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World tipping toward full rights for women

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It's my job as executive director of MATCH International to care about the state of women in the world. This year, on International Women's Day, I reflect on 2012 with a deep feeling of optimism.

I want to believe we are in a moment, a tipping point, where the issues fundamental to the realization of full rights for women everywhere have begun to penetrate the consciousness of people around the world.

There have been some remarkable international moments over the last year: high-level UN commitments to protect women from violence in conflict, a global ban on female genital mutilation and this year's inaugural International Day of the Girl. But where I am most encouraged is the ever-growing momentum that is building among women and men at the grassroots level.

We have seen global outrage in relation to violent acts against women, including the gang rape of a university student in India and the attempted assassination of 15-year-old anti-Taliban crusader Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan.

We have seen one billion women, men and children dancing to protest violence against women.

We have seen men courageously leading platforms, campaigns and organizations that work to challenge negative constructions of masculinity.

We have seen women across the world charting a new course to advocate for their rights using social media.

Technology is being used in fascinating ways to name, shame and grow support for victims.

Women's rights organizations are better able to collaborate and learn from one another, even when they are oceans apart.

This is a new kind of women's movement, one that has global reach, complexity and diversity -- one that is as alive at the international level as it is at the kitchen table. This is a movement that can be communicated by the American secretary of state and other international leaders as easily as it can be communicated in 140 characters among schoolgirls in India.

All over the world it is the action, the influence, the advocacy, the services of women's organizations that have had the deepest impact on changing society for the better.

I don't for a minute wish to ignore the fact that this year has brought much pain and suffering for women in the world.

While we know that the Democratic Republic of Congo is "the worst place in the world to be a woman," the grim detail is that 60 per cent of rape victims in South Kivu were gang-raped by armed men. Women in South Asia still face the threat of acid-throwing, honour killings, domestic violence, dowry deaths, human trafficking and kidnappings.

The recent insurgency in northern Mali is believed to be responsible for 211 reported cases of rape, with countless more presumed to remain unreported. In Egypt, women are increasingly at risk during protests, with sexual violence and harassment reaching epidemic proportions.

Canadians have historically engaged at a very deep level in the women's rights movement here at home and across the globe. We have stood in solidarity, we have given of our voice and our money. If we are indeed in a moment, at a tipping point, for a more equal world for men and women, what side of history will Canadians find themselves on once this moment has passed?

As Canadians, we can invest in the strength, viability and capacity of grassroots movements. Overall, Canadians give nine per cent of charitable contributions to international causes, and international women's rights issues get but a fraction of this.

I believe that Canada has a role to play in standing beside the women who are leading this movement across the globe and demanding that countries of wealth, such as ours, do whatever it takes to ensure this moment is indeed a tipping point for a more equal world.

Jess Tomlin is the executive director of MATCH International, a Canadian international organization that has been working with women's rights organizations in the global south for 37 years. This year, MATCH will launch an International Women's Fund, the first of its kind in Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2013 A11

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