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Posted by on Feb 11, 2014 in General News

UNWNCC Newsletter February 2014


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Almas Jiwani

Letter from the President

Welcome to our first newsletter of 2014. Let me set the stage for what we hope to accomplish this year by relating a short history lesson. In 1215, King John of England signed a now famous document called the Magna Carta under duress. Principles set forth in the Magna Carta were the seeds of modern Western civilization. Among its central tenets were universal human rights: key rights and protections for the common man. Yet, this did not include women.
However, there was a glimmer of hope for women within document. It decreed that a widow could not be forced to marry and give up her property. History now sees this as the stepping-stone for women’s rights.

As you will see in the article entitled The Magna Carta’s Canadian Odyssey, UN Women National Committee Canada will be active in discussing the evolution of women’s rights in the 800 years since the Magna Carta was written. The reason we have taken on this challenge is not to show how far we’ve come, but to show how far we have yet to go. This is not a statement meant to be negative or pessimistic, but merely a statement of fact. There are countries in the world where women still do not have the right to own land or to vote, where they do not have the right to own property. Where girls are not entitled to an education. Where women cannot drive. Where feticide and infanticide are accepted practices. I believe it will take a significant shift in the way we think and how politicians, executives, and those in power approach the issues of gender equality and the elimination of discrimination against women. There is no doubt we have made huge strides over the last 40 years. The UN Charter of Human Rights, Conventions on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Fourth Beijing Platform for Equality, and UN Resolution 1325 on protecting women against violence in peace and war are all examples of how far we have come in recognizing and protecting women’s human rights. This shows that world leaders are acknowledging the enormous socio-economic potential in empowering women and encouraging gender equality

It is our goal in 2014 to stimulate interest in these issues and to encourage private sector fundraising to support UN Women programs worldwide. Also, to continue to provide our members with a platform to express their fears and their hopes so that together we can make progress.

The great Nelson Mandela, to whom we bid a fond farewell last year, said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The Magna Carta Canada tour is one of the creative ways that UN Women National Committee Canada will teach new audiences about the rights of women in 2014.

I want to take this opportunity to thank my extraordinary group of volunteers, whose efforts make all of this possible.

In solidarity,
Almas Jiwani

UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka calls for women’s full participation to accelerate peace and sustainable development; girls and young women demand attention of world leaders

At the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, UN Women Executive Director, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stated that women and girls can fight gender-based violence and take on a leadership role. By sharing her vision of women’s and girl’s empowerment and gender equality as vital to the African Renaissance, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka was set to urge women’s full and equal participation, including in peace processes such as in South Sudan and the Central African Republic. “Agriculture for Africa offers an opportunity for economic prosperity, food security, poverty eradication, skills in science and technology and economic empowerment for women and girls.”

In speaking out against violence against women, education, freedom of movement and sustainable development, the voices of young women and girls were heard at the AU Summit. In a unanimous statement delivered to the continent’s leaders titled “The Future Young Women and Girls Want,” they brought attention to Africa’s next generation, calling on world leaders to build concrete solutions for their daily challenges.  Key priorities included agriculture, conflict resolution, access to quality education and employment, as well as lack of comprehensive sexual and reproductive health.

Almas Jiwani delivered introductory speech and addressed panel on Women and Youth in Agriculture at African Summit in Berlin

The Third Annual AGCO Africa Summit took place in Berlin in January, and UNWNCC’s President, Almas Jiwani, delivered an introduction speech and addressed a panel on Women and Youth in Agriculture.
“Agriculture is one of the oldest industries and in a world where hunger is an all-consuming problem it remains one of the most important. It may be surprising for some of you to learn that gender inequality is a problem not just for women but for the agricultural sector, food security and society as a whole,” said Ms. Jiwani.
“We must urge countries to rethink the laws as they pertain to agriculture and rural development because in very many cases they unintentionally discriminate against women.”
“AGCO is very pleased to have Almas Jiwani as a speaker at the Third Annual AGCO Africa Summit,” said Martin Richenhagen, Chairman, President and CEO of AGCO. “She is doing great things in empowering women and raising awareness about gender inequality. Her work has taken her around the globe including Africa, where she was honoured with several awards for her achievements. With all she has accomplished and continues to do, Almas’ insight will definitely add a tremendous value to our event.”

