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Well, it happened. And astonishingly, no bras were burned nor were any men emasculated in the process. Hard to believe, isn’t it?
To the contrary, what became patently clear during the Up For Debate panel on gender justice — whether parties were prepared to admit it or not — is that women’s social, economic and political equality, or lack thereof, matters immensely to Canadians.
More importantly, the women’s movement is far from over. In fact, one might argue that we are thriving and mobilizing in ways this country has not seen in a generation.
#UpForDebate managed to climb to the top trending issue on Twitter during Monday night’s panel discussion on women’s rights and equality in Canada, drawing reactions and reverberations from across the political spectrum.
Across the country, voters tuned in, while for the first time in three decades, we were finally afforded the rich, fruitful feminist dialogue we’ve so desperately needed and clamored for – for 90 minutes, at least.
The event drew a substantial audience. A flood of concerned members of the electorate chimed in to the digital conversation, leveraging the #UpForDebate hashtag. According to organizers as of 11p.m. Monday night, over 8,200 tweets had poured in. As for physical support, more than 400 were in attendance for their live, sold-out event in downtown Toronto.
Tom Mulcair, Justin Trudeau, Elizabeth May and Giles Duceppe each agreed to participate in order to showcase their respective platform and make their pitch to Canadian women – who statistically account for the majority of votes at the ballot box each election.
Topics covered included: where leaders feel violence against women stems from, citing the harassment allegations that took place this year on Parliament Hill; party stances on reproductive rights; what each party will do if elected to combat the growing national crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women; and clarification and differentiation on party plans for publicly-funded childcare programs.
Sadly, our incumbent prime minister could not be bothered to show up – even for the one-on-one interviews that ended up replacing the original debate format. Up For Debate MC, comedian Jess Beaulieu, wasted no time drawing attention to this glaring absence, calling Harper sexist in more ways than one and suggesting he might have been more inclined to attend if only women “bled oil once a month” rather than blood.
All four leaders exuded impassioned concern for the issues – particularly violence against women which took up the first major segment prior to panel discussion.
Some without quite as much tact as others.
In a similar vein to the Harper government’s failed attempt to ban the niqab at Canadian citizenship ceremonies this year, Gilles Duceppe for instance used the bulk of his opportunity to advocate for a ban on women’s facial coverings; a controversial issue that many Canadians would argue points to racism and Islamophobia. Not exactly a feminist approach to diplomacy.
Not surprisingly, the sole female interview participant, Elizabeth May, was the clearest and quickest in articulating her desire for a national strategy to confront violence against women in a way that “engages women’s organizations” and “those in sociology fields who are paying attention to this issue.”
She minced no words in blaming the ongoing patriarchal social paradigm in Canada for a great deal of women’s ongoing social oppression today, indicating that confronting sexism head-on is a nonpartisan, cross-party issue concerning all parliamentarians that needs to be addressed now.
Both the NDP and Liberal leaders proudly ‘outed’ themselves as male feminists during the interviews – an identity I suspect very few close contenders for PM (if any) have ever openly admitted to in Canadian history. For many women feminists watching, myself included, this was a pretty moving and reassuring spectacle to witness.
As has unfortunately come to be characteristic of the Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, he came off sincere but uninformed. He spoke of his party plans to change women’s systemic inequality in platitudes, and in a rather confusing statement claimed that he felt violence against women stemmed from “certain types of music” and certain “communities in which fathers are less present,” as though single-mother households are incapable of raising violence-free families.
Tom Mulcair was quick to boast of the NDP’s many women in high leadership roles throughout his party, and linked one of his primary feminist party planks – an affordable, national childcare plan – to women’s social and economic advancement.
Stepping beyond the partisan platforms, the majority of Up for Debate’s panel discussions dissecting leaders’ policy declarations and promises were enlightened, insightful and deeply pragmatic.
The primary panel was hosted by moderator Laura Payton of Maclean’s. The event featured four leading experts on gender/social justice issues in Canada, including Alejandra Bravo (manager of leadership programs at Maytree), Katherine Hensel (First Nations advocate and lawyer), Kate McInturff (senior researcher for Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) and Angela Robertson (executive director of Central Toronto Community Health Centres).
While all panelists attracted an outpouring of positive feedback online, reportedly Angela Robertson drew the longest line of curious attendees following the event hoping to pick her brain and hear more of her thoughts on gender justice issues.
I watched Up for Debate with one of my best friends. She's a 35-year-old single mother with one income going through a painful breakup with an abusive domestic partner and a young four year-old daughter to take care of.
This was only the second-ever national conversation of this nature that my friend had witnessed (it was my first). That’s just two national conversations directly concerning 51 per cent of the population out of ten federal elections.
If we merely continue as is within the oppressive cultural paradigm we’re presently seeing, her young daughter can only come to expect the same oppression and subjugation her mother and I have grown up in.
If Up For Debate taught Canadians nothing else, I pray that it became obvious that talking about women’s systemic oppression is the very least we can do as a country. What we absolutely must do also is include women equally at every institutional decision-making table. That means electing more women, promoting more women, and pushing more women to the forefront of our public discourse.
Given our oppression and the clear collective motivation to overthrow it, I think we can all agree that a fourth wave is in order. So just you wait, misogynists – we ‘bra-burning man-haters’ will have our day yet. The personal is still political.