By Chesa Abma
Early this year, after hearing about an exciting opportunity from PPP Executive Director, April Ingham, I found out I was selected by the BC Council for International Cooperation (BCCIC) to go with the Inter-Council Network (ICN) youth delegation to attend the 64th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW64) at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The delegation was comprised of eight fierce young women from across the country, all working in and passionate about areas related to gender equality. After connecting with my fellow delegates through webinars and navigating my way through the event schedules, I was full of excitement about what I would experience. My focus for CSW64 was issues related to justice and Indigenous rights.
In early March as we were getting ready to embark on our travels, we were disappointed to hear of the cancellation of CSW64 due to COVID-19. Although this was certainly the right choice, there were feelings of sadness for all the work done by individuals around the world to bring different discussions and events together that would now be cancelled or hopefully moved to an online platform.
Little did I know as I was coming to terms with the news, that Senator Marilou McPhederan and her team in Ottawa were coming up with an alternative. A Youth Forum for young women from across Canada. In a quick change of events, I found myself on route to Ottawa for the first time in my life. Over two days, we heard from many impressive and influential people: these included Afghan-Canadian politician and Minister for International Development, the Hon. Maryam Monsef; Canada’s first ambassador for women, peace and security, H.E. Jacqueline O’Neill; members of the Canadian Senate, and experienced professionals working for NGOs in the field of women’s rights and gender equality.
During our first Round Table, I was blown away by the important work being done within our different communities. It was inspiring hearing about all the efforts made towards achieving gender equality in areas that included but were not limited to health, Indigenous rights, gender-based violence, and LGBTQ2+ rights. I was appreciative of the representation in the room and the experience and wisdom that my fellow delegates brought forward. There were stories detailing the many complex issues faced by women nationally and globally and how the understanding of intersectionality is vital in addressing those issues. As I listened, I thought about how crucial it is that we continuously make the effort to come together and find out what is going on for folks in all communities both near and far. The experience of being in a room with so many strong young leaders was humbling in the best sense.
It was interesting to hear about the work and experience of the Senators and speakers. I appreciated hearing about their journeys and the insight they provided. Senator Mobina Jaffer told us that as women “we bring the point of view of the community, as we are the eyes and ears of the community.” I had so many questions, but there was limited time. I took away a lot from the thoughtful dialogue and difficult questions brought forward by everyone in the group. I appreciated that there were genuine invitations made by the Senators to continue the conversations with them.
As a young Indigenous woman, I had conflicted feelings about being in Ottawa and in a space where the decisions made have an immense impact on every aspect of our lives. It is hard not to think about how often the people most negatively impacted by these decisions face the most barriers in having their voices heard. For this reason, having the opportunity to share my thoughts and ideas is not one I take lightly. I know that having this experience has added to my understanding of the Canadian Governmental structure and processes, which will continue to be helpful into the future. After listening to each other’s stories and feeling our collective determination and passion, I left Ottawa feeling hopeful, especially if efforts such as this one continue to engage diverse groups of young people.
It was an honour to witness the events over these two days. Hay’sxw’qa si’em to everyone who attended, Senator McPhedran and her team, all the guest speakers, BCCIC, ICN, PPP and April Ingham.
Chesa Abma, a member of Xwsepsum (Esquimalt Nation), is honoured to live and learn on her ancestral lands in the beautiful Lekwungen territory. As she has worked for Pacific Peoples’ Partnership in the past, she is grateful for the experience and knowledge gained and the relationships formed during her time with PPP. Sustained by her passion for education and justice, Chesa will be pursuing studies in the Indigenous Law Program at the University of Victoria in the Fall of 2020.