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Pluralism Policies That Work: A call for more radical thinking

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20 September, 2016
Omar (left), a 27-year-old cook originally from Deraa, Syria, hugs a friend next to the asylum processing centre in Traiskirchen, Austria, October 13, 2015. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

How can we create more welcoming and compassionate societies? One policy at a time. Here are nine initiatives to better promote inclusion, from a cross-section of speakers at this year’s 6 Degrees forum.

1. Inspire an entire generation with a single book.

Late last December, the Swedish Women’s Lobby announced plans to give a free copy of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short book We Should All Be Feminists to every 16-year-old in Sweden. The news stuck with me ever since. The more I thought about it, the more I admired the thinking behind a policy in which an author, her publisher and a community of women’s groups managed to amplify the message and contributions of feminism to public life through the power of books. 

But it was the choice of Adichie that I found particularly inspired. As a black, Nigerian author who has written about the multiple experiences of living in Africa (and outside it) in such award-winning books as Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, Adichie blends gender and race issues and refuses to see one independent of the other. It’s vital for all of us who write about or work on issues of inclusion and diversity to get off the one-struggle, each-to-his-own high horses. It’s impossible to separate problems arising from gender inequality, even in a liberal democracy like Sweden, from wider discussions of race and global migration. About 16 percent of Sweden’s population was born elsewhere, and waves of migration continue — in 2015, 163,000 displaced individuals applied to Sweden for asylum — against a growing chorus of disapproval and xenophobia. In introducing young Swedes to the importance of feminism, Adichie’s book doubles as a gateway into a world outside their Scandinavian comfort zone.

I also love the idea of giving away a single book to an entire generation. We live in a world where cultural touchstones are all too rare — there’s simply too much of everything and very little stands out anymore. Giving a generation a common vocabulary around gender rights ensures that they will all be on the same page —literally — but, more importantly, emotionally and politically. Books can do that.

Kamal Al-Solaylee is a journalism professor at Ryerson University in Toronto and the author of the national bestsellers Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes and Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone). 

2. Let them eat tofu.

The shocking Burkini ban imposed by some mayors in France (and later annulled by France’s highest court) is only the latest in a series of clashes around the place of Islam in modern France and the interpretation of secularism (“laïcité”). France, rocked by horrendous terrorist attacks and with the National Front on the rise, is a tense place right now.

Food has long been a battleground in this debate. In 2015 the mayor of Chalon-sur-Saone, a town of about 45,000 people, passed a rule banning alternatives to pork in school cafeterias. He invoked the principle of “vivre ensemble” (living together), arguing that offering different menus on religious grounds was a form of discrimination. Typically, such measures are backed by a strange coalition of secularists on the left and the centre-right, and anti-immigrant groups. Muslim groups appealed, arguing that the proposal targets them directly. They lost. The court ruled that the mayor was providing the children with the required public service (i.e. safe, varied and nutritious food). Muslims and liberals opposed to the ban were furious.

Having a calm debate on French identity and the place of religion (that is code for Islam in today’s France) is essential, but appears impossible in the short term. Yet pragmatic solutions to questions like serving alternatives to pork in schools need to be found. 

Just such a way out of the school meal crisis is gaining ground: the vegetarian option. Schools could offer a healthy, environmentally friendly and widely acceptable vegetarian alternative to all types of meat, including pork. This would be served everyday, not just on days where pork is on the menu.

Over 150,000 people signed a petition on in favour of the vegetarian option and a bill is being sent to Parliament. Local experiments in Saint Etienne and Perpignan have been successful. The City of Paris should test this: with 30 million school meals served annually, the political and environmental impact would be significant. 

Mathieu Lefevre is currently reinventing French and European dreams with Plus 1. Formerly with New Cities Foundation and World Bank.

3. Push harder on same-sex marriage.

Regarding the LGBT community, equal marriage is a great way to promote inclusion for several reasons.

