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Don't forget about women left to sweep up shards of glass ceiling, W7 urges G7

Last Updated Apr 25, 2018 at 6:40 pm EDT

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. Trudeau is being asked to raise the concerns of marginalized women - and not just female business leaders - as he champions gender equality around the G7 table at a resort in La Malbaie, Que., in June. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is being asked to raise the concerns of marginalized women — not just female business leaders — when he champions gender equality around the G7 table at a resort in La Malbaie, Que., in June.

The Liberal government is making gender equality a major theme of its G7 presidency this year, including with expected proposals on the economic empowerment of women and increasing the rate of female participation in the male-dominated fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Grassroots feminist activists in Ottawa for the ‘W7’ summit this week are reminding the Liberals that women and girls living in poverty and other difficult conditions around the world — including in Canada — know best how their lives could be improved and it is time for the G7 to listen.

“We want the G7 to think more broadly, beyond the focus only on women’s economic empowerment or women entrepreneurs,” said Julie Delahanty, executive director of Oxfam Canada.

“Women’s economic empowerment is key, but we don’t want that agenda to be narrowly defined or for the leaders to neglect other important issues.”

The group of about 70 activists from 20 countries are in Ottawa to craft their own set of recommendations for how Canada and other G7 nations could improve the lives of women and girls in other areas too, including gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health rights.

The latter is an area that could make it hard for Trudeau to arrive at a consensus around the G7 table.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order reinstating the so-called global gag rule on abortion, which forbids organizations receiving U.S. funding from even mentioning the procedure, never mind ensuring access to it.

The group shared many of its ideas — everything from access to safe drinking water to the negative impact that extractive industries can have on women and girls — with Trudeau in a closed-door meeting Wednesday that Delahanty described as challenging but productive.

“He was a strong participant in that conversation,” she said.

Lyric Thompson, director of policy and advocacy for the Washington-based International Center for Research on Women, said Trudeau was careful about promising to achieve more than could be possible at a forum like the G7 summit.

Still, she suggested he might have some creative things in mind.

“It’s clear to me that he’s thinking about ways that he can kind of get around the consensus issue by making his own views clear through this platform and in different ways.”

Delahanty said the activists plan to keep pushing, but there is also an understanding that even a first step towards incorporating gender equality into the G7 summit process can be a big one.

“One G7 meeting isn’t going to change the future trajectory of the world, but I think it can have an impact in just discussing these issues and having leaders hear about them,” Delahanty said.

Prior to the meeting, Trudeau gave a short speech in which he described how he hopes Canada’s commitment to advancing gender issues at the G7 will help shake things up.

“Canada is using our G7 presidency to challenge the status quo,” he said, adding that he wants the G7 gender equality council, which includes W7 high-profile members such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, to become a permanent part of the summit process.

Yousafzai won’t be there when the council holds its first in-person meeting in Ottawa this week, but most of the other members — including billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates and Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund — will be in attendance.

There is always plenty of talk about breaking the proverbial glass ceiling, Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, said earlier in the day. But a lot of women, their needs ignored, are being left behind to sweep up the shards, she added.

Theo Sowa, CEO of the African Women’s Development Fund, said it would be a shame to lose the momentum sparked by the #MeToo movement on sexual assault and harassment, but it is important to remember there are women and girls around the globe who have never heard of the hashtag.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled Konanur’s first name.