I visited the Big Apple recently, the first time in 20 years. What I saw was two Canadian women taking the town by storm, each in difference sectors.
I was hanging out with an Inuk woman, President Rebecca Kudloo of the Inuit Women of Canada (Pauktuutit), from Baker Lake in Nunavut, and with the head of the Metis women of Canada, Melanie Omeniho. They were part of our delegation to the annual UN Conference on Women. They were such fun to be with: Speaking poignantly about their groups, tipping cabbies lavishly ("they have families to support") and making an impression everywhere with their authenticity. They wanted to see a Broadway musical, and I was game.
Ten blocks from our hotel was Times Square and there, at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, the musical about the life of American songwriter Carole King was playing to sold-out crowds. King had written more than 100 hit songs in the '60s, including You've Got a Friend.
Here's the Canadian connection: the show, called Beautiful, stars Chilina Kennedy of Toronto, formerly of Stratford and Shaw, a demon of a piano player and singer, who rightfully earns a standing ovation every night.
Here's another New York story: at intermission, naturally, the line-up for the men's washroom is short; for the women's, long. The usher calls out briskly, "Ladies, pee with purpose, please!" Did our best to comply.
Some 12 or 14 blocks away, on the East River, the impressive United Nations compound reaches to the sky. Here, Peterborough's Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women, was head of the Canadian delegation, some 200 people, who had come to the 62nd annual UN Commission on Women meeting.
We were from civil society organizations who work with women, civil servants, elected MPs and MPPs, cabinet ministers and staff from the Canadian Mission to the UN, who were affable hosts all week. At one reception, Monsef had us navigate to a part of the room for our sector, then find a person from another group and spend five minutes catching up. I nailed Speaker of the House Geoff Regan. "You do a good job," I told him. A Maritimer, with the usual sense of humour, Regan answered, "My wife thinks so."
Monsef's ease at hosting, and her friendly, down- to-earth style make her easy to relate to and fosters community. Then, her formidable intellect readies her to deliver up to four speeches a day on different topics. I was there and I saw it. This is not a political piece, it is a paean of praise from an older woman to a gifted younger one.
One morning, she addressed a breakfast meeting of 600 people from around the world on engaging men and boys in the work of progress for women. A little later, it was a keenly received speech on accountability for civil society organizations in receipt of money from any source, along with a helpful handout prepared by Canadian John Reed, that was quickly snapped up, especially by reps from developing countries.
Then on to a lunch talk on gender-based budgeting with Finance Minister Bill Morneau, and finally a rousing five-minute speech in the General Assembly on Canada's progress in gender equality. Canadian commitment now is widely praised at the UN as global leadership par excellence.