PTBOCanada Interview: MP Maryam Monsef On The Empowerment Of Women & Girls Locally (& Globally)

Read our interview with MP Maryam Monsef covering a range of issues associated with women and girls not only in her Peterborough-Kawartha riding but across Canada and globally...


PTBOCanada: On March 2nd, a Rural Women's Summit you created is taking place at Buckhorn Community Centre near Peterborough. Tell our readers about this initiative, and what this means to you...

MP Maryam Monsef: I am proud to represent a mixed urban and rural riding. It means we have unique assets and unique challenges. In this era of social and economic transition, it is more important than ever to protect our rural identity and recognize that these transitions can often harm the most vulnerable.

We also need to ensure equal opportunities for our women and girls who live in rural communities. This has been recognized by the United Nations, which is why this year’s theme for the 62nd gathering of the UNCSW is “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”

Since I’ll be leading the Canadian delegation to the UN again this year, it is critical that as the head of the delegation, I seek and hear the experiences of my own rural community in order to take those voices with me. That’s really what the Rural Women’s Summit is all about—to hear from women who are leaders and local role models.

 MP Monsef at Electric City Hacks at Trent University, which highlighted the role of young women in STEM.

MP Monsef at Electric City Hacks at Trent University, which highlighted the role of young women in STEM.

PTBOCanada: Tell us about the #MeToo movement and how it applies locally—what are you seeing and hearing? Are you hearing from a lot of your female constituents about this movement? Do you view this movement as a game-changer/tipping point for women's rights?

MP Monsef: In October, I hosted a feminist roundtable in Peterborough-Kawartha, and while the focus was on economic security, the reality that kept coming up was that gender-based violence is a persistent and systemic barrier for women. We heard it from the Peterborough YWCA, we heard it from Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, we heard it from our indigenous leaders. All this while online, a firestorm of conversation was taking place under the hashtag #MeToo, and it continues to inspire survivors to come forward today. No one is surprised now to see that there is no industry, profession or community that is untouched by sexual harassment and assault.

#MeToo has forced us, here at home in Peterborough-Kawartha, and around the world, to come face to face with the power imbalance that has, for generations, fed such behaviour, and made us normalize this gender-based violence. But it’s not normal, and it is time for a change.                  

We can only call it a tipping point, though, if we are going to change our behavior—if we are going to do things differently. It’s important to listen, it’s important to talk, but then there must be action. Our Government has already taken concrete steps to achieve a Canada where women and girls can live free from all forms of gender-based violence.

We have invested $100.9M in our Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-based Violence. We launched a newly reformed and easier to access “call for concepts” with funding of $20M to support the organizations across Canada that are already doing the valuable work of providing support to GBV survivors and their families. And we introduced Bill C-65 to address harassment and sexual violence at work to ensure that all federal institutions are workplaces free from sexism and harassment.

 Innovation Cluster Peterborough and the Kawarthas "Power Breakfast - Future Innovators!", with the entrepreneurs of Chimp Treats

Innovation Cluster Peterborough and the Kawarthas "Power Breakfast - Future Innovators!", with the entrepreneurs of Chimp Treats

PTBOCanada: We're in this great, defining age of female empowerment/"Girl Power". What does this mean to you, this moment in history?

MP Monsef: We are catching up to what feminist leaders have been shining a light on for decades. We need to express thanks to all those who have shared their stories and wisdom ahead of us. It’s time, we are finally here. There is an understanding that we all share a responsibility—individuals, businesses, institutions, governments—to help create safer spaces for women and girls to thrive.

I heard this in Davos, from economic and world leaders; we’ve heard this from advocates in our own community; we’ve heard it from our Prime Minister. Empowering women and girls isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

PTBOCanada: Who are some of your female role models locally?

MP Monsef: There is no shortage of inspiring women for me in Peterborough-Kawartha.

-> Linda Slavin for her work on sustainability and political activism.

->  Rosemary Ganley for her grassroots and international community development.·     

-> Faith Dickinson, whose work to support veterans and cancer survivors has been celebrated internationally. 

-> Lynn Zimmer for her feminist mentorship and lifelong commitment to providing women with safe shelter.·     

-> Khadija Warsame for her strength and bravery in sharing her own refugee story to support other new Canadians.

-> Carmela Valles for her pioneering efforts in immigration settlement in Peterborough.·     

-> Chief Phyllis Williams, whose fierce and effective advocacy for her community is a great example of what women in politics can do.·  

-> Kyla Gutsche, a Cancer survivor who used her bravery to create a successful business that helps others.·    

-> And, Erica Cherney whose lasting legacy continues to shape our community. I could go on and on.

