girls overcome barriers like gender discrimination and violence?
Two decades of research in 70 countries confirms that the number one strategy for combating violence and discrimination against women and girls is the power of a strong feminist movement. People, men and women, coming together to stand up for women’s rights have made significant progress in changing behaviors and attitudes at the community level. Funding to help fuel the women’s movement has certainly contributed to making a difference.
Gender-sensitive economic and social policies, better laws and especially real enforcement of those laws are critical to supporting women’s rights and overcoming gender discrimination.
But it isn’t enough. Really, one of the most powerful contributors to change is honest dialogue. When traditional, religious and political leaders, along with women, men and youth in their communities, can have open honest conversations, they become champions of change.
Oxfam’s newest program called “Creating Spaces” is aimed at doing just that. The program will work towards creating social change in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, and the Philippines. Together with local women’s rights organizations, we will (in addition to working on changing laws, policies and providing services) create space for a dialogue about the social norms that place greater worth on men and boys, which is all too often used to rationalize violence. Our goal is to decrease the social acceptability of violence, and model positive behaviours within the social spheres which are most influential to bring an end to violence against women and girls.
- Please share your suggestions on how Canadians can act as champions of change, as well as mobilize the support of traditional, religious and political leaders for achieving a significant impact towards gender equality?
The best way to promote social change is to live that change. Don’t be afraid to call yourself a feminist and to support others you see standing up to challenge gender discrimination. Engage in the conversation at home, work, school or with friends. Hold our government accountable for its promises on women’s rights, and encourage Canada to be a leader on the global stage, including by supporting women’s rights organizations in Canada and in our foreign aid programme.
- Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t be afraid to call yourself a feminist – If you believe in social, political and economic equality, demonstrate a deep value of equality in your day-to-day life, and want to contribute to making the world a better, more just place for all – then YOU ARE A FEMINIST. Join Oxfam’s International Women’s Day campaign, take your selfie and use our hashtag #ImAFeminist on social media and visit our campaign page ImAFeminist.ca. We said it’s about having honest conversation – it starts today.