16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

In December 2013, UN Women National Committee Canada participated in the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign, which seeks to mobilize communities around the world to eliminate all forms of violence carried out on the grounds of gender.

President Almas Jiwani provided the keynote speech at the closing ceremony, organized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She noted the importance of community and local-level activism, as well as the inclusion of men and boys in initiatives to end gender violence.

“What we are all here to strive towards is for a world where gender-based violence is no longer a public health crisis, but where gender-based violence is eliminated all together,” said Ms. Jiwani. “I believe in a future where 16 Days of Activism against Gender based-violence is unnecessary, and where a day like Nov 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, is superfluous.”

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence is an annual international campaign, and draws hundreds of thousands of participants in many awareness activities all over the world. For more information about the campaign, please visit

An Exclusive Interview with Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau

Interview by Alexandra Lucchesi

Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau is well known in the Canadian cultural landscape. A former television and radio host with a background in commerce and communications, she is celebrated for her contribution to raising awareness about mental health, eating disorders and women- and children-related issues. Over the past 15 years, she has been a voice for several organisations, including Me to We (Free the Children), Dove’s “Pay Beauty Forward” program, 60 million girls Foundation, The Weekend to End Breast Cancer, Sheena’s Place and Shield of Athena, a non-profit organization for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse.

UNWNCC: What led you to become involved in different women’s rights organizations, like UN Women Canada and Plan Canada’s “Because I am a Girl” initiative, among others?

SG: I’m hesitant to use this word, but it was an “organic” experience. My own suffering and path of self-discovery as a woman brought me naturally to get involved in different women’s rights organizations. I wanted to find true human connection and wished to contribute to my society and make a difference. More than ten years ago, I started volunteer work with a foundation that helped women who suffered from low self-esteem and eating disorders, since I had suffered from bulimia in my teenage years. That led me to meet extraordinary women from across the country, who were all carriers of this movement for more equality, justice, empowerment and balance. You can only teach from experience and it was the right way to start for me.

UNWNCC: Have your messages met any resistance from the societies that don’t place girls/women in very high value?

SG: Fortunately, the message for more equality, peace and compassion is one that is most usually welcomed just about anywhere. This being said, I’ve visited some very patriarchal communities in Africa, for example, and have observed a certain resistance to the praise I verbally express towards women as agents of change.

UNWNCC: What do you see as the biggest barriers women are facing in Canada?

SG: The biggest barriers, in no particular order, that I see women are facing in Canada are: poverty, unequal pay, low maternal support as well as mental illness and addictions.

I also find that our current political system does not encourage enough women to pursue careers in public service, as the demands are immense and schedules are hectic and not easily manageable when you have a family. Looking at our House of Commons, only about one in three Members of Parliament are women. We need to work on that.

More broadly, though, women in Canada still face real obstacles in the workplace: they earn 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, and they perform two-thirds of all unpaid work in this country every year. For those who may feel Canada has achieved sufficient progress, there is clearly much more to do.

UNWNCC: You have been supporting and encouraging UNWNCC President Almas Jiwani for past several years in her journey to be the global voice for gender equality. How can others join in the effort to make a difference in women’s rights?

SG: I will always be there to encourage any woman who uses her voice to promote gender equality, whether she occupies an official role or a very simple one. When the intention is pure, every action counts. Anyone can join in the effort to make a difference in women’s rights – young or old, rich or poor. This is about community, tribe, union and coming together to build a better world.

UNWNCC: Which do you think is a more prevalent force in advancing women’s rights: NGOs or governments?

SG: The more prevalent force advancing women’s rights are really women themselves. Whether they are working in NGO’s or governments is another matter. One may argue that the bureaucratic machine is slow-moving, which is often true, but I think governments have a huge role to play in advancing gender equality.

UNWNCC: Why do think Canada lags behind considering it still ranks 21st on gender equality index?

SG: It’s true that Canada still lags behind on the Gender Equality Index, and this is an unfortunate reality. We must work to change this. We must encourage Canadian women to unite and invite them to participate in the political process. We must create conditions so that women can more easily express their voices as engaged citizens. And we will.

UNWNCC: Do you have any other insights you would like to impart?

