Friday, March 26, 2010

Half the sky too much to ask for in Ottawa?

Just finished listening to a keynote speaker here, Sheryl WuDunn, who is the co-author of "Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide." Probably sounding like a broken record here, but if you don't know, she co-authored the book with Nicholas Kristof, the New York Times columnist, to whom she is married. WuDunn, is of course, accomplished in her own right.

Her talk was mostly comprised of examples of girls struggling around the world. Whether it's to gain an education in China, to eat in Ethiopia when one's brothers do but you don't, to overcome horrific disfiguring medical problems such as fistulas suffered during childbirth at 13 which lead to your ostracization from your village, the examples were inspiring stories of challenge overcome.

Her point, to inspire us to take on one of the most significant challenges of this century, gender inequality around the world. Education is a key to remedying the imbalances.

A bit of an elephant in the room today, unspoken, the current debate we've had in Canada in connection with the federal government's maternal and child health initiative overseas. Implicit in Wu Dunn's presentation, in citing these examples, thinking in particular of the 13 year old forced into early marriage and suffering a fistula as a result of childbirth, is the common sense inclusion of contraception along with such initiatives. That our federal government has hemmed and hawed over this point, refusing to commit to it publicly and clearly, reluctant to state that such aspects would of course be included in our assistance has been a frustrating and disappointing experience. It took them days to even concede that they wouldn't be "closing doors" to these options.

Hearing Wu Dunn speak and articulate such striking examples and then to think of the almost comical debate we've had in Canada over the past few weeks is sobering. It's partly the level of discourse, the competitive environment in Ottawa. The environment in which we are politicking isn't doing justice to such issues.

A thought from Wu Dunn offered as her conclusion that's worth repeating:
"We've all won the lottery of life, how do we make a difference? Here's the cause, join the movement."