Equality, Equity, Empowerment

Author: Alia Hogben

ThumbnailSource: Kingston Whig-Standard

This is a significant year as it marks the 35th anniversary of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and of our organization, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women.

The Charter has had a pervasive influence on women and their rights, so it is an opportune time to hold a retrospective of the successes and challenges in the women’s movement. Also, it is important to reflect on the example of CCMW’s activism and advocacy on behalf of a specific group of Canadian women.

We plan to celebrate by gathering women and men to discuss the last 35 years and to identify future ways to build and accelerate women’s rights, including equality.

There have been gatherings held in previous years to celebrate the creation of the Charter and of the women who struggled to ensure the inclusion of a clear section on the equality rights of women.

The Charter states [Section 15] “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and in particular without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or mental or physical disability.”

The women, who gathered in Ottawa when the Charter was being drafted, wanted to ensure that no one could inveigle them out of the equality criterion based on gender and they demanded a clear section to specifically protect females. This essential section is Section 28, which says, “Notwithstanding anything in this Charter, the rights and freedoms referred to in it are guaranteed equally to male and female persons.”

Without such an overt legal protection, I know we would have difficulties claiming some of our rights.

CCMW’s motto of equality, equity and empowerment is based on Quranic principles of equality of all peoples, and the values of compassion and social justice. But these are reinforced for us, Canadian Muslim women, by the Charter’s clear statements. We are highly aware that what is written in the Quran and in the Charter does not easily translate into acceptance of our rights or our wellbeing. It requires us to continue to insist on claiming our rights.

I am often awed by those Canadian Muslim women of 1982 who had the foresight to so clearly articulate a vision for the organization which still holds true. A vision based on Islam and its enlightened values of compassion and justice which is not eternally circumscribed by a paternalistic system of family or community.

I am struck by the work of CCMW. We have succeeded in assisting women and their families by empowering them to become independent and capable of making informed decisions. We have provided knowledge building workshops across the country, we have partnered with other organizations and we have published materials for women and the general public. We have been active in public communication about Islam, women and interfaith dialogue.

All this is done with the help of a committed and active board and 11 chapters across the country. Because of their passion, we have members who do so much and with such limited funds. Our colleagues in other organizations help us often and we can call upon them for all kinds of help.

For example, to hold this celebratory gathering in October, 2017, some of our friends have donated money to cover the costs of travel and accommodation.

We are truly grateful for the public recognition given to CCMW such as the Order of Canada, and recently the Inter Pares’ Peter Gillespie Social Justice Award. The Order of Canada motto   “they desire a better country” accurately reflects the philosophy of the women of CCMW. Each one of us works to improve the lives of women and their families and thus the country’s wellbeing.

We are proud of being Canadian Muslims and proud of the value of diversity and acceptance that defines us as Canadians. This pride does not ignore the negatives for we are keenly aware of the prejudice, the intolerance and the racism. However, we also celebrate our Canadian values which set us apart from many other countries.

So what does the future hold for individual women and for the collective of women?

I think the women of CCMW would agree with this statement: “I am only one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. I will not let what I can’t do interfere with what I can do.”