SG: I encourage every Canadian woman to think small. Yes, small. One little step towards more justice, empowerment and equality always counts. Do what you can. Once you start getting involved, it’s hard to stop! Those small steps are the ones which lead to a positive, collective, giant leap for our country and for humanity. Canada should be a leader on the world stage when it comes to gender equality.

UN Women Canada Cocktail Reception

On October 9, 2013, UN Women National Committee Canada had the honour of hosting guests from across Canada. The evening reception was dedicated to the individuals that have contributed improving the gender narrative and empowering women. UN Women National Committee Canada proudly recognized:

• Sophie Grégoire Trudeau for her contribution to Human Rights
• Amanda Lang for her contribution to Women’s Achievement in Business Journalism
• Honorable Senator Mobina Jaffer  for her contribution to Gender Equality
• Bernadette Lee for her contribution to Excellence in News Communications
• Vasdev Chanchlani for his contribution to Philanthropy
• RBC Royal Bank of Canada for their contribution to Diversity & Leadership in Business.

It was a night of celebration and reflection as we acknowledged the efforts of our recipients for their commitment and inspirational actions for the empowerment of women, and the power of power of one. Their efforts to create positive change inspire others to help further the causes of women’s empowerment and gender equality – they are the drivers of many projects and ideas that emphasize the mandate and goals of UN Women.

The Magna Carta’s Canadian Odyssey

Interview by Rita Scagnetti

The Magna Carta will be coming to Canada in 2015 as a result of pure serendipity – and hard work. Real estate lawyer Len Rodness, who is the driving force behind bringing the venerable document on its Canadian tour, explains how the genesis of its Canadian tour involved being in the right place at the right time.

UNWNCC: How did you get involved with bringing the Magna Carta to Canada?

LR: Gordon Summerbell, a retired London investment banker is the treasurer of the Friends of Durham Cathedral in the north of England. He was shopping around for Commonwealth connections that might be interested in displaying one of the Cathedral’s three original copies of the Magna Carta in 2015, the year of its 800th birthday. As it happens, Gordon’s sister-in-law worked at the school where my son, Cole, attended; she knew that my wife Suzy and I are history buffs. The connection was made, and the spark was lit.

UNWNCC: Tell us about the Magna Carta and its importance.

LR: The Magna Carta embodies key democratic principles that still guide us today, including equality before the law, habeas corpus, the right to a trial by jury. Most notably to United Nations Women’s Committee Canada Newsletter readers, it was one of the first pieces of legislation to consider the rights of women. Canadians will also have the privilege to see its companion document, The Charter of the Forest, issued in 1217, which outlines the importance of universal human rights and property rights.

UNWNCC: What were the first steps you took when you got the green light to bring the documents to Canada?

LR: Knowing the allure of these documents to numerous audiences, step one was to hire Lord Cultural Resources, well known in the cultural world in Canada, to navigate the Canadian logistics. I then spent 18 months working with the authorities in the United Kingdom just to get approvals to allow the documents to betaken out of England.

A Steering Committee was struck and an honourary committee comprising some well known Canadian luminaries was selected. It includes the Right Honourable John Turner, the Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell; the Honourable David Crombie; former Ontario Chief Justice, Roy McMurtry; political commentator, David Frum.  And of course, UN Women Canada’s own President, Almas Jiwani.

UNWNCC: Tell us a little about meeting our president for the first time

LR: Almas was recommended to me by a Steering Committee member. She was intrigued by the iconic nature of the Magna Carta and we talked at length about its diverse meaning. Not just about the meaning of law or jury of peers, but aspects of it not well known, such as women’s rights.

The initial starting points for women’s rights hearken back to 1215. If you look at them from our lens, it does not look like much but if you understand the world from 1215 to have them included in the Magna Carta was an important step. Almas was intrigued by its breadth and how it resonates today. It provides a link in the chain to what UN Women Canada does today.

UNWNCC: This is a different type of pursuit for you, is it not?

LR: I admit that setting up the exhibit and fund raising is quite the leap from real estate law, but it is not a leap from the Magna Carta to current legal practices.  The Magna Carta is the springboard to the rule of law we enjoy in Canada. It’s a natural thing for me to become involved in. Fundraising or project organization is a learning curve, but it’s been a great experience. I’ve met extraordinary people, including Almas and learned a whole new side of the world that I would not have been involved with, except for going to cultural events.

