Be Unapologetic and Uncompromising in the Fight for Equality

Forget the “sisterhood of the travelling rants”, Samantha Nutt Inspires Us to Fight the Big Issues So We Can Help Those in the World Who Cannot Fight At All

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A group of girls in a Bangalore government school, supported by the Dream School Foundation. More than 2/3 of government schools in India do not have proper washroom facilities, causing many girls to drop out in primary school.

For most of us, foreign policy is something Wendy Mesley talks about on The National. Short of the most gripping images which might cause us to take pause and consider how grateful we are to live in a country like Canada, we are so consumed with our day-to-day, a moment to think about those living in countries ravaged by war, poverty or natural disaster might be generous.

With this week’s foreign policy debate being the most interesting in a painfully long election campaign though, it’s encouraging that Canadians are talking about our role abroad and considering the impact of our actions. After hearing War Child Founder, Samantha Nutt, give an emotionally-compelling, and at times difficult, testimony on the atrocities facing the women she has worked with around the world, I had to re-check some things I’d accepted as truths.

“War is never further away than your pocket,” Nutt explained to over 600 women in attendance at the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce’s Inspiring Women event last week. This statement and the accompanying story of a young girl, repeatedly raped on the side of the road by boys demobilized in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is also recounted in her book, Damned Nations. The words of the young girl will be forever imprinted in my mind; “We die for things we have never seen before, never touched. We die for you.”

With my heart stuck in my throat, Nutt explained the connection between our insatiable obsession with technology and the unimaginable violence against women in the world’s most unstable regions. We have all heard of “blood diamonds” and know these regions are often rich in oil. What I never realized was the importance of little-known minerals like tantalum, in making our cell phones and laptops run. Tantalum is derived from Coltan ore, of which 60-80% is mined (by hand) in the Congo. The profits from Coltan and many of these mines fund the militant rebel groups terrorizing the people of the region. I immediately felt guilty for what I’d admit is cell phone addiction; it’s not worth anyone dying for.

Until now, I’d interested myself mostly in agriculture in developing nations, and to be truly honest its only mild interest as my priorities are still here at home. Nonetheless, I am intrigued by the role women play in global food production, and I look forward to a day I can be on the ground and actually do more, hands on, to help. Sadly, I suffer from the same altruism many in my generation do; I want to help but I don’t have the proper knowledge of the local environment, training or resources to be really effective. Any effort I make today would be ultimately be self-serving. As Nutt told our audience,  “feel good opportunities are just that – feel good. They make the volunteer feel good and that is about it.”

So what can we do to help? The issues are obviously very complex and it’s easy to feel not only helpless, but to become indifferent when the stories no longer make the evening news, although the desperation still exists and is affecting more people all the time. It was inevitable the question would come forward, and Nutt offered a couple suggestions to which, I’ve added two I believe are also important ways we can make an impact.

  1. Educate yourself about your investments. Are they enabling civil war and violence against women by investing in companies which violate human rights? Sadly, most of us are likely supporting the arms trade without even realizing it. According to Nutt’s book, the Canadian Pension Plan (CPP) is invested in 24 of the world’s top 100 arms manufacturers. At least 8 of the provincial teachers’ pension funds are also invested in arms manufacturers.  Look at your own portfolio and consider responsible investment funds.
  2. Give less and give more often. Often, we are compelled to give when a major disaster hits but when the news cameras leave, so too do the donations. For humanitarian organizations to provide development assistance, it’s extremely hard to do this with an  unpredictable budget. Nutt recommends Canadians consider donating smaller amounts more regularly, than writing one big cheque once a year.
  3. Examine your own company’s impact. Do you have responsible sourcing policies, which set expectations for your suppliers and the materials you bring in. Can you request this information if it’s not available and challenge your company to implement policies if not already in place? If we all make our company’s accountable, there can be a ripple effect down the supply chain.
  4. Vote. There was a foreign policy debate for a reason. Canada as a nation can play a big role to improve the situation in some of the world’s least fortunate. Reach out to your local candidates and educate yourself on the parties’ foreign policy intentions. Make no mistake, there is room for improvement. For example, where mineral resources are at the heart of conflicts, Canadian mining companies are often present and the worst offenders of human rights violations. Legislation to ensure Canadian companies operating abroad meet minimum human rights standards was overturned by the government in 2009. Of course, foreign policy always has domestic implications, and in the case of impacting our mining sector or arms manufacturers, the trade-offs could be difficult to swallow. In the case of a recent arms deal with Saudi Arabia, local jobs are at stake. No one is going to argue that dignity and basic, human rights shouldn’t come first but when someone’s job is on the line, suddenly people are much less compassionate to those they don’t know. This is the kind of complexity our government is well aware of and foreign policy needs to overcome.

Though not the “rah-rah-girl-power” inspiration I expected would close out the event, Nutt’s presentation was inspiring nonetheless. I’m incredibly grateful to have heard her story and witness the reaction to it by a former refugee in attendance. It was a sobering reminder of how blessed I am to be born and living in Canada. It was also a very poignant reminder of how much work there is left to be done. I am reminded of the proverb, “Unto those whom much has been given, there is much to give.” How can we not act when we have so much here, and so many struggle in constant danger without even the basic necessities. As motivated as I am to act individually, I’m also inspired to push harder for greater equality. The “softer, personal stuff” is all good, but we have to remove the structural barriers that keep women out of governance. That is what will lead to real, social change that we so desperately need.

Some #KWInspireWomen tweets from last week’s event in Kitchener

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#KWInspiringWomen Tweet

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