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Even rejected ideas from G7 gender advisory council will see light of day


OTTAWA — Isabelle Hudon has a few rules when she runs a meeting and one of them is to never allow women to sit along the wall — and away from the table.

"If there is no chair at the table, then you bring the table to the chair," Hudon, the Canadian ambassador to France, said in an interview Thursday.

It is not about asking the men to take a back seat, she said, but, rather asking them to let the women squeeze in.

"I gave myself the challenge to do at least one thing a day for the cause."

This week, Hudon, who was the head of Sun Life Financial Quebec before she entered the world of diplomacy last fall, is helping women squeeze into a space around a much more powerful table.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is making gender equality an overarching theme of Canada's G7 presidency, which will include a focus on the economic empowerment of women as world leaders gather in early June in the Charlevoix region of Quebec.

Trudeau tasked Hudon with co-chairing — alongside billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates — a G7 gender equality advisory council he set up to help bring feminism to the gathering of world leaders at a resort in La Malbaie, Que.

The advisory council, which includes such high-profile members as Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, is developing gender-related recommendations that touch on each one of the themes for the G7 summit.

The other themes have to do with the environment — specifically, climate change, protecting the oceans and clean energy — as well as peace and security, adapting to a rapidly changing job market, and inclusive economic growth.

Hudon said the group will be publishing its full list of recommendations later this year, including any Trudeau decides not to champion at the G7.

She said council members felt strongly that they be able to show they pushed for the causes that are dear to their organizations and the people they represent, rather than let any rejected ideas be buried.

She also said it did not take much negotiating to bring Trudeau and the Liberal government on board with that idea.

"I think that he does recognize that it will create positive tension and that we need to keep putting positive tension on society," said Hudon, the only member of the council who works for the federal government.

Many of those sitting on the gender equality advisory council are strong advocates in the area of sexual and reproductive health rights, including access to abortion, and several council members have said they expect to pass along some recommendations on that topic.

"We will never see gender equality unless girls and women can decide on their own bodies and fertility," said Katja Iversen, the CEO of Women Deliver, a global organization that advocates on the issue.

"A bedrock of gender equality is sexual and reproductive health rights so, of course, we would expect that it is in the recommendations," said Iversen, who is in Ottawa this week for the first in-person meeting of the advisory council.

They could however, end up being among those Trudeau does not bring to the G7 table, since arriving at a consensus could prove difficult.

Soon after coming to power, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order reinstating the so-called global gag rule on abortion, which forbids organizations getting U.S. funding from even mentioning the procedure, never mind ensuring access to it.

Still, Iversen said Trudeau made it clear in his discussions with council members this week that he wants their recommendations to be bold and comprehensive — and leave the challenge of bringing the other world leaders onside to him.

"It is not our job to start playing politics," Iversen said, adding the message from Trudeau was clear: "You tell me how the world needs to be and what we ought to do and it's my job to get it done."

At the same time, Hudon said the advisory council has discussed the need for pragmatism.

"We have to equip the prime minister with actionable and bold recommendations, but also recommendations (with) which he will be able to rally the six other leaders," she said, adding that is why it is useful to be able to release the full report later down the road.

Trudeau also revealed that Canada plans to push for greater access to education for girls at the G7 talks, and will put new money into those efforts in the coming weeks.

Earlier this year, Trudeau announced the Liberal government would provide an additional $180 million to the Global Partnership for Education fund in 2018-20 — a pledge that doubled the Canadian commitment. On Thursday, Trudeau said that was just the start.

"The G7, as a collective, must make sure that prioritizing girls' education is not a one-off, but is instead foundational to the work we do and the goals we set together," he said.

The gender equality advisory council presented its preliminary ideas to Trudeau this week, but will not be submitting its final recommendations until a few days before the G7 summit.

That is not a lot of time, Hudon acknowledged: "We are doing the best with the time that we have."

— Follow @smithjoanna on Twitter

Joanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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