Review finds successes, failures in Liberals’ feminist aid approach in Afghanistan

More failures than successes. Money quote: “…failure to ensure Canada’s attempts to increase gender equality included “a deeper understanding of Afghanistan’s local cultural context and Islamic tradition.””

An internal review of the nearly $1 billion in foreign aid that Canada quietly spent in Afghanistan after the Canadian military pulled out has found some successes but also many failures — especially when it comes to helping women and girls.

The Global Affairs Canada review covers the period between 2014 and 2020, during which Afghanistan remained a top destination for Canadian aid dollars even after the last Canadian troops had left and public attention drifted elsewhere.

Published on the department’s website late last month, the reviewers’ final report comes amid another round of peace talks between the Afghan government and Taliban to end decades of nearly continuous fighting in the country.

It also follows a Canadian commitment in November to contribute another $270 million in aid over the next three years to Afghanistan, adding to the heavy investment that Canada has already made in the country since 2001.

The reviewers found that the $966 million in Canadian foreign aid spent since 2014 was almost entirely focused on empowering and supporting Afghan women and girls, particularly after the Liberals launched their feminist-aid policy in 2017.

Those efforts led to some tangible progress, including the adoption of gender equality in some Afghan institutions, a decrease in violence against women in some communities, more educational opportunities for girls and better health-care services for both.

“Projects in the womens’ and girls’ rights and empowerment sector resulted in female beneficiaries becoming more active, confident and self-sufficient,” adds the reviewers’ report.

Yet the review, which included analyzing internal Global Affairs documents and interviews with Canadian, Afghan and international government staff and NGOs as well as average Afghans affected by the projects, found many problems as well.

Chief among them was a failure to ensure Canada’s attempts to increase gender equality included “a deeper understanding of Afghanistan’s local cultural context and Islamic tradition.” It also failed to include men and boys in its programs.

“The definition of gender roles was so central to Afghan society and culture during the period that any planned changes required not only consultation with male household members, but also with the larger community,” the report said.

Those shortcomings threatened to leave the perception of gender equality being imposed on Afghans, the report said, adding: “If not carefully managed, there was the risk that gender-equality efforts promoted by Western donors could lead to backlashes and harm.”

The reviewers cited several examples, such as women who used shelters to escape domestic violence being shunned by their families and women in the Afghan army facing direct threats, as among the unintended consequences of current efforts.

Memorial University foreign aid expert Liam Swiss, who has written extensively on the Liberals’ feminist approach to foreign aid, said the report’s findings reflected many of the concerns and criticisms that were voiced when the policy was first launched.

That includes a one-size-fits-all strategy that didn’t take into account the local conditions and culture in the countries where Canadian aid is being channelled — of which Afghanistan is one of the most difficult.

“That’s the problem when you kind of stake out a really broad set of priorities on your aid,” Swiss said. “If you’re trying to make them apply to all and to everywhere, you’re going run into a lot of issues of local appropriateness, local receptivity.”

The reviewers also suggested that Canada was guilty of the same sins as many of its western counterparts in Afghanistan, namely focusing its aid dollars on areas that it was more interested in than what was really needed in the country.

That was reflected in the lack of consultations with local communities and a limited consideration for the specific needs of the many different ethnic and religious communities in Afghanistan, which undermined their effectiveness and sustainability.

In fact, the reviewers found Canada did not actually have a strategy for its engagement in Afghanistan. Global Affairs also failed to adapt to the changing needs and environment as the Afghan government lost territory to the Taliban between 2017 and 2020.

The report instead paints a picture of Canadian diplomats and aid workers keeping their eyes firmly glued on their own priorities even as the Taliban was wresting more and more of the country away from Kabul.

To that end, the reviewers said nearly all of those interviewed as part of their study believed the progress made by Canadian aid efforts over the years will be threatened or completely undone if security in the country deteriorates further.

That possibility continues to loom over Afghanistan’s future amid the peace talks and as the world waits to see whether incoming U.S. president Joe Biden will continue the Trump administration’s work to withdraw American forces from the country.

Global Affairs spokeswoman Patricia Skinner said while the report shows progress has been made in Afghanistan, the department will address the reviewers’ six recommendations — including changing how it promotes gender equality — over the next two years.

Nipa Banerjee, who previously led Canadian aid efforts in Afghanistan before joining the University of Ottawa, said she hopes the review will lead to changes – including a more expansive approach.

“With all the insecurity and everything, shouting about women’s rights only, it’s not going to be very helpful,” Banerjee said.

“And Afghans themselves think that. They’re saying it is important, but without security and without political order, nothing will succeed. Women’s programs will not go anywhere. So there has to be compromises.”

Source: Review finds successes, failures in Liberals’ feminist aid approach in Afghanistan

Germany Moves Toward Requiring Women On Large Companies’ Executive Boards

Of note to Canadian regulators, broadening to visible minorities and Indigenous peoples:

Germany has taken a step toward requiring what has not happened voluntarily: putting women on the management boards of the country’s largest companies.

On Wednesday, Germany’s cabinet approved a draft law that would require stock exchange-listed companies with executive boards of more than three members to have at least one woman and one man on those boards.

The rule would affect about 70 companies – of which some 30 currently have no women at all on their management boards, the Justice Ministry said. These companies generally have more than 2,000 employees.

The draft law will now go to the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament, for a vote.

The legislation also contains a provision intended to improve the effectiveness of a 2015 law that requires leading companies’ supervisory boards — which are generally chosen by shareholders and don’t have executive powers — to have at least 30% of their positions occupied by women.

