Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 39th Parliament,
Volume 144, Issue 40

Thursday, March 6, 2008
The Honourable Noël A. Kinsella, Speaker

International Women’s Day

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I want to pay tribute to the Usher of the Black Rod and to thank him for providing access to all Canadians on the Hill.

International Women’s Day will be celebrated this Saturday, March 8, and I wish to reflect on its significance. This is a day to celebrate a global message of progress, hope and empowerment of women. It is also a day when we assess the rights of women, both in Canada and internationally. International Women’s Day serves as a time of reflection, as well as a reminder that women are still working hard to achieve equality. Honourable senators, often women’s rights are interpreted in terms of religion and culture. Today, I will share with you just three examples.

In Saudi Arabia, there is a ban on women driving. This is a highly sensitive and divisive issue and there is much debate over the rationale for this law. Some say it is because of religion and some say it is because of culture. What is certain is that women cannot drive there. A Saudi cleric said he does not see women driving cars in his country because of the consequences that would spring from it, such as the spread of corruption, women uncovering their hair and faces, mingling between the sexes, men being alone with women and the destruction of the family and society as a whole.

In Nigeria, women accused of adultery have been threatened with death by stoning. This is explained as an interpretation of religion.

In our own country, we mourned the death last December of a Canadian girl, Aqsa Parvez, a well-liked Muslim girl who, her friends stated, was having difficulty with some rituals that her family practiced. Her death has been called, by many, an honour killing. Once again, this heinous act occurred in the name of religion or culture.

Honourable senators, we all have a duty to challenge the denial of women’s rights in the name of religion or culture. We must ask the question: Where in religious scripture is it stated that women’s rights are to be denied? I suggest that even if we are shown scripture, we should still challenge the denial of women’s rights. We must state clearly that in Canada we are working hard to achieve equality between men and women, and that we will not waver on the rights of women. All Canadian women have the same rights.

Honourable senators, when Aqsa Parvez was killed in Toronto, all Canadian women’s rights were violated. We can never stand by and let the rights of Canadians be altered or eroded. We in this chamber must be ever vigilant to protect the rights of all women until women achieve equality. International Women’s Day will continue to be a day when we need to prepare a report card of our progress, until we achieve equality for all Canadian women.