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Politics Where’s the feminist foreign policy at the Three Amigos summit?

Gerald Caplan is an Africa scholar, a former New Democratic Party national director and a regular panelist on CBC's Power & Politics.

In the past two weeks, someone killed U.K. Labour MP Jo Cox in broad daylight on the streets of her own constituency. Someone killed 49 gays in a night club in Orlando. Someone invaded a doctor's office in Calgary, killing one person and wounding another. Someone named Donald Trump is the Republican candidate to be American president.

Because it's 2016?

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No. It's because that's where human nature always leads us. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's explanation for appointing a gender-equal cabinet has become a hackneyed international meme. But really, it means nothing and explains nothing.

In fact, "Because it's 2015" (or 2016) is not just meaningless. It may be memorable, but it's just plain wrong. It implies an ascending evolution of the species, with the world getting steadily better, so that by 2015 Canada had finally progressed to a gender-equal cabinet. It's a mini-version of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous statement, "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice."

But – with all due respect to Dr. King – that's wrong, too. In reality, there are always highs and lows in the human condition, often at the same time, as at the present moment. That's what human nature really creates.

The proposition that the world keeps getting better, that humanity steadily evolves towards a better world and a higher ethic, doesn't sound to me like this morning's lugubrious headlines. Yet at the same time, it's true that in Canada, and in several other parts of the world, some palpable and thrilling gains towards justice have been made in certain conspicuous areas.

For example, when I was growing up, men ruled – openly, explicitly, consciously. I'm sure men were busily beating up women, but it wasn't deemed newsworthy and we never heard about it.

When I was growing up we knew literally nothing about homosexuality nor did we know a single LBGTQ person. Though they surely existed, to this day I don't know who they were or how they endured so long in their crowded closet.

When I was growing up, people with disabilities, whether physical or psychological, were largely hidden from view. Clearly they existed, but we hardly saw a sign of them.

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In all these areas, we in Canada and in some other parts of the world have made real progress. But at the same time, in all these same areas, and over huge swaths of the globe, gays, women and the disabled still face discrimination, oppression and often violence on a routine basis.

Even progress can be ambiguous. In Canada, it may be that we're moving forward by being, finally, more open about the epidemic abuse of women and the plight of indigenous communities. But surely it's shameful that there's so much still to be open about.

It's beyond easy to catalogue the world's woes, from climate change to terrorism and violence. But here I want to come back to the question of women's progress specifically. In fact the status of women remains a scandal everywhere in the world. Despite some welcome advances, women are never safe and never really equal anywhere, including Canada.

When B.C. Premier Christy Clark revealed the other day that she, too, had been a victim of assault, her most telling point was that all the women she shared her experiences with had similar stories of their own.

"Endemic" is the word, the exact word that was used to describe sexual harassment among the Canadian armed forces. It means regular, habitual, unremarkable. Ask any indigenous Canadian woman. Ask those who've investigated the Mounties. Ask anyone who's listened to Donald Trump for two minutes. Ask anyone who checks online comments. Ask any woman.

Ask any woman politician about the language used against her compared to her male counterparts. "Trump That Bitch" is a good start. A writer for the Barrie Examiner, Robin Baranyai, has done some useful digging in the dark world of Canadian trolls.

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Premier Kathleen Wynne is a "crazy bitch"; her predecessor, Dalton McGuinty, was merely duplicitous. Bob Rae was a "traitor" when he switched from the NDP to the Libs but Belinda Stronach became a "political harlot," a "political whore," when she defected from the Conservatives. Former Alberta premier Alison Redford was a "big mouth and no brains to back it up…A classless bitch." Christy Clark is "a spoiled ditz with big tits."

There's an awful lot of very sick, misogynistic, dangerous men out there, I'm afraid.

So what we need is not clever little phrases from the PM but a genuinely feminist government that consistently governs through the lens of women's equality and women's rights. The PM told the United Nations in March that he actually was a feminist, and credit where credit is due. Mr. Trudeau deserves some here. There's his cabinet, of course, and the many women he just appointed as judges compared to the retrograde Stephen Harper record.

But there's so much more to do. Where's the feminist foreign policy, asks the McLeod Group this week, beginning by cancelling that Saudi contract for military vehicles? How about challenging his amigo from Mexico, President Nieto, about that country's appalling human rights abuses, especially against women?

For Mexico, women's equality is still light years away. But don't expect it to be on the agenda of the three amigos this week, even though it's 2016.

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