The new law would extend the 30% requirement to companies in which the federal government is the majority shareholder. That includes Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company. In addition, executive boards – responsible for managing the company – that have more than two members will be required to have at least one woman. These measures would affect about 90 companies.

Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth Franziska Giffeycalled the law a “milestone” that would ensure there will no longer be women-free boardrooms in these large companies. The law would make Germany better prepared for the future, she said, and more able to capitalize on its potential.

“We have seen for years, not many changes are made voluntarily, and progress is very slow,” Giffey said in a statement.

An October 2020 report by the AllBright Foundation, which advocates for boardroom diversity, found that Germany lags the U.S., France, the U.K., Poland and Sweden in the proportion of women on executive boards at leading companies.

The study found that in the U.S., women comprise 28.6% of the executive boards of the 30 largest publicly traded companies. In Germany, that figure is just 12.8%. And only four of Germany’s largest 30 listed companies had more than one woman on their executive boards.

Janina Kugel, a former Siemens executive who is now an equality advocate, told Deutsche Welle the new quota would be an important signal.

“The perception of Germany is that, because we’ve had a female chancellor for the last 15 years, Germany is very progressive in that matter, but actually it is not,” she said.

The U.S. has also begun to confront the issue of gender disparity in boardrooms.

In 2018, California became the first U.S. state to require companies based there to have women on their boards of directors.

And the U.S. stock exchange Nasdaq announced diversity requirements last month. Under the rule submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Nasdaq would require companies traded on its exchange to appoint at least one woman and at least one member of an ethnic or racial minority or LGBTQ+ person to their boards of directors.

Source: Germany Moves Toward Requiring Women On Large Companies’ Executive Boards

Is The Pandemic Causing A Surge In Female Genital Mutilation?


In early December, Christine Ghati Alfons taught a menstrual hygiene class to a group of girls, 10 to 15 years old, in the ethnic Kuria community in Migori County, an impoverished, rural area in southwest Kenya. Normally, she says, the class has 25 students. On this day, only 17 girls showed up.

“We lost some of these girls,” says Ghati Alfons, founder of the Safe Engage Foundation, a community-based group that works to end female genital mutilation (FGM).

According to Ghati Alfons, the eight missing girls had all undergone “the cut,” as FGM is often called; two of them had then been married off, the other six were home recovering. Nine other girls who attended the class had also been subjected to genital cutting in recent months, she says.

Ghati Alfons’ missing students are part of a massive wave of girls believed to have been subjected to FGM, and in many cases, subsequently married off, since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. It’s happening not just in Kenya but across East and West Africa, according to a September report from the Orchid Project, a London-based nonprofit that works with global partners to end FGM. The practice occurs in many parts of the world, though the Orchid Project’s report highlighted the pandemic-era surge in Africa. It also attempted to gather information about parts of Asia where FGM is prevalent but was unable to draw conclusions because of a lack of systemic reporting.

Anti-FGM activists say lockdowns and school closures during the pandemic left many girls at home, vulnerable to genital cutting in communities that see the practice as a prerequisite for marriage and, in some places, as a rite of passage. Girls who have not been cut might be shunned by the community or considered not fit for marriage.

“The girls are normally protected and shielded by the fact of being in school, which is an alternative to marriage,” says Domtila Chesang, founder of I-Rep Foundation, a community-based group aimed at eradicating FGM in West Pokot County in Western Kenya.

Economic pressures heightened by the pandemic have led many struggling parents to seek bride prices — the payment of goods such as cattle to a family for a bride.

“These girls are not just being cut. They are also being forcibly married off. And a girl that has had FGM is worth more. It’s seen as an investment into the girl and her ability to be married off,” says Nimco Ali, an activist who was born in Somaliland and subjected to FGM. She now lives in London, where she leads The Five Foundation, a global partnership to end FGM.

FGM can have long-lasting impacts on health, including scarring, urinary incontinence, painful sexual intercourse and complications during childbirth, as well as psychological consequences such as anxiety and depression.

In parts of West Africa, some former cutters who had abandoned FGM have returned to the practice “because it was a way that they saw that they could obtain income at this difficult time,” says Ebony Riddell Bamber, head of policy and advocacy at the Orchid Project. But the increase in FGM is particularly startling in Kenya, because the country, which outlawed the practice in 2011, was widely seen as making real strides toward eradicating it. Last year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta made an ambitious pledge to stamp out FGM by 2022. Then came the pandemic, which redirected policing and other resources elsewhere, allowing local traditional leaders to flout the law.

Around 21% of Kenyan girls and women aged 15 to 49 have undergone FGM. But the prevalence varies dramatically. It’s nearly universal among some ethnic groups and practically nonexistent among others, according to UNICEF.

Ghati Alfons says FGM remains widespread among Kenya’s Kuria community, many of whom live in “abject poverty.” She explains: “They don’t even have something to eat, but here comes someone who is offering them some money in exchange for [marrying] their daughters.”

Ghati Alfons says that traditionally among the Kuria people, cuttings took place beginning in November, at the end of the Kenyan school year. But this year, school closures that began in March left girls exposed at home, and the cuttings began much earlier. As many as 2,800 girls — some as young as 7 or 8 years old — in Kuria are believed to have been cut between September and mid-October, when Kenyan schools partially reopened, according to estimates from the Five Foundation based on reports from activists on the ground.

“Normally they cut for two weeks, but this time they went for more than four weeks,” Ghati Alfons says. “So that means more girls were cut and many girls are now not even back to school.” She says many of the girls subjected to FGM have been married off, and many others did not return to school because they needed time to heal.

