SustainabilityX®’s #JustGovernance Spotlight Series
As part of SustainabilityX®’s new #JustGovernance Spotlight Series, we’re interviewing trailblazing political leaders in their quest for both environmental justice and social justice through sustainable policy. This campaign is in line with our fourth pillar of sustainability upon which SustainabilityX® is based: just governance, which is characterized by multiple elements such as human rights, peace, the rule of law, justice, participation, equality, transparency, and accountability in the context of sustainable development. In other words, just governance can be defined as policy frameworks, structures, and processes for decision-making combined with effective oversight, leadership, and regulation that leads to robust systems that deliver justice for all sections of society and the equal preservation of socio-economic rights of all people, which would also be in tandem with the protection of the planet's natural resources.
When we talk about developing structures and systems that promote equality, that also means embracing diversity and inclusion along the way - and that includes the aspect of gender. According to UN Women, women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. However, data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide, particularly to develop policy that responds to climate change. In terms of sustainable development and the SDGs, this challenge can be illustrated by the combination including, but not limited to, the following SDGs, their targets, and respective indicators:
SDG#5: Gender Equality - Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Target 5.5: Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life
Target 5.c: Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels
SDG#13: Climate Action - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
Target 13.2: Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning
Target 13.3: Improve education, awareness-raising, and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction, and early warning
SDG#16: Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions - Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable, and inclusive institutions at all levels
Target 16.3: Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all
Target 16.6: Develop effective, accountable, and transparent institutions at all levels
Target 16.7: Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory, and representative decision-making at all levels
Target 16.b: Promote and enforce non-discriminatory laws and policies for sustainable development
For International Women's Day and Women's History Month, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dianne Saxe, Ph.D. in Law, GCB.D, an internationally recognized Canadian lawyer rated among the top 25 environmental lawyers in the world, Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, Canada from 2015 to 2019, current Deputy Leader of the Green Party of Ontario serving with Abhijeet Manay, and now a Green Party of Ontario candidate running for the 2022 election in the downtown Toronto riding of University-Rosedale, with a vote taking place on June 2.
As one of the world’s leading environmental lawyers that has been recognized provincially and globally for her work, Dianne currently practices law through her firm, SaxeFaxts, focusing on the climate crisis, and serves as the Chair of Toronto City Council’s climate advisory committee. As the Province of Ontario's environmental watchdog, Dr. Saxe was the guardian of the Ontario Environmental Bill of Rights, delivering 17 reports on the environment, energy, and climate. The Ford government passed special legislation to abolish her position after she criticized its destructive climate policies. As a practicing lawyer, she represented community groups protesting acid mine drainage and logging of old-growth forests, obtaining $115 million for municipalities in a bitterly contested arbitration over the Blue Box program.
Here’s what she had to say:
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm Dianne Saxe, Ph.D. in Law, and one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers. I ran an environmental law boutique for 25 years and was the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario from 2015 – 2019, reporting to the Legislature on the environment, energy, and climate. I now head SaxeFacts, focusing on the climate crisis. With substantial board and media experience, I also host the Green Economy Heroes podcast. Some of my achievements include being a Senior Fellow at Massey College, receiving the Law Society Medal 2020, and being recognized as a Clean50 honouree. I've also achieved my Global Competent Board Designation and am featured on Wikipedia! I am also Deputy leader of the Ontario Green Party and now a Green Party candidate in University-Rosedale. For more details about my campaign, you can visit https://votefordianne.ca.
Q: Women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. However, data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide, and achieving gender parity in political life is far off. What inspired you to run for election, and why for the Green Party of Canada (GPO)?
I am running for election because my 46 years of fighting for the public interest as an environmental and energy lawyer have driven home the essential role played by the provincial government, and the enormous damage done by the Harris and Ford provincial governments. I chose the Green Party of Ontario because it's the only one serious about a liveable future, and because of its leader, Mike Schreiner.
Q: Women are underrepresented in politics, but the reasons for it are complicatedly diverse – from differences in how boys and girls are socialized at an early age, to structural and systemic barriers to entry. In your opinion, what are the challenges you believe women face in joining political office? What challenges have you overcome to get to where you are in your political journey?
As you say, women face innumerable challenges, including the fundamental denigration of women's right to speak up in the public sphere, documented in Mary Beard’s Women and Power. In addition, women are typically more conflict-averse as well as carrying more of a caregiving burden at home. I spent most of my life avoiding political entanglement and I much prefer working on good policy to politics. I have stepped forward now because we are in a desperate environmental and climate crisis and I owe it to my grandchildren to do everything I can.
Q: Past women in politics have mentioned that, for much of the public, political leadership still must look big and strong. In your opinion, how do the leaders and local candidates characterize women’s voices in the political landscape? Are women presented as aggressive “complainers” or as equal partners in creating a stronger Canada? What is your experience?
I agree that many people still seem to feel safer with a big male leader with a low voice and that women are subjected to a bitter double standard. Women's voices and contributions are frequently overlooked and or co-opted or claimed by others. Many people still assume that “femininity” and effective leadership are inherently incompatible, despite the evidence to the contrary.
Q: There is established and growing evidence that women’s leadership in political decision-making processes improves them, yet often, women’s political participation is limited to junior roles with less influence rather than senior leadership roles with multiple portfolios. What can be done to improve women’s political participation and leadership positions? If elected, how will you address this?
Women are the majority of the adult population. If we support other women, we can get them elected. Campaigns are mostly won by donations and volunteers. Those who show up are the ones who affect the result. Donate as much time, treasure, ties, and talent as you can to the candidate(s) of your choosing. Start NOW. Don't count on someone else to do it for you. I will model effective female leadership and encourage others to participate.
Q: As an accomplished environmental trailblazer that has navigated many political winds, you have extensive experience in policy development. If elected, what specific goals do you plan to achieve? What policies will you work on to help fight climate change and improve social inclusion? What specific policy or cause are you most determined to stand for?
As this week's IPCC report reiterates, our home is on fire, delay is death, and the lack of political action to seize the rapidly vanishing window for a liveable future is criminal. I will devote all my effort to bring about something resembling our Roadmap to Net Zero: GPO's Transformative Climate Plan, which I spent much of last year writing. You can learn more about our bold, visionary climate plan by visiting our website: https://gpo.ca/climate.
Q: Observations show that most women get into politics to advance a cause, whereas men look to wield authority or exercise power. It’s been noted that when there’s a critical mass of women at the table, it means different issues get discussed, and there’s a different level of commitment, with women more willing to reach across party lines and listen to contrary views around the table to solve the greater issues of our times. Is this something you plan to do as an elected official as well, and what particular issues do you plan to tackle this way?
Absolutely, we're going to need every idea that works, and everyone willing to lend a hand. I have laid out all my top priorities in the GPO's Roadmap to Net-Zero. To give young people even a 50-50 chance of a livable future, we have to slash our fossil fuel use in half this decade and virtually eliminate it by 2045. If we do, we will be able to look our children in the eye. We will also have better health, cleaner air, more vibrant communities, and be able to hear the birds - plus hundreds of thousands of good green jobs. There is no time to waste.
Cheers to a sustainable world!
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