Know your rights

Winnipeg hosts first-of-its-kind women’s education conference

An international conference on women’s education and sustainable development is coming to Winnipeg and bringing with it United Nations prize winner Dr. Shulamith Koenig. 

The International Conference on Women’s Education for Sustainable Human Development is a two day event at the Fort Garry Hotel and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. This is the first year for the conference that will feature three keynote speakers: Juan Carlos Mendoza of the United Nations; Ovide Mercredi, senior advisor to the president of the University of Manitoba; and Dr. Shulamith Koenig, founding president of People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning.

“I do not speak of education, I speak of learning,” Koenig explains over the phone from New York. “Women have to become. They have to know and learn human rights and I think that’s when they become. When they work in the community, that is what empowers them. We don’t give them power. They have to empower themselves.”

Koenig says every city in the world is plagued by human rights issues and it is once issues are understood as interconnected and interrelated that we can take a step towards finding a solution.

“When people learn that they’re the owners of human rights, something really amazing happens,” Koenig says. “It’s not that human rights is always about others, it’s not about violations.”

Koenig offers a metaphor of falling over a stone in the street and being helped up by many yet nobody removes the stone. The idea is that the stone is the cause of human rights violations that must be removed.

“I believe the stone is patriarchy but patriarchy is not pointing the finger at men,” Koenig says. 

“Patriarchy is something that we all collaborate with, men and women together. Women exchange their equality for survival. The major issue in the world is equality. Human rights is all about equality.”

Some of the topics at the conference will be the employment of women through education, education as a tool to eradicate poverty and presentations on how to educate, support and empower grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren.

Dr. Jeannette Montufar is the organizer of the conference as well as a professor of engineering at the University of Manitoba.

“What we are discussing is issues of human rights accessibility to education and having everyone on a level playing field when it comes to education,” Montufar says. “That is the perspective we are taking for this particular conference.

“In Canada we’re dealing with a situation where there’s a real difference when it comes to women and men, or women-with-means versus women-with- out-means,” Montufar continues.

“Some of the groups are very likely to be poor because of a lack of opportunities and the lack of opportunity comes due to a lack of education. Poverty seems to be more predominant in places where there’s a lack of education.”

The International Conference on Women’s Education for Sustainable Development takes place October 16 and 17 at the Fort Garry Hotel and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Visit icwesd.webs.com for more information on the conference and how to register.

Published in Volume 69, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 15, 2014)

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