After being cut, Kuria girls are publicly showered with shoes, clothes and other gifts, which can serve as an enticement to other girls to undergo the procedure, Ghati Alfons says. “I grew up longing for the cuts because of the gifts,” she says. She says she changed her mind after her mother told her that her late father had been adamantly opposed to FGM.

Samburu County, a rural, pastoralist region of northern Kenya, also saw a sharp increase in girls being subjected to genital mutilation during the pandemic, says Josephine Kulea, founder and executive director of the Samburu Girls Foundation, which works to prevent FGM on girls as young as 7 by convincing their families to enroll them in school and supporting them through university.

Kulea says Samburu County has high rates of illiteracy, and the girls who do get educated attend boarding schools. But when schools closed in March, girls returned to their villages at a time when they were hosting mass circumcisions of boys. “So when the girls went back to the villages, it was an opportunity to cut them too,” she says.

Kulea says her group alone reported more than 500 cases of female genital mutilation and child marriages to the authorities from just three Samburu villages between March and July, but she estimates the number of Samburu girls affected may have been twice that amount. “You can tell who has been cut by how the girls are walking,” she says.

“I’m sure in January when schools reopen there will be very few girls back in school, because most of them got married,” she says.

Chesang says in Kenya’s West Pokot County, over 1,000 girls fell victim to mass cuttings earlier this year, though she says the government disputes that number. Her group is currently sheltering about 25 girls they rescued from FGM. “There are also some girls who have been forced into marriage that I tried to save but failed,” Chesang says. She, too, worries that many girls who were cut in her area will never return to school, because they’ve been married off or have become pregnant.

Chesang, Kulea and Ghati Alfons all say the cuttings in their respective regions have slowed down. In part, that’s because so many girls have already been subjected to FGM. But they all agree that the Kenyan government has stepped up its efforts to enforce anti-FGM laws and punish perpetrators in the wake of Kenyan media coverage of the spike in cuttings and the ensuing public outcry.

Some of that media coverage came in October, after Ghati Alfons and other anti-FGM activists shared videos on social media showing hundreds of Kuria girls being paraded and celebrated in the streets after being subjected to FGM.

“The airing of the issues on national television really worked,” Ghati Alfons says. “And that is one thing that I feel so proud of and so happy about this year.”

It’s one thing to have laws against FGM, Ali says, but you also need activists on the ground to hold local leaders accountable for enforcing them.

“Unless you’re within communities doing the work day in, day out, so when times like the pandemic occur, you can be there to actively prevent and protect girls, we will keep on seeing these peaks” in FGM, Riddell Bamber says.

And Ali wants to hold Kenya’s president to his promise to end the practice by 2022. That goal is “beyond ambitious,” she says. “Now, he has to step up to the plate to actually start to protect the girls in the rural communities.”

Source: Is The Pandemic Causing A Surge In Female Genital Mutilation?

Interfaith marriage fatwa feeds debate in Egypt

Of note, one of the issues of debate between more inclusive or traditional interpretations:

An Islamic scholar has stirred up major debates by backing the marriage of Muslim women and non-Muslim men, an issue always dealt with nervously by the religious establishment and pro-establishment scholars.

Amna Nosier, a professor of Islamic philosophy at Al-Azhar University and a member of the Egyptian Parliament, said there is no text in the Quran that bans the marriage of Muslim women and non-Muslim men. Islam permits Muslim men to marry non-Muslim women, provided that they do not prevent them from observing their faith.

There are many instances of Muslim men, including celebrities, who have married non-Muslim women. Egypt’s former minister of religious endowments, Mahmud Hamdi Zakzouk, who died in April this year, was married to a German Christian woman.

Speaking on al-Hadath al-Youm TV Nov. 17, Nosier added that the question is especially clear if the men are Christians or Jews, which Islam calls “people of the book.”

A day later, Nosier told the state-run Channel One TV that the Quran only forbids the marriage of Muslim women and “idolaters.” She called on religious scholars to study and reconsider the issue.

Nosier’s remarks were met with a round of fatwas from the nation’s religious establishment and pro-establishment scholars.

Al-Azhar, the highest seat of Sunni Islamic learning, said the marriage of Muslim women and non-Muslim men is not permissible.

“This is an issue on which all scholars agreed in the past and agree in the present,” Al-Azhar said in a Nov. 18 statement.

Abdullah Rushdi, a researcher at the Ministry of Religious Endowments, which oversees the work of the nation’s mosques, described this type of marriage as a form of adultery and “invalid” in a video uploaded Nov. 18.

Ahmed Kerima, a professor of comparative jurisprudence at al-Azhar University, said all Muslim scholars are united against this form of marriage.

“This is a well-established opinion at all times and everywhere,” Kerima told Sada al-Balad TV Nov. 18.

Whether Muslim women should be allowed to marry men who do not follow their faith is an issue that has always been the subject of anxious and acrimonious discussion.

The religious establishment says the Quran speaks against this marriage beyond any doubt, citing verses from the holy book of Muslims that ban the marriage of Muslim women and “idolaters.”

Nevertheless, those calling for sanctifying this form of marriage draw a line between “idolators” and “people of the book.”

Beneath this row lies a need for the reexamination and reinterpretation of religious texts, say religious reformists, especially concerning issues on which the scriptures do not offer clear rules.

“The fight over interfaith marriages is now within Al-Azhar,” said Khalid Montasser, a medical doctor, writer and staunch campaigner for religious reform. “It is between those who want renewal and those who want to keep things as they are with the aim of controlling the public,” he told Al-Monitor.

