The Gender Equality Interview Series: Helen Scott, Executive Director of CanWaCH

In light of the Gender Equality Forum 2017, we interviewed Helen Scott, Executive Director of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, for an interview and asked the following questions on Gender Equality, Women’s Empowerment, and more. 

Why is Gender Equality important to you / CanWaCH?

Making advancements in reaching gender equality for girls, boys, women and men, is the cornerstone of a more equitable world where both the needs of the individual and of society are better served. Talking about gender equality is also critical for when we speak about reaching the right to health for those traditionally left behind, often and overwhelmingly women, adolescents and girls. When an individual and a community have knowledge of, and access to, their health related rights, general wellbeing drastically improves and opens up vast opportunities and possibilities. This looks like receiving an education, being well-equipped to enter the workforce, and making decisions about our own bodies, including the age women bear children and the spacing between bearing children. Working towards gender equality, especially in the scope of access to health related rights, is central to CanWaCH — a network of over 100 Canadian NGOs, academic institutions and health professional associations who work in over 1000 regions globally. It is critical in our work of improving the lives of women and children in the world’s poorest countries and ensuring that every woman, adolescent and child survives, thrives, and accesses their right to health with dignity.

Are you optimistic that we will get to Gender Equality by 2030?

It has been a good news story for many: as the sun set on the Millennium Development Goals, the global community celebrated a 45% decline in maternal mortality and an over 50% decline in child mortality since 1990 and 2.4 million lives saved since 2010. Overall, there have been huge gains in reducing mortality, promoting accountability for women and children, cultivating innovation, generating research and supporting monitoring and evaluation, activities that all positively impact moving the needle on gender equality.

On the global stage, wonderful movements such as Every Women Every Child, Women Deliver and Girls 20, plus all of their local partners, are doing incredible work to support gender equality initiatives, now gaining traction at an unprecedented rate. Global leadership is also voicing this issue more than ever before, including Canada who has put women and girls and a feminist foreign policy at the heart of its international aid framework.

Now, a lot of work remains to be done and especially for those who are hardest to reach, such as adolescent girls. By working together through the power of partnership, I am optimistic that we will make remarkable strides in SDG 5, which will positively translate to strides in other SDGs, and in Gender Equality by 2030.

What will it take to achieve Gender Equality by 2030? / Why is it so difficult to achieve Gender Equality? 

Equality for every woman, adolescent and child starts with supporting the survive agenda and through respecting their rights, including their health-related rights everywhere; yet, despite tremendous progress serious gaps remain. To address uneven progress to date, we must continue our existing work and expand our efforts by deliberately investing in the people, places, policies and interventions that were too often neglected by the global agenda.

Key to achieving gender equality will be adopting gender transformative approaches. A gender transformative approach means placing an intentional priority on addressing social and cultural norms that perpetuate inequality in all forms throughout policy and programming. It means fundamentally changing efforts to focus not just on changing the conditions of the most excluded, but on changing power relations and the social position of women and girls in the household and in society that result in them having choice, empowerment and autonomy. This process should take into account the local context and must involve community and faith leaders, local civil society partners, and boys and men.

In addition to gender, intersectionality should be focused on- to understand women and girls not as homogenous groups, but as individuals facing different overlapping vulnerabilities (such as age, class, race and culture) that must be addressed by working at multiple levels at once.

What actions and achievements related to achieving Gender Equality are you most proud of?

Along the way there have been massive platforms that, without, advancements in gender equality would not be where is currently is. This includes:

  • The Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is established as the first global intergovernmental body exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
  • Commemorating International Women’s Day
  • 1995 Beijing Platform for Action
  • Landmark UN resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security;
  • True inspirations and change makers like Malala Yousafzai: “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.

With that being said, as a Canadian, one achievement that I am most proud of is Canada’s commitment and leadership to women and children’s health. This commitment is multiparty, non-partisan and unwavering and delivers results!

Do you have any advice to businesses that don’t know where and how to start?

When wanting to contribute to change, including progress in gender equality, it is imperative to engage and understand the perspectives, needs and priorities of the individuals and groups who you seek to make a difference with and adopting a “nothing about her without her” approach. Participation of women, adolescents and girls themselves is critical to determining what is working and what is not – especially in the nexus between the social context in which they seek equal access to services and the efficacy of the services they receive. As well, community participation should be supported at all levels, in particular the voices of women and youth, to inform good programming, promote accountability and realize human rights. Local governments and civil society should also be engaged.


Gender Equality Interview Series Helen Scott, of CanWaCH