Story by Celine Cooper, Special to the Montreal Gazette
The Liberal Party of Canada has officially made feminism a centrepiece of their political brand. Their latest fundraising campaign includes stickers with the slogan I am a Feminist (Like My PM).
Trudeau’s open embrace of feminism — particularly his decision to appoint Canada’s first ever gender-parity cabinet — has been positive. It has had a ricochet effect in political circles, including here in Quebec, where many provincial politicians have faced questions about whether they identify as feminist.
The good news is that feminism has become a bigger part of mainstream political conversation. On his most recent trip to New York, Trudeau spoke to reporters about his commitment to gender equality, even highlighting the long-ignored issue of missing and murdered indigenous women and the gender pay gap in Canada. As a result, these matters are now receiving both national and international attention. Whether or not you go for Trudeau’s brand of populist politics, there’s no denying that this is progress.
So what’s the problem with the Liberal Party branding itself as feminist if, by doing so, they embed the ideas of gender equality, justice and human rights at the heart of mainstream culture?
Answer: Feminism is is more than a slogan. The Liberals’ branding will not count for much if their commitment fails to extend beyond what they can package and sell as part of a fundraising campaign. Nor is increasing the visibility and diversity of women in politics in Canada enough. Feminism means being driven by the principles of gender equality, sticking to those principles when and where it really matters, and being held to account by the public.By that standard, how exactly does the Liberal party square their growing feminist brand with their decision to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most anti-woman regimes? On this point, criticism is mounting.
In his speech to the NDP convention in Edmonton last month, Stephen Lewis asked: “What kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?” The Leap Manifesto controversy and the ousting of Tom Mulcair overshadowed Lewis’s criticism of the Liberals. But it was good question, and it deserved more media play than it received.
Saudi Arabia has long been criticized for its human rights record, and among the myriad abuses is the way women are treated in the country. It’s true that women’s rights in the kingdom have advanced somewhat in recent years. Women are now allowed to stand for election and vote in municipal elections after a ban was lifted by King Abdullah prior to his death last year. But women in the country still cannot travel, drive, marry or work without the consent of a male guardian, or the presence of a male chaperone. A wife cannot open a bank account without her husband’s permission. Women must abide by a strict dress code based on a rigid interpretation of Islamic law and enforced by religious police.
There is increasing pressure on the Liberal government to rethink Canada’s sale of combat vehicles — which are equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons — to Saudi Arabia. A coalition of human rights groups, development organizations and others recently wrote an open letter to Trudeau, saying there “is a reasonable risk that the ruling House of Saud will use the vehicles against its own citizens and in the Saudi military mission in neighbouring Yemen.”
The Liberal party has pushed feminism into the forefront of politics in Canada. Trudeau has elevated some of Canada’s most competent women to positions of power. This is precisely why the dissonance rings so loudly. If feminism really is the new driving ideology for the Liberal party, let’s talk about how it extends to our foreign policy.