Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women, announced Canada’s delegation to the 61st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), beginning on March 12, 2017 in New York.
The delegation will include four federal Ministers, two Parliamentary Secretaries, provincial and territorial Ministers, Parliamentarians and representatives from non-governmental organizations. The focus of the UNCSW this year is women’s economic empowerment and the changing world of work.
During the UNCSW session, Minister Monsef will underscore Canada’s commitment to achieving gender equality through the empowerment of women and girls from coast to coast to coast. This includes supporting women’s participation in the workforce through a number of actions in areas such as early learning and childcare, flexible work arrangements, and reform of the federal pay equity regime. Making economic gains for women in Canada requires strong federal leadership, as well as a collaborative approach to working with provincial and territorial governments, Indigenous Peoples, and non-governmental organizations.
Canada will co-host a series of side event discussions on critical issues affecting women and girls including: gender-based violence and women’s economic empowerment. Ministers will also undertake bilateral discussions with their international counterparts.
On March 8, 2017, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day, Suffragette held a protest against Monsef in front of her constituency office in Peterborough, Ontario.
The protesters slammed Monsef for her silence over the explicit and repeated expressions of misogyny by Canadian religious leaders, including the imam of a Peterborough mosque who said in a sermon that in order to satisfy the husband’s desire “the wife has always to respond to her husband’s call to bed … avoid suspicious behavior such as talking to other men, and to serve her husband.” According to Imam Shazim Khan, the husband should take care of all his wife’s needs and to prevent his wife from having a job outside home unless there is necessity.
During the protest, Sandra Solomon – an ex-Muslim human rights activist and self-described “victim of Islam” – handed a letter to Monsef’s Secretary describing her experience as a woman raised in Saudi Arabia who was forced to follow the teachings of the Islamic Sharia law.
“Many times I was severely beaten and was not allowed to leave home just because I refused to wear the niqab”, Solomon wrote. “My bother attempted to strangle me to death in a “honor” killing after he caught me speaking with a boy. My grandmother who happened to stay at our home that day saved my life. Later I was forced to get married. I was not married for almost five years. I was raped for almost five years”.
“In Canada women are forced to wear these full body grabs to conceal their femininity. It is not just a face scarf. The hijab and the niqab have to cover the whole body, leaving only a narrow slot for a woman to be exposed to the sun. Even on the hottest days of the summer women must cover themselves from head to toe. This is NOT liberation. This is OPPRESSION!”
“Dear Honourable Maryam Monsef, we need your help and support. We need your voice and moral stand against these misogynistic religious leaders. In your capacity as a Minister of Status of Women you have the power to confront them, to serve as a guide for Canadians and a defender of women’s basic rights. We ask you to publicly condemn Canada’s top imam who condones wife beating and to call for removing Toronto Police’s chaplain from office following his statement that marrying 9 year old girl is permissible.”
The chaplain referred to in Solomon’s letter is Musleh Khan who has been serving as the Muslim chaplain of the Toronto Police since October 2016.
In a 2013 webinar entitled “The Heart of The Home: The Rights And Responsibilities of A Wife” Khan referred to, among other issues, the wife’s duties in her relationship with her husband, including the prohibition to refrain from having conjugal relations whenever her husband desires, unless she has “a valid excuse.”
According to Khan, the husband is the only leader of the family. “The wife should be obedient to her husband at all times”, Khan said, which includes instances when the husband calls his wife to bed. “She [the wife] should ask her husband’s permission before leaving the home” and “is obliged to serve her husband.”