OTTAWA â€” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump joined forces last month to promote female participation in the workforce, but the contrast between how their governments approach other gender issues is now on display at the United Nations.
The Liberal government sent a big team to New York to take part in the annual gathering of the UN Commission on the Status of Women this week to promote Canadian plans and programs, including $650 million over three years for international sexual and reproductive health projects.
The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, raised eyebrows this week when it revealed it had brought two socially conservative organizations along for the talks as the only non-government members of the official delegation. They are Lisa Correnti, executive vice-president for the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM), and Grace Melton of the Heritage Foundation, where her work focuses on social issues at the UN.
"We've gone beyond speculation about where the Trump administration stands on women's rights globally," Jessica Stern, executive director of OutRight Action International, an LGBTQ-rights organization based in New York, said in an interview Wednesday.
She also noted the size of the Canadian delegation â€” including federal and provincial cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and non-governmental organizations â€” and the feminist agenda it brought to the meeting.
"I think American women are probably a little bit more anxious than Canadian women today."
The Center for Family and Human Rights opposes abortion and the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in human rights policies and laws.
It has also spoken out against a move by some countries â€” including Canada â€” to increase the proportion of their humanitarian aid meant for sexual and reproductive health to help make up for the gap left when Trump signed an executive order to enforce the so-called global gag rule that forbids international organizations receiving U.S. funding from even mentioning abortion.
The Southern Poverty Law Center also includes the organization, which is a registered charity, on its list of hate groups for its anti-LGBTQ views.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has said any anti-discrimination laws meant to protect the LGBTQ community should also protect the right of those who do not believe in transgender identities or same-sex marriage to act on their convictions. Melton has been highly critical of the involvement of "radical feminists" in the UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Neither responded to a request for comment Wednesday.
Groups pushing to advance the rights of women, girls and the LGBTQ community were furious.
"I think it's a bit of a slap in the face to the proceedings," said Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada.
Alex Wellstead, a spokesman for Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef, who led the delegation, said the Liberal government has no control over who another country decides to invite to the meeting, but added that Monsef was there to make gender equality a key priority â€” "including all vulnerable groups."
Stephanie McLean, Alberta's minister for the status of women, said in an emailed statement that the news underscored her own desire to attend the meeting.
"There continues to be groups, in Alberta and abroad, that do not share our values of women's equality," McLean said. "But that's precisely why I attended the UN Commission on the Status of Women â€” to represent the majority of Albertans, who believe when women are truly empowered, our families and communities succeed."
Lise Martin, executive director of the Canadian Network of Women's Shelters & Transition Houses, said she is concerned it will become that much tougher to get feminist language into the agreement that comes out of the meeting.
"I think it's part of a global rollback that the American government is trying to actually give leadership to and I think that they will find other countries that will be happy to jump on their tailcoats around this," she said.
"The problem at the UN is it's always about the lowest-common denominator and so basically things get watered down, watered down, watered down and they become meaningless."
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Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press