Historian and researcher Maged M. Farag, one of thousands of people debating interfaith marriages in cyberspace in the past few days, said he knows of dozens of Muslim women who married non-Muslim men.

“They register civil marriage contracts in Lebanon, Cyprus and other countries,” Farag said. “Some non-Muslim men even convert to Islam on paper only. Those living outside Egypt do not care a whit about the fatwas of these sheikhs,” Farag wrote on Facebook.

Nosier says these problems are why there is an urgent need for religious scholars to discuss modern issues and guide believers on dealing with them.

“This is a very serious issue that affects the lives of millions of Muslim women living in the West,” Nosier told Al-Monitor. “Some of these women have to live with their non-Muslim partners without being married to them, as their religion prohibits it. We must renew our understanding of religion to keep up with the changes happening in our life.”

The issue became a hot topic in Egypt after Tunisia overturned a law that prevented Muslim women from marrying non-Muslims in 2017.

Muslim men being permitted to marry non-Muslim women gives rise to accusations that men interpret religious texts in their own interests.

“Men dominate the interpretation of religious texts,” feminist writer and equality campaigner Dena Anwer told Al-Monitor. “Women can no longer be ignored, especially with the major role they play in society.”

TV host Yasmine el-Khateib expressed the view that allowing Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men would be the “correction” of a mistake men make by giving themselves rights they deny women.

The ongoing debate is likely to continue and deepen, but may or may not lead to social change.

Cases of interfaith marriage often elicit shock and condemnation among a large number of Egyptians. Under this shock is the unwavering stance of the religious establishment that these marriages are unacceptable in Islam, especially if they are of women marrying non-Muslim men.

Mohamed Gamal, a civil servant in his early 40s using a pseudonym, said he married a non-Muslim woman even as everyone around him opposed it.

“My family opposed it and her family opposed it, too,” Gamal told Al-Monitor.

He said he has to hide his wife’s religious identity to avoid trouble. “Everybody is against interfaith marriages, even as Muslim men are permitted to marry non-Muslim women,” Gamal said.

Al-Monitor contacted several Muslim women who have married non-Muslim men, but none were ready to talk.

“Muslim scholars prohibited the marriage of Muslim women and non-Muslim men at all times and everywhere, having based their judgment on strong evidence,” said Osama al-Hadidi, the director of the Al-Azhar Fatwa Center, the website through which Al-Azhar reaches out to Muslims around the world. “They did this for the welfare of families,” he told Al-Monitor.

Source: Interfaith marriage fatwa feeds debate in Egypt

Korea: Immigration not the only solution to demographic change

Interesting take, reflecting under-employment of women in Korea:

From an agrarian economy in the 1960s to now one of the strongest economic forces in Asia, Korea has evidently achieved tremendous economic growth, which not only comes with fiscal and welfare improvements but also demographic changes. The United Nations predicted that Korea’s population will peak in 2024 and decrease from then on and a 2000 UN Population Division report suggests immigration as a solution to this issue.

Yet, the rate at which Korea’s population is decreasing would require a mass immigration so large that it becomes an ineffective solution. Therefore, it has to be done at a smaller scale and coupled with other solutions that rely on Korea’s existing population.

The demographic change looming over this country ― and others ― is called demographic transition, which is the decrease in fertility and infant death rate due to improved welfare and technological development. It occurs in developed countries and results in a declining and aging population. The latter is the change in age structure to one with a greater proportion of older age groups, whereas the former is the change in the total overall population.

Immigration intended to offset the decline in the population size is called replacement migration, yet it can also address the declining working-age population. Based on the UN report, Korea has to aim for an annual net immigration of 800,000 between 2035 and 2050 to maintain the ratio of a working-age individual to retiree at 3.0. To bring in that number of people annually is close to impossible considering Korea’s past trends: 156,000 in 2018, and 32,000 in 2019.

To actualize our goal of sustainable economic growth, our solution itself should be sustainable. Therefore a more direct immigration policy is suggested. An example is Japan’s 2019 immigration policy that created two new visa status types for foreigners working in sectors experiencing labor shortages. With this solution, the country with the highest proportion of people over 65 years old was able to target specific industries that require manpower.

The proposed solution above greatly reduced the UN’s recommended annual net immigration, which means we have to look within the country and utilize existing human capital ― Korean women.

Despite having the highest tertiary education rates out of 36 OECD countries for women aged 25 to 34, Korea ranked 30th in women’s employment. An Ewha Law School professor suggests in a CNN interview that such contradicting statistics are proof that discriminatory hiring is still prevalent despite anti-discriminatory laws.

The Korean judicial system needs to address this issue with stricter consequences. The initiative to change should also come from organizations, and at all levels of management. Every individual is responsible to correct old prejudices and biases that promote sexism.

Yet, encouraging female employment means more than just hiring more women. It also means hiring them for leadership positions, and jobs that are historically perceived to be more appropriate for men ― referring to labor-intensive work.

Other potential solutions are empowering the elderly and extending the work-life of workers. It’s important to mention that this solution is not simply done by increasing the retirement age. Instead, it’s done by carrying out health-related initiatives and promoting lifelong learning.

Firstly, lifelong learning. Currently, Korea already has the Lifelong Education Act. Under this statute, the Korean government can plan programs purposed for cultivating human capital potential.

One way to do that is by providing opportunities for people to learn emerging skills, similar to what the Singapore University of Social Sciences is already doing. They’re offering credits for courses in emerging skills to their alumni. This is a potential solution because technological innovations also mean a workforce that needs to be trained in utilizing said technology. This resource should also be available to people of all ages and employment status.

