Liz Bernstein is the executive director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative. Sandeep Prasad is executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Leilani Farha is executive director of Canada Without Poverty
In 2010, a local Congolese women’s organization quietly moved into a clinic that Médecins Sans Frontières had originally built and operated in Orientale province until conflict in the area slowed down. The local organization, run by Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge, knew that women were still being raped in large numbers and still needed medical care.
They also knew that women desperately needed access to critical gender-based violence response services, including sexual- and reproductive-health services. Orientale province spans a territory the size of Spain, and yet there were no clinics for women offering even basic services like access to contraceptives.
Cobbling together meagre resources, Ms. Lusenge and her team have used creativity and ingenuity to create a holistic clinic now offering women in this forgotten and violence-wracked corner of Congo a range of services that include medical, psychological and legal help for rape survivors and family-planning counselling.
The story of a local women’s rights organization identifying the needs of their community and then responding to those needs with services and support should sound familiar. It is why there are abortion clinics in communities across Canada and shelters for women fleeing domestic violence. Local women’s rights organizations are the backbone of a feminist movement that has made it possible for Canada to make progress on these critical rights-based issues, to the point where women are better placed to seek support when they need it and hold their governments accountable to violations when they occur.
Last month, dozens of feminist advocates from front-line organizations across Canada and around the world gathered in Ottawa for the W7. With support from the Canadian government, we came together to envision a feminist vision for the G7. Our group included Indigenous women, women of colour, women with disabilities, trans women, and rural women – a microcosm of diversity that is lacking in G7 meetings.
Our meeting took place alongside a meeting of the Prime Minister’s Gender Equality Advisory Council, a high-level body tasked with providing guidance for the G7 to advance gender equality and “women’s empowerment.”
Over three days, the W7 developed a list of recommendations for G7 leaders on a range of issues that went beyond the official G7 agenda. Our focus included conversations on violence against women, sexual health and reproductive justice, and social and economic rights like the right to housing, food and water, climate change, and peace and security. One participant, noting the breadth and depth of recommendations, wryly quoted feminist activist Audre Lorde: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
We presented our recommendations to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to the Gender Equality Advisory Council, which, on the eve of the G7 leaders’ meeting taking place this weekend in Charlevoix, Que., just released a report that includes many of the W7 recommendations.
Just as American feminist and G7-watcher Lyric Thomson has noted, the Gender Equality Advisory Council delivered precisely the bold, feminist vision that Prime Minister Trudeau has consistently called for – from implementing human-rights treaties to feminist foreign policies, to enshrining gender parity in all G7 delegations, to reducing and redistributing the burden of unpaid care work, to repealing the Mexico City Policy on abortion, to ending female genital mutilation and to devoting half of G7 spending in conflict countries to women’s peace movements.
Few W7 participants are expecting G7 leaders to embrace a truly feminist agenda. But those who come from countries, including the U.S., where the backlash against women’s rights is strong, remain optimistic that Canada (and its feminist Prime Minister) will put its best feminist foot forward.
So far, the only bold positions taken by Canada and our Prime Minister have to do with trade tariffs. The question now is this: Will Trudeau show the world what a feminist government truly looks like?