UNWNCC: Can you tell us a little about the exhibition itself and how you will make the documents relevant today?

LR: The exhibition will be divided into three sections: how the Magna Carta came into being; the impact it had on the development of the Rule of Law in England and eventually in Canada; and ultimately its impact today on Canada and organizations such as UNWCC.  We can talk about the link to women’s rights and the empowerment of women. How we have come a long way and still have a ways to go, where we would like them to be. This is the part that resonates.

I don’t think it will be difficult to sell an 800-year-old document to a contemporary society. We have already taken nascent steps to introducing it and what it means, with our Website ( and Twitter account (@MagnaCartaCAN). Our sons Jared and Cole are both involved. Jared, who is attending Durham College in Oshawa, is working on the marketing campaign; and 20-year old Cole, a third-year political science student at the University of Western Ontario, built and monitors the Facebook page. It’s a family affair, with Suzy working the Twitter campaign that ekes out fun facts about the Magna Carta, sharing 45 Tweets that take followers through what it is and means. While most people have heard about the Magna Carta, many don’t know what it is and means, and it will be part of my challenge to educate people.

The combination of the amazing fact that it is 800 years old, in perfect shape, and the thought that a king in England who was hated by his subjects was forced to give up many of his god-given rights to be an absolute ruler to maintain his throne has turned into the society that we have today. We are hoping that people will feel a connection starting with their lives now and thinking about how they’ve come to enjoy their lives and liberties and they can see that this document started it. Without this document they could be living in North Korea. I want to share the wonder that we had when we saw it. My wife and I travelled in October of 2012 to visit Durham Cathedral and view the document in person. It was an amazing moment.

I feel it is my job to stir the excitement around the documents. Outside of the King James Bible and the Constitution of the United States, this is one of the most important and well known documents in the world. I can’t wait to give Canadians an opportunity to experience it.

UN Women National Committee Canada is proud to announce that our president, Almas Jiwani will be honored with the “Outstanding Woman Leadership Award” from the World Women Leadership Congress on February 14th, 2014 in Mumbai, India.

The mission of WWLCA 2014 is to bring together women leaders of diverse professions and passions to provide the opportunities for them to help themselves and others to grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, social change, networking support, recognition and to promote gender equality.

In their communication to UN Women National Committee Canada announcing their selection, the WWLCA described their decision: “The Award is conferred to Ms. Jiwani for her significant contributions towards social change, helping women to achieve equal rights within the domestic and economic spheres and her unique ability to influence and motivate individuals to action. Ms. Jiwani is a ferocious fighter of women’s empowerment and equality, Global Ambassador of Peace and a champion of Diversity. This Award is unique in that it is a worldwide recognition for women who take on voluntary/professional leadership roles in the community.” Said Dr. Bhatia.

Further, they speak of Ms. Jiwani’s accomplishments: “For her excellence and dedication to philanthropy, Ms. Jiwani has brought a new face to humanitarianism, most notably for her initiatives in bridging the gap between the corporate and humanitarian world. Her efforts to create change, despite the obstacles in place have been recognized across the globe and continue to gain international attention.”

“It is a great honour to be recognized especially with the tremendous caliber of women leaders today in the world. This recognition symbolizes how far women have come, however, it also highlights how far we still have to go. It is only when women are recognized in all spheres of society as equal partners to their male counterparts that we will have truly achieved the ultimate reward–equality,” said Ms. Jiwani.

For more information, visit:

Editor’s Note

Editor: Alexandra Lucchesi

Editor’s Note: This newsletter could not have been produced without the contributions of our dedicated volunteers. I would like to thank: Ian Charles, Emily Nickel, Helen Lam, Farzana Mussa,Yazmin Sanghera, and Rita Scagnetti for their assistance.

UN Women National Committee Canada extends a very special thank you to our webmaster Ghizal Mehdi for his outstanding service redeveloping and redesigning our website, and for bringing a new and innovative face to our organization.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge our President, Almas Jiwani. Her dedication to the cause has truly been an inspiration to us all.

UN Women National Committee Canada Membership Form