Secondly, concerning health, investing in preventive countermeasures is impactful. Educating the public on ways to take care of their health will be cheaper compared to subsidizing healthcare costs due to ailments.

One supporting case is the company Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that strategically planned wellness programs for their employee’s social, mental, and physical health. Their efforts resulted in $250 million in healthcare savings. For every dollar J&J spent on wellness programs, they received a return of $2.71 between 2002 and 2008. Harvard Business Review even suggests that every dollar invested in health-risk prevention saves $6 in healthcare costs.

Korea’s working population has been decreasing due to population aging and decline. Replacement immigration has been suggested as a solution to this issue.

Yet the answer to whether or not Korea should embrace more immigration to ensure sustainable growth is not a simple yes or no. Replacement migration is one solution to this, but it shouldn’t be the only one. An issue as complex as this one needs more than just one big solution. Like a pride of lions hunting their prey, so should we address this issue, with several solutions.

Maria Natasha Lintang is a student at the State University of New York, Korea.

Source: Immigration not the only solution to demographic change

The Mixed-Orientation Couple: a dramatic development in Canadian immigration law


Immigration law both shapes and reflects the society that produces it. A recent and pioneering case, A.P. v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2020 FC 906 (CanLII) makes this adage clear. In it, we see the dialogic, interpretative, and pragmatic nature of Canadian policy and law.

The Federal Court of Canada recently confronted a case involving a rather unusual set of circumstances, where a gay man and a straight woman who shared a child were denied conjugal sponsorship. The facts are as follows:

A man known to us only by his initials, A.P., came to Canada several years ago. A.P. claimed that he was subject to persecution in his unnamed country of origin due to being gay. A.P’s claim was successful, and he obtained protected person status and permanent residency in Canada. Some time later, A.P. met up, in a third country, with a heterosexual female friend from university named A.M. After what the court describes as a ‘night on the town’, A.P. and A.M. had intercourse and a child resulted from this encounter.

A.P. and A.M. decided to try to parent the child together as a couple, even though A.M. continued to identify as gay, not bisexual. A.M. could not return to his home country, and A.M. and A.P’s efforts to relocate to or marry in a third country failed. Consequently, A.P. sought to sponsor the child, and A.M. as A.P.’s conjugal partner, through the family class of Canadian immigration.

A Canadian immigration officer denied A.P’s application. A.P. then appealed to the Immigration Appeal Division (IAD) of the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), a specialized Canadian administrative tribunal that handles such matters. The IAD upheld the officer’s determination that A.M. was not A.P.’s conjugal partner, meaning that A.P. could not sponsor her as such. Among other factors, the IAD cited, in its decision, its conclusion that “a homosexual man and a heterosexual woman are [not] able to meet the sexual component of conjugal partnership,” and based on the following factors concluded that the sexual and personal behaviour of the couple was inconsistent with a conjugal partnership.”

A.P. appealed the I.A.D. ruling to the Federal Court of Canada. This court determined that the officer’s decision was not reasonable, and sent it back to another officer for redetermination. Justice Fuhrer, in her judgment, was emphatic that the IAD had erred in holding that A.P. and A.M. were not a conjugal unit. Justice Fuhrer noted that, notwithstanding the differing orientation of A.P. and A.M. the two were, with the use of sexual aids, enjoy sexual intimacy. Moreover, argued Justice Fuhrer, M. v. H. (1999), a landmark Supreme Court Canada case on the rights of same-sex couples, provided a holistic framework for determining the existence of a conjugal union; sexual intimacy or the lack thereof was not necessarily a determining factor. Thus, concluded Justice Fuhrer, it was entirely possible that what she termed a ‘mixed-orientation couple’, even one that did not have any sexual intimacy, could form a conjugal union. Accordingly, the Federal Court remanded A.P.’s sponsorship application to another officer for redetermination.

The above series of events illustrates so many facets of Canada and the judicial system. The ability to challenge a decision one considers unjust. The expansive and evolving interpretation of statute. The independence and the ability of the Courts to intervene and determine that a decision is unreasonable, and therefore overturn it. The gradual but clear development in Canadian law that sexual orientation is an unacceptable ground of discrimination. The expansion of the Canadian understanding of the family – from the traditional heterosexual married couple (generally, with children) to include same-sex couples as well as those which are not formally married – like A.M. and A.F. The role of precedent, of other cases, as a basis for re-understanding the issue at hand. The supremacy Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms over laws and interpretations with which it finds itself in conflict.

Where to from this decision? A.P. and A.M. and their case go back to an immigration officer. The current Canadian government, which has emphasized the defence of the rights of sexual minorities, even going so far as to formally apologize for discrimination that previous governments perpetuated against LGBTQ2+ individuals, seems highly unlikely to challenge the Federal Court’s determination in any way. Will other current Canadian understandings of what the family is, for the purposes of immigration – who is a parent, who is a child, the means of determining a relationship is genuine – change? Will Parliament or subordinate rule-makers (Ministerial officials, etc.), pre-empt the Courts, or will the Courts continue to pioneer new interpretations? Will there be a backlash against the either phenomenon – say, a feeling that the Court has gone too far? How will other countries receive the dramatic decision emanating from Canada? Will they emulate it? Or forcefully reject it?

This much, we can say with confidence: The Federal Court’s decision in the case of A.P. and A.M., is both bold and grounded in Canadian jurisprudence, a product and a shaper of Canadian law. And it raises as many questions as it answers.