I should note that at the Rural Summit on March 2nd, we will also be announcing a new initiative that will honour women like these!

 "Make a Difference Day" at Lansdowne Place Mall with Faith Dickinson from Cuddles for Cancer.

"Make a Difference Day" at Lansdowne Place Mall with Faith Dickinson from Cuddles for Cancer.

PTBOCanada: International Women's Day is March 8th—what is your plan to celebrate that day locally? 

MP Monsef: I am so excited to be celebrating this important day here in Peterborough-Kawartha this year. There is a lot planned for that day at places like the Women’s Business Network, Trent University, Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre, and Kawartha World Issues Centre. I will be participating in as much of what is going on here in Peterborough-Kawartha as I can, and I encourage everyone to get out there and experience IWD with me. I am so looking forward to being out in the community, among the organizations and individuals that inspire me in my work as MP and as Minister for Status of Women.

I will also be using the hashtag #MyFeminism throughout the day to share what the women’s movement, and those who embody it, means to me, and to our communities.

PTBOCanada: You will be attending the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in March. What does it mean to you to be there again this year? What are the key topics you hope to see addressed, and how do they apply locally?

MP Monsef: As Canada is leading the G7 presidency this year, I am excited to connect with my G7 counterparts, in particular to talk about GBV, women in leadership, and economic opportunities for women and girls. I am also looking forward to sharing Canada’s work on reconciliation with our Indigenous peoples, as well as our leadership on gender-based budgeting.

UNCSW is an annual event, held at the United Nations, where thousands of leaders from around the world come together, across their diversity and differences, to unite around a common cause: improving the status of women and girls in our communities. Canada is a founding member of the UN and this year, as ever, the world looks to our leadership.

In 2013, I attended the 57th gathering through a bursary from the Peterborough YWCA. That experience was a politicizing moment in my life, and now, to lead the Canadian delegation again this year, as the Minister for Status of Women is an honour, and to take Peterborough’s perspective to this gathering is a privilege.

PTBOCanada: So you have your passport to get to New York? The necessary updates have taken place?

MP Monsef: Since becoming a Canadian citizen nearly 20 years ago, I have carried a Canadian passport. When I learned, 18 months ago, that my place of birth needed to be updated, I followed established IRCC processes to correct my documentation, just like any other Canadian in a similar situation would do. This process takes time. My application to correct my place of birth on my documents was reviewed and approved by IRCC, and my Canadian passport has been updated.

My story and experiences as a refugee connect me to many other new Canadians who have come to this country to escape war and oppression. In my case, my parents were Afghan refugees when they were within Iran’s borders, and we were Afghan refugees when we arrived in Canada. 

Regardless of birthplace, my status as an Afghan refugee upon arrival in Canada is unchanged. Based on the laws of both Afghanistan and Iran, thousands of Afghan refugees born on Iranian soil, just like me, cannot become Iranian citizens. As a result, I am a Canadian citizen and I also hold citizenship for Afghanistan. I am proud of my Afghan roots, I am proud to be a Canadian, and I am so grateful to call Peterborough-Kawartha my home.

My family and I were welcomed by the people of Peterborough with open arms, and this sense of inclusion and support is something that is at the core of who I am. It is a privilege to be able to dedicate myself to improving my home community of Peterborough-Kawartha, and indeed, my country. 

 At the Grand Opening of the Student Centre at Trent University in 2017 with past and present Student Presidents.

At the Grand Opening of the Student Centre at Trent University in 2017 with past and present Student Presidents.

PTBOCanada: Word is the upcoming Federal Budget will be the strongest yet in terms of being allocated strategically to empowering women. How hopeful are you are that this will be huge step in the right direction for women in Canada. How will this impact be felt locally?

MP Monsef: As you know, Budget 2018 will be released on Tuesday, February 27th. I’m very proud that our government understands that advancing women’s equality in Canada will drive economic growth, while boosting the income of Canadian families. More women in leadership positions won’t just grow the economy, create jobs, and strengthen communities, it will also lead to innovation and change in the workplace that benefits everyone.

We are already seeing the impact of this work—from appointing the first gender-balanced Cabinet, to creating and strengthening the Canada Child Benefit, to making major investments in combatting gender-based violence, to ensuring that gender and other intersecting identities are considered in the formation of government policy and the way we spend Canadians’ tax dollars.

These measure are being felt locally, and I know that Budget 2018 will continue to create an economy that works for the middle class, and gives the people of Peterborough-Kawartha—and all Canadians—the opportunity to succeed.

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