1st Session, 41st Parliament,
Volume 148, Issue 144

Thursday, March 7, 2013
The Honourable Donald H. Oliver, Speaker

International Women’s Day

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and what more we can do to advance the rights of women in Canada and around the world. Here in Canada, when I think about women’s rights, my first thought is for the 582 missing or murdered Aboriginal women that the Sisters In Spirit campaign identified three years ago. We have no idea how that number may have grown since then. I wonder, honourable senators, whether we are doing everything we can to protect the rights of all Canadian women to live free of violence.

However, International Women’s Day is also about recognizing progress. Last month, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority announced an investigation into crimes against humanity committed by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s political party. In a 2009 report, the NGO AIDS-Free World accused the ruling Zimbabwean party of a brutal, orchestrated, vicious campaign to intimidate voters by raping women associated with the opposition party ahead of the 2008 presidential elections. Human rights groups estimate that 2,000 women, ranging from 5-year-old girls to elderly grandmothers, were raped between May and July 2008. This is the first time an African government has used domestic laws to investigate another African country under universal jurisdiction for a crime of sexual violence.

The Globe and Mail called South Africa’s decision a sign of the growing resistance to the use of rape as an organized political tactic.

Honourable senators, this is progress. As AIDS-Free World co-director Paula Donovan explained, South Africa’s unprecedented investigation sends a very clear message to those perpetrators that this cannot be repeated, that we are all on notice and watching. Zimbabweans will vote on a new constitution in a little over a week. A few months later, presidential elections will be held, and President Mugabe will once again run as a candidate.

Honourable senators, the situation in Zimbabwe is hardly unique. A 2009 report cites a United Nations Population Fund figure of 15,996 new instances of sexual violence in a single year in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Sixty-five per cent of the victims are children. Ten per cent of them are under 10 years of age.

Last October, Prime Minister Harper announced Canada’s commitment to playing a leadership role in the international campaign to prevent conflict-related sexual violence. According to section 6 of Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, every person who commits, outside Canada, a genocide, a crime against humanity or a war crime is guilty of an indictable offence and may be prosecuted for that offence by Canada.

Honourable senators, on this International Women’s Day we need to summon the will to act and to protect the women who have been raped in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Canada can learn from the action of South Africa. We as a country need to protect women and children of the Democratic Republic of Congo.