Source: The Mixed-Orientation Couple: a dramatic development in Canadian immigration law

Pandemic risks companies’ diversity efforts, CPPIB CEO Mark Machin says

Of note:

The pandemic is threatening the pipeline of emerging female leaders and risks thwarting the progress Corporate Canada has made in diversity and inclusion efforts, the head of the country’s largest pension fund is warning.

The pace of change, particularly in diversifying executive teams, was already slow, said Mark Machin, president and chief executive officer of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail. Now, with the COVID-19 pandemic, “you see some particularly alarming trends. … It could leave a permanent scarring and a setback for a lot of the progress that’s been made in the past,” he said.

The pandemic pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to a three-decade low, he noted; though there’s been a partial recovery in recent months, he cited recent surveys showing women are experiencing severe stress and burnout during the pandemic, with many considering quitting or reducing hours.

“It is fragile,” he said of the current situation, ahead of a gender diversity white paper that CPPIB will publish on Monday.

Female directors now account for 30 per cent of the board seats at TSX 60 index-listed companies – and just 15 per cent of the C-suite for the same group of companies, it noted.

To address that dearth, companies should set measurable targets for diversity on both boards and executive positions, Mr. Machin said. “I am a huge believer in targets. As business people, once we know what the target is, then we’ll solve for it.”

Few companies in Canada, however, have publicly stated targets: 29 per cent of companies say they have targets for women on boards, while just 7 per cent have targets for female executive officers, according to a report last month by Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP.

With so few companies setting diversity targets, some say the federal government may have to step in. Last week, Senator Howard Wetston, the former chair of the Ontario Securities Commission, said Ottawa may have to require corporate boards to set targets if the provinces fail to do so. “We haven’t gone far enough and we need to do better,” he said.

Boosting diversity in leadership is also crucial to Canada’s economic recovery, Mr. Machin said, citing studies showing that businesses with diverse work forces came through the previous recession in better shape.

As long-term investors, “it’s something that matters for us,” he said. “If you have companies that have diverse senior managements and diverse boards, they’re more likely to produce better risk-adjusted returns, because they make better decisions over time. It’s not just a belief – we’ve done that analysis multiple different ways.”

CPPIB, which has a $434-billion portfolio, has stepped up efforts to improve board diversity. In 2017, it started voting against the election of the nominating committee chair if the board had zero female directors. Last year, it voted against 13 Canadian public companies with no women on the board, and another 26 companies with only one female director.

This year, it voted against directors at 10 public companies (nine of which on the S&P/TSX Composite Index had only one woman on the board; the other, not listed on the benchmark index, was a company with none). Globally, it voted against 323 companies for failing to have any women on their boards.

“Watch this space,” Mr. Machin said, when asked if the fund is going to further ramp up pressure in the coming year.

The white paper issued several recommendations to accelerate the participation of women at all corporate levels, among them, giving workers more control over their schedules and removing bias by, for example, running job descriptions through software programs to eliminate terms that may appeal more to men.

It also urged more support for child care. Furloughs and reduced hours “may turn into permanent departures if parents who lack child care are forced to put their professional ambitions on hold,” it cautioned. Businesses can address this by creating more on-site daycares, helping employees source child care and accommodating workers who can’t return to the office because their children remain at home, the report said.

The CPPIB is not the only institution urging a greater priority on child care. Bank of Nova Scotia CEO Brian Porter called on the federal government in September to “significantly” enhance supports for parents with kids in daycare, to enable more women to enter the work force. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce also recently called for child-care reforms to improve affordability and accessibility, saying the COVID-19 crisis is having a “disproportionate” economic impact on women.

In an accompanying opinion piece submitted to The Globe, Mr. Machin noted the looming challenges in the coming months, with the economy projected to shrink by 6 per cent. “We expect a recession more than twice as deep as the one following the global financial crisis in 2008,” he said. “Let’s not hobble ourselves by denying our companies the talents and wisdom of half the population.”


Big gender gap in students attitudes and engagement in global and multicultural issues

New interesting element to the OECD’s PISA assessment. Detailed review on my to do list to see if interesting immigrant/non-immigrant comparisons:

Schools and education systems are failing to give boys and girls across the world the same opportunities to learn and apply their knowledge of global and multicultural issues, according to a new report on the first OECD PISA assessment of the knowledge, skills and attitudes of students to engage with other people and cultures.

Are Students Ready to Thrive in an Interconnected World? focused on students’ knowledge of issues of local and global significance, including public health, economic and environmental issues, as well as their intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes. Students from 27 countries and economies took the test. Students, teachers, parents and school principals from around 66 countries and economies completed a questionnaire*.

The results reveal a gender gap in access to opportunities to learn global competence as well as in students’ global and intercultural skills and attitudes. On average across OECD countries, boys were more likely than girls to report taking part in activities where they are expected to express and discuss their views, while girls were more likely than boys to report taking part in activities related to intercultural understanding and communication.

Boys, for example, were more likely to learn about the interconnectedness of countries’ economies, look for news on the Internet or watch the news together during class. They were also more likely to be asked by teachers to give their opinion about international news, take part in classroom discussions about world events and analyse global issues with their classmates.

In contrast, girls were more likely than boys to report that they learn how to solve conflicts with their peers in the classroom, learn about different cultures and learn how people from different cultures can have different perspectives on some issues. These gender differences could reflect personal interests and self-efficacy but could also reflect how girls and boys are socialised at home and at school, according to the report.

