Women urged to be a voice for those unable to speak for themselves

Women of Red Deer were urged on Tuesday to celebrate their own historical achievements by helping oppressed women across the world gain similar human rights.

Monique Auguste

Monique Auguste

Women of Red Deer were urged on Tuesday to celebrate their own historical achievements by helping oppressed women across the world gain similar human rights.

The Canadian chapter of the International Federation of Women Against Fundamentalism and for Equality held it’s inaugural Canadian Awareness Luncheon at CrossRoads Church to coincide with the centennial of International Women’s Day.

The goal of the event was to not only raise awareness but to also inspire Canadians to take a stand against some of the barriers women are subjected to, said WAFE Canada president Monique Auguste.

“We have freedom here,” she said. “We need to be the voice for those that cannot talk because if they talk they will be tortured.”

The luncheon began with a speaker series that saw dignitaries touch on topics ranging from issues facing women in Canadian politics to the impact fundamentalism is having on females in Iran.

Despite taking to the stage to discuss how the rise of females in Canadian politics has plateaued — only 22 per cent of the seats in the House of Commons are currently held by women and female representation in the provincial legislature is around 20 per cent — Red Deer North MLA Mary Anne Jablonski stressed the gains women have made in the West cannot be celebrated until all females have equal rights.

“Until women throughout the world have achieved the same rights that we enjoy here in the west, our job is not finished,” she said. “When they are threatened, we are threatened. We must not sit back and pat ourselves on the back until all women enjoy the same rights and freedoms throughout the world.”

One example of the plight women face was discussed by Carole Fontaine, a professor in religion and women’s rights.

First, she had to explain the complex definition of fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism, she said, is not a modern phenomenon but a hybrid religious movement that mixes ancient traditions with everything from modern cultural preferences, political goals, strategies and propaganda.

Women are deliberately chosen as the group to oppress and control in a fundamentalist society as a way to shame men into becoming more conservative as a means to protect the females in their lives, Fontaine told the crowd of more than 150.

Because of this, women in Iran are forced to wear burqas, have no employment rights and are being killed in an increasing number of public executions and stonings.

Fontaine’s proposed education as the way to bring this suffering to an end.

“And my dear sisters and brothers, that’s what we’re doing here today and what we do on the Internet and on Facebook and we tweet constantly,” she said.

Another threat women face is human trafficking, said Sonia Bitar, appointed citizenship judge for Edmonton.

The RCMP estimated in 2004 that 800 foreign nationals are brought to Canada every year through human trafficking. About 600 of these victims are subjected to sexual exploitation, she said.

Physical abuse, an increase risk of contracting HIV, being controlled through substance abuse and being used to smuggle drugs across borders are some of the other issues related to human trafficking.

Human trafficking targets society’s most vulnerable, including those born in Canada, Bitar said.

WAFE Canada is a new chapter of WAFE International, which was formed in 2004 to look at the challenges of women’s human rights by extremist religious regimes.

Soroptimist International of Central Alberta also held an International Women’s Day event in which they honoured three local women for their accomplishments.

Shauna Morgan of Sylvan Lake received the Women’s Opportunity Award, which is often award to a single mother who is pursuing post secondary education.

Morgan has four children and is currently in her second year of nursing at Red Deer College. She received $2,000 with the award.

Cara Boyce of Red Deer was recognized for her volunteer efforts and was honoured with the Violet Richardson Award, which is given to a female volunteer between the ages of 14 and 17. Boyce received a personal $300 cheque and was given another $300 to donate to the charity of her choice. She selected Loaves and Fishes.

And Jo-Ann Grimwood of Red Deer received the Ruby Award Women Helping Women for her numerous volunteer efforts.