‘Gender equality is under attack’: Justin Trudeau opens Women Deliver conference in Vancouver

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was in Vancouver Monday afternoon to help kick off the official opening of the Women Deliver 2019 global conference, a four-day summit described as “the world’s largest conference on gender equality and the health, rights, and well-being of girls and women.”

Trudeau was introduced by Katja Iversen, president of Women Deliver, as a “fellow feminist.”

“Progress can backslide. We’re seeing it happen. Gender equality is under attack. I can only imagine how hard it is to be a feminist on the front-lines,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau, who describes himself as a feminist, formed Canada’s 1st gender balanced cabinet in 2015. He’s recently had to defend those credentials after ejecting Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus amid turmoil over the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.

As he addressed the crowd on Monday, Trudeau talked about the role of social media in spreading “abhorrent” views and pushing them into the public arena.

“Individuals and interest groups are trying to roll back women’s rights, and politicians are giving into the pressure, shamefully campaigning to undo women’s hard won victories,” he said.

Trudeau spoke about the missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls inquiry’s report, which was delivered to the federal government today, citing the key finding that the treatment of Indigenous people amounted to “genocide.”

“For too long Indigenous women and girls have experienced violence at a rate that is staggering compared to non Indigenous women,” Trudeau said, to some cries of “shame” and “so do something about it” from the audience.

“Our country can and must do better and we will,” he concluded.

The conference is expected to draw 7,000 delegates from 160 countries to the Vancouver Convention Centre West.

Twenty-nine year old Sara Eftekhar of Vancouver was part of a small group of young leaders invited to sit down for a series of three-minute meetings with senior ministers from 21 countries to talk about the gender equality challenges they face.

“What struck me the most was how shocked the other ministers were about the issues of gender equality that we face here in Canada […] that there’s racism and discrimination in our justice system for women who are marginalized,” she said.

“It was interesting to see their reaction, from Fiji or from Afghanistan, that we have similar issues in Canada.”

Onyinye Edeh, 30, is from Nigeria and travelled from her home in Washington D.C. to attend the conference. On Tuesday she’ll be speaking about the importance of sexual education for girls to achieve the sustainable development goals laid out by the United Nations in 2015.

“Tomorrow my message would be that we should not make assumptions about what comprehensive sex education is about, but we should really understand that it’s supposed to be comprehensive in the sense that it talks about cultural values, assertiveness, negotiation and biology,” she said.

“For a girl to live her best life, she needs to know how to say no.”

On Sunday, Canada’s gender equity minister, Maryam Monsef, made a pre-conference announcement of $300 million to kickstart a new platform that aims to change the way the federal government finances women’s organizations in Canada and abroad.

The conference first started in 2007 with a focus on addressing high rates of maternal mortality worldwide.

The list of international speakers  includes:

  • Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • Tarana Burke, #metoo founder.
  • Julia Gillard, former Australian prime minister.
  • Wannek Horn-Miller, Canadian Indigenous Olympian.
  • Heather Jarvis, SlutWalk Toronto co-founder.
  • Erica Johnson, CBC investigative journalist.
  • Marie Villeneuve, Vancouver Radio Canada host.

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