I vividly remember watching the 2017 Women’s March on Washington months after Trump’s inauguration.
Instead of feeling inspired by the hundreds of thousands of women pouring into the streets carrying comically poignant signs, I remember cynically thinking that all of their marching would be for nothing. I believed the people who really needed to hear their calls for change could simply turn off the TV and think about something else. It takes more than marching to enact change. It takes sitting at the table with people who hold the power to make decisions. And unfortunately the majority of those currently wielding global power to make lasting change happen to be men. Canada is sadly a prime example: women only account for 26% of seats in the House of Commons, placing Canada in 50th place in international ranking of women in parliament.
In the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, organizations like Times Up Now are mobilizing real change (see #MuteRKelly) and long time media magnates like Bill Cosby are finally getting the condmenation they deserve (in Cosby’s case, potentially up to 30 years in prison). Gloria Allred, the women’s rights attorney who represented Cosby’s victims summed up the proceedings nicely when she said, “The jury finally believed women.” While we celebrate these victories today, it’s not without the sting of countless past cases, reported or not, where men were protected by the institutional structures that are supposed to represent both sexes. If a woman’s testimony wasn’t enough to hold someone accountable in extremely carnal situations of human interaction like rape, what hope could we have that their voices would be respected in sterilized conversations like those regarding trade agreements?
The current momentous times were a central topic of conversation for over 700 women who attended the Women’s Forum in Toronto earlier this month. Leaders in industries spanning business and politics convened at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto Canada with discussions around issues that, although they have not always been properly represented by women, have had vast and wide reaching effects on them. Speakers at the Forum included Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, Karla Martinez (Editor-in-Chief at Vogue Mexico and Latin America), and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. “It is so important right now when the truth is at risk to [take] decisions that affect the greater good and base them on facts and data so we can protect the vulnerable,” said Sophie Grégoire Trudeau.
The Forum provided an important arena for women to deliberate how socioeconomic and trade policies affect people down the line, especially those in vulnerable economic situations (most often women). Panelists did not hold back. While discussing protectionist policies in trade, Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec and Former Deputy Prime Minister, was applauded for his work over a 10-year period in putting together the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). French Ambassador to Canada Kareen Rispal was quick to point out that the CETA is a document that contains over 1000 pages but only mentions the word “women” six times. “Free trade is being abused by protectionism, which increases prices by lowering competition. Who is that good for? Only the very rich. We have to be vigilant when negotiating a trade agreement because for years we never took into account this gender reality”.
The Women’s Forum took place a month before leaders will meet at the G7 convention in La Malbaie, Quebec. That was not by accident. Organizers of the Women’s Forum are collecting key insights discussed over the two days into a manifesto to be presented to the G7 Heads of State and to the Gender Equality Advisory Council of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The hope is that the manifesto will influence some of the key themes the G7 leaders are deliberating.
2018 has been dubbed, “The Year of Women” and as a result of gaining momentum, women’s voices are finally crescendoing into real change. But there is still a long way to go. Case in point: the current U.S. President has been accused of sexually assaulting at least 15 women and has an abhorrent track record of statements he’s made regarding women. I do not intend to minimize the importance of peaceful protests and marches. It takes women in all industries and levels of government to stand up and take action. In my eyes last week’s Forum was another important step forward on the long road that will lead women to finally shatter the glass ceiling in global governance.
Photo Credit: SIPA Press / Women’s Forum