“Education is key to helping young people navigate today’s increasingly complex and interconnected world,” said Andreas Schleicher, OECD Director for Education and Skills. “The schools and education systems that are most successful in fostering global knowledge, skills and attitudes among young people are those that offer a curriculum that values openness to the world, provide a positive and inclusive learning environment and offer opportunities to relate to people from other cultures.”

The findings reveal the key role teachers play in promoting and integrating intercultural understanding into their classroom practices and lessons. Most teachers reported that they are confident in their ability to teach in multicultural settings. But the lack of adequate professional development opportunities in this field is a major challenge. Few teachers reported having received training on teaching in multicultural or multilingual settings.

More than 90% of students attended schools where principals reported positive multicultural beliefs among their teachers. Yet students who perceive discrimination by their teachers towards immigrants and people from other cultural backgrounds, for example, exhibited similar negative attitudes. This highlights the key role of teachers and school principals in countering or perpetuating discrimination by acting as role models.

The report found a strong link between students learning activities at school and having more positive intercultural attitudes. Also, speaking two or more languages was positively associated with awareness of global issues, interest in learning about other cultures, respect for people from other cultures and positive attitudes towards immigrants.

On average across OECD countries, 50% of students reported learning two or more languages at school, 38% reported learning one foreign language and only 12% reported not learning any foreign language at school. The largest share of students (more than 20%) who reported not learning any foreign language at school were observed in Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and Scotland. By contrast, in 42 countries, more than 90% of students reported that they learn at least one foreign language at school.

Source: Big gender gap in students attitudes and engagement in global and multicultural issues

Overcoming the diversity deficit on federal courts

Actually, compared to the previous Conservative government, the record in federal judicial appointments to the federal and provincial courts is strong:: 56.2% women compared to 35.6%, 7.8% vismin compared to 2%, 2.8% Indigenous compared to 0.8%.

I sometimes question whether advocates for increased representation have looked at the data before asserting that more needs to be done.

And yes, more should be done to encourage more lawyers from minorities to submit their names along with other efforts and it should be possible to learn from the experience of the last 5 years:

Federal justice minister David Lametti knows that the federally-appointed bench isn’t diversifying quickly enough, and he’s vowing to do something about it.

“It is going in the right direction, I’m pleased at the direction in which it’s going,” says Lametti. “Is there more work to do? Absolutely. We need to make more good appointments, but I think we’re doing a decent job, and we’re getting better at it, and hopefully it will continue to improve over time.”

But merely calling on lawyers from under-represented groups — BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Colour], women and the LGBT community — to put their names forward hasn’t been doing the trick. Members of legal organizations representing diversity on the bar say that this approach may have run its course.

“If you just keep doing things the same old way, they’re clearly not reaching people and then people aren’t applying,” says Brad Regehr, president of the Canadian Bar Association, and a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, who is based in Winnipeg. “It’s going to take some innovation in terms of reaching people.”

There is ample evidence that women and other minorities will self-select themselves out of an application process for a position on the bench because they don’t feel that they could be chosen based on the established profile of the judiciary, which makes the notion of application problematic.

“We know that people’s sense of how qualified they are varies according to gender and racialization, and other experiences that people may have had,” says Martha Jackman, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, and co-chair of the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL).

“To apply, by definition, you have to think that you’re qualified. But you also have to feel like you’re appointable, and there are many qualified applicants that may well understand that they are extremely meritorious – even more meritorious than others – but they have a strong sense, that is probably accurate, that they won’t be appointed, so they don’t apply,” says Jackman. “There is a typical profile for who is appointed.”

Lori Anne Thomas, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, agrees that people who don’t see themselves on the bench will avoid applying. “Why put yourself through the torture for a job that’s probably not going to happen?” asks Thomas.

Both Thomas and Jackman also point to how opaque the federal application process can be, making it another barrier for application.

“You’re applying for a position that may or may not exist,” says Thomas. “You’ll never know when the decision will be made, and as soon as the decision is made, you’re no longer a lawyer – you plan for a future that may never happen or can happen in the next minute. It’s a very odd situation.”

At least in the Ontario Court of Justice application process, Thomas notes, there are interviews that tell applicants they have reached that stage in the process. That doesn’t happen federally, and lawyers don’t necessarily have access to someone who has been through the process before to reassure them.

Thomas recommends that the government make the process “more transparent and welcoming to everybody who applies.”

“These are professional people, and if they have the qualifications, they should know where they are,” she says adding that it would be worthwhile for the Judicial Advisory Committee to take the time to offer some encouraging words not to give up.

According to Jackman, any systemically discriminatory forces at play in society and within the profession will be reflected and reinforced in an appointment process.

“I think there is a legitimate perception that this is an insider’s opaque process where there are certain individuals who already have a big head-start, and why would you bother?” she says.

Lametti says he’s aware that people will take themselves out of the running, and that the “process is onerous.” But for a reason: “It’s onerous because it’s introspective,” says Lametti. “Whatever the outcome, you actually understand yourself a whole lot better when you’re done, and it is an in-depth application process because we want people to realize that we want them to write about their experiences. We want them to tell us about what has made them unique, and that’s onerous. But if we were more superficial about it, […] we wouldn’t get the quality outcomes that we’re looking for.”

Lametti says that the government is making headway with its appointments. Of the 74 appointments made since the October 2019 election, 44 have been women, two have been Indigenous, 14 were visible minorities, and six identified as LGBT. He hopes that record will help more lawyers from diverse backgrounds see themselves on the bench.

Thomas, however, is wary of the statistics that don’t differentiate Black appointments from other visible minorities.

