Interview with CAPPD Vice-Chair, and leader of the Green party, Elizabeth May

CAPPD_Elizabeth May

CAPPD Vice-Chair & leader of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May

What does international women’s day mean to you?

International Women’s Day has played a critical role in my life. Thanks to the sheer fluke of attending a March 8th 1980 event to celebrate IWD, my life was transformed.  The event was at a pub in Sydney Nova Scotia, a two hour drive from my home. Local talent, including a not-yet-famous Rita MacNeil, was performing.

For nearly a decade I had been working as a waitress and cook at my parents’ restaurant in Cape Breton.  Due to family economic problems, I had been unable to pursue university.  While working in the restaurant, I had been volunteering in the grassroots movement to prevent aerial insecticide spraying of Cape Breton’s forests.  As a result of my media debates with pulp company executives, a woman lawyer at the IWD event asked me why I had not pursued law.  When I explained that I had always planned to be an environmental lawyer, but had no undergraduate degree and no real hope of getting one, she told me about the new programmes at law school to encourage people who had been out of school and in the workforce to get to law school.  These Mature Student programmes were a product of the women’s movement.

By the next day, I had contacted Dalhousie Law School and started the application process that allowed me to graduate from Dalhousie Law School three short years later!

International Women’s Day stands for me symbolically and literally as a day to celebrate the empowerment of women and to reach out, locally and globally, to help other women achieve their dreams.

 

What are some of the most pressing issues as they relate to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, at home and abroad?

The political and ideologically motivated restrictions on development assistance to health care agencies around the world providing birth control advice and safe and legal abortions is a threat to sensible primary health care and reproductive rights for women in the poorest nations.

 

Looking beyond the Millennium Development Goals, the post-2015 development agenda will include a strong focus on sustainable development. From your perspective, how do the three pillars of sustainable development (economic, environmental and social) relate to individuals’ sexual and reproductive health and rights?

There is a convergence in deadlines for the negotiation of the next step in a global carbon reduction treaty to address climate change within the UN FCCC process and the achievement of the MDG – 2015.

At this point, neither priority is on track to be adequately addressed.  Seeking solutions, grounded in global equity, progress may be closer at hand.  The power of global trans-nationals needs to be displaced by a growth in civil society and grassroots movements engaged in the struggle to improve human society while ensuring a liveable and healthy biosphere.

Unless we address unsustainable levels and patterns of consumption, we cannot have a secure future.  Similarly, we must pursue equal rights to women and girls – economic, political and social rights to education, health care and autonomy. Guaranteeing women’s rights, specifically their reproductive rights, empowers them to make the best possible decisions for themselves, their families and communities, which can have a positive impact on managing unsustainable pressures on the world’s population and consumption.

That said, failure to reduce greenhouse gases will foreclose any progress in social development in increasingly chaotic and unpredictable extreme weather events, destabilizing global security. We either pull together to address these crises holistically, or we will perish collectively.

 

The Green Party of Canada places young people at the heart of its vision for a sustainable future. How do you see Canadian parliamentarians, in part through the CAPPD, empowering young women and girls and realizing their human rights?

At this point, I cannot claim that Canadian parliamentarians are doing nearly enough.  When we have closer to 50% of our parliament (as is the Green Caucus in the House) represented by women, our daughters will be able to see themselves as part of the political process.  We must empower young girls and young women to claim their rights, without fear or insecurity.

In the meantime, I am very pleased to be able to work through CAPPD to engage young women and encourage them to become that next wave of political leadership.

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