There are many conclusions we can draw from the recent general election, but here is one unifying one: It was a wake-up call for all Canadians to see that the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan – one that disproportionately affects women and girls – is so important is during a national election. When parliament resumes its work, the government must renew its efforts to end injustice and violence against women and girls everywhere.
The next few months will be crucial in slowing and then reversing the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in the global south and on the lives and futures of girls and young women. Canada has the opportunity and the responsibility to lead.
Canadians know from personal experience that the pandemic has disproportionately affected the well-being of the racial populations and both the economic and physical security of women in this country. This despite an excellent public health system, the rule of law and income support from the state.
For girls and women in the south, the impact is even greater, the threat greater. Keep in mind that more than 60 percent of the people in Sub-Saharan Africa have lost their income in the past 18 months. As incredible as this statistic is, it doesn’t reveal the full story. Women and girls already make up 90 percent of the informal workforce, and 40 to 60 percent of women are smallholders who produce most of the region’s food. It is estimated that women-run businesses are very unlikely to survive the pandemic.
The economic independence of young women is essential to their personal safety and the well-being of their families and communities. This new wave of poverty hits girls in particular in a frightening but expected way. More and more girls drop out of school, are abused, forced into sex trafficking, early marriage and unwanted pregnancies. The effects on their physical safety, nutrition, health and education are enormous, and the devastating effects will continue for many, many years.
But the pandemic isn’t the only global health crisis that harms communities, increases poverty and puts girls at greater risk of violence. Today, climate change is a current and ongoing threat that has the greatest impact on the sustainability of agriculture, food security and thus the livelihoods of women and girls.
While international aid and development issues were once viewed as distant concerns or policies that could be broken down, the pandemic and climate change prove that these assumptions are now outdated.
A 3 percent COVID-19 vaccination rate in sub-Saharan Africa harbors both increased death rates and long-term health risks for local populations, and the possibility of new and more dangerous breakthrough variants that will prolong the pandemic worldwide. A lack of climate resilience in the south amplifies the effects of global warming everywhere.
As an international volunteer collaboration agency, Crossroads International has heard directly from our partner organizations striving to provide services as urgently as needed. We have also learned over the years from the same partners and from Canadian volunteers who have served abroad that change must be broad and community driven – including education, access to justice, economic skills development, to name a few to name. It is important that changes also have to reach boys and men. Again, Canadians can lead the way.
As we recognize that International Girls’ Day and Parliament will return this fall, here are some priorities for strengthening protection for some of the world’s most vulnerable girls that MPs should consider now:
- Continue to support and invest in feminist international aid policies;
- Bring the lens of feminism, racial justice and gender equality to new policies, including climate change and reconciliation with indigenous peoples;
- Reinforce Canada’s place on the world stage to advocate and promote gender equality.
Canadians continue to show that we are committed to equality, horrified by violence against women and girls, and that we care about what is happening in other parts of the world. It is important that our government reflects these values.
Heather Shapter is the managing director of Crossroads International.