“What they fail to understand is that people of colour and Black are not necessarily the same thing,” says Thomas. “Black people can be included in people of colour, but given that both Indigenous and Black persons are over-represented in the criminal justice system, when somebody who’s Black or Indigenous comes in and they see someone who is South Asian or Asian, that doesn’t make them feel that this person understands my lived experience.”

And what if, instead of waiting on people of diverse backgrounds to apply, the judicial advisory committees were to be more proactive in targeting lawyers by nominating them?

“Clearly, we are in a position where things have been done a certain way for a long time, and then we’re getting the complaint that people aren’t applying,” says Regehr. Then I say give it a try.”

According to Jackman, being tapped by someone in government will give the potential applicant the impression that they are qualified.

Thomas agrees that nominations are an idea to consider. “I can say that CABL has an open relationship with the federal government, as well as provincial governments, in terms of talking about these issues, but it is hard when the process is so difficult,” says Thomas.

It’s a fair point, says Lametti, but he doesn’t want to bring back nominations at the cost of ensuring that the process is transparent and fair.

“We’ve put in a variety of application processes to become transparent and fair, but every time I’m out since I became minister, in speaking to various parts of the legal community, I’ve told people to apply,” says Lametti. “I’ve told people not only to become judges, but to apply to be members of the JAC, because they are representative in their composition in order to get better readings of the files.”

Troy Riddell, a political science professor at the University of Guelph, who studies judicial appointments, says that the government could alleviate concerns around transparency by outlining a public list of criteria.

“As long as there was an understanding that, if the [Judicial Affairs] Commissioner’s office directly encouraged an application, that application would have to go through the same vetting process as other candidates, I would not see a problem with that approach,” says Riddell.

Lametti is also keen to emphasize the value of mentorship to get more diverse lawyers to apply to the bench.

“We all have a role to play, where you see good colleagues and you think ‘you really ought to do this. You should be thinking about this, and you should be preparing yourself to apply,’ or helping edit or draft the application, or giving feedback, or whatever,” says Lametti. “We all have an obligation to do that, and I think we’ll get a better bench if we do.”

Regehr agrees that reaching out and talking to lawyers about applying for the bench helps. But he also preaches tenacity. “Being a lawyer is a busy occupation,” he says. “Sometimes you’re getting 100 emails every day, and it gets buried. That can be part of the problem, too. It requires some rethinking in terms of how we advertise for these jobs, and how government and Judicial Affairs can reach out to people.”

Black and Indigenous professionals who have been elevated to the bench also have a role to play, says Thomas. But because there are so few of them, it can be a burden.

“It places a lot of the responsibility on associations such as ours, where we are trying to reach out to our membership and encourage them to apply,” she says. “But that’s from our point of view – not necessarily the judiciary or the federal government.” More outreach on their part “could be enough to encourage people to apply.”

Several legal groups have written letters to Lametti, calling on him to fill vacancies on the Federal Court with BIPOC judges, including the CBA. Only two currently sit on the court.

Lametti says that he hasn’t yet formally responded to the letters. However, he did want to set the record straight that candidates other than those seeking appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada need not be bilingual in both official languages.

“Bilingualism is an asset but is not a requirement or a baseline requirement for either the Federal Court judges or the federally-appointed superior court judges in Canada,” he says.

He also noted that federal judges often have to move to the Ottawa-Gatineau region. That, coupled with the subject-matter needs of the court, further complicate matters.

“The Federal Court has subject area jurisdiction in Indigenous matters, in administrative law, in intellectual property, as examples, and you do want people with expertise in those areas for those courts,” says Lametti. “That being said, we do our best to make sure that candidates from diverse backgrounds are considered for Federal Court appointments, and I think we’re getting better in that regard as well.”

Jackman notes that there will soon be two Ontario vacancies on the Supreme Court. There won’t be any excuse for passing over appointments from unrepresented groups, she says.

“There’s a burden of justification for both of those appointments,” says Jackman. “And there’s no possible explanation why the justice minister and the prime minister cannot appoint very meritorious individuals who have a lived experience that is different from the dominant culture.”

Source: Overcoming the diversity deficit on federal courts

Women in Egypt thronging to social media to reveal sexual assaults, hold abusers to account

Of note:

In Cairo, secrets long suppressed have been rising to the surface — and with them hopes the country may be experiencing a feminist movement capable of challenging the culture of impunity that has long accompanied gender-based violence in Egypt.

Online testimonials over the summer by hundreds of women on social media accounts offering anonymity have led authorities to open investigations into two alleged rape cases involving young men from wealthy and influential families.

“Egypt is on fire,” said Mozn Hassan, head of the women’s rights organization Nazra for Feminist Studies. “On fire for more than three months talking about different incidents in different sections and layers [of society].”

Social media, she said, has offered Egyptian women a safe “public sphere” that lets them know they are not alone.

In July, that space led to the arrest of a former American University in Cairo (AUC) student named Ahmed Bassem Zaki, accused of raping a number of women and blackmailing them for sexual favours. A Cairo court has set Oct. 14 as a trial date for Zaki.

“We at first just wanted him to admit it, that he did these things,” said Sabah Khodir, an Egyptian writer and poet who was one of the first to post online warnings about Zaki when she started to hear about his alleged behaviour from friends.

It set off a tidal wave with another Instagram account called Assault Police, encouraging women to share any information they had on Zaki.

“Then girls kept coming forward from all over parts of the world,” Khodir said. “We realized we actually have a shot at finally getting a serial rapist and predator in jail in Egypt that has money and power.”

Source: Women in Egypt thronging to social media to reveal sexual assaults, hold abusers to account