First, because it is possible: it has been already implemented in over 20 countries, including Canada, and it is being discussed in several others, including my homeland, Chile. Second, because it is very efficient, as it doesn’t need a lot of taxpayers’ money to be implemented. Additionally, its scope is much broader than expected, as it doesn’t only benefit the couples who are getting married but also their families and friends, who are happy to see how their loved ones are included in society; the whole national LGBT community, as they live now in a place where the state tells them that being gay or lesbian is as valid as being straight; and the whole of society, as all its members live now in a place where diversity is considered a value and not a problem, and where minorities’ rights are respected.

I hope the rest of the world realizes one day that culture shouldn’t serve as an excuse to deny people their fundamental rights, regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender, religion or any other characteristic.

Luis Larrain is an activist based in Santiago, Chile. He is co-founder of Fundación Iguales, the largest LBTGI organization in the country.

4. Increase diversity in boardrooms.

Pluralism in leadership is but one of many ways to embed effective diversity and inclusion into our everyday communities. We’ve heard it before: our communities are diverse, why isn’t our leadership? Pluralistic leadership at the top reflects a truly inclusive and diverse community where society demonstrates openness, receptivity and acceptance to a wide range of thoughts, peoples and ideas.

Initiatives like DiverseCity onBoard and organizations like the Canadian Board Diversity Council (CBDC) build leadership capacity and focus on pluralistic leadership in Canadian institutions. DiverseCity onBoard’s mandate is to increase diversity on the boards of not-for-profit organizations and public agencies across the nation; CBDC measures and promotes the progress of Canada’s largest corporate boards in diversifying their leadership. These initiatives are key to achieving truly inclusive and diverse communities by developing and investing in plural leadership.

Civil society efforts are even more effective when paired with public policy. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made international headlines with his reply when asked about gender parity in his cabinet: “Because it’s 2015.” But we can do better. The next step is to expand these policy levers to underscore the need for diverse leadership not solely in terms of gender or ethnicity, but across all facets of diversity.

Ultimately, the key to making a difference lies in a change in leadership. Making room at the top for diversity is in the hands of those who are now there, and they can begin to make room for diversity by looking for, including and listening to people who are not like themselves. Ordinary Canadians from underrepresented groups can then sign on to make a difference in our communities. And our public and corporate institutions must appoint truly diverse leadership so that our communities can benefit from effective inclusivity that generates innovative ideas and actions, and makes pluralistic leadership the norm at all levels of society.

Ratna Omidvar is a member of the Senate of Canada, and an internationally recognized expert on migration, diversity and inclusion. She is the founding Executive Director of the Global Diversity Exchange at Ryerson University, Toronto.

5. Reframe refugees through photography.

The fact that the humanitarian crisis is so pressing means that media channels, NGOs, pressure groups, governments and others constantly seek images that represent those affected.

The digital platform Reframe Refugees — presented as part of the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge 2016 taps in to the demand for images and creates a service provided by refugees and for the benefit of refugees.  

Reframe is a photo-based platform where refugees, 90 percent of whom carry a smartphone, can share their side of the story and show us what they want us to see. Their uploaded photos, with personal descriptions, are quality checked and then offered for purchase by media companies. Payment takes the form of a donation to a charity that aids the refugee cause, chosen by the buyer.

The concept of reframing public narratives through refugee photography is powerful, challenging to achieve and do well, but definitely worth prototyping.

Richard van der Laken is a graphic designer and entrepreneur from the Netherlands. He runs What Design Can Do, a global project that seeks design responses to humanitarian crises.

6. Implement blind recruitment.

Canada would be well served to follow “blind recruitment,” where names are removed from job applications in both the private and public sector until after interviews are confirmed.

This has been proven to help fight against racism and unconscious bias of employers. This has already been adopted in the public sector of the United Kingdom and one Canadian MP, Ahmed Hussen, has proposed this for Canada. Simply put, most of our government institutions and halls of decision-making are still lacking visible minorities, despite the fact that ethnocultural communities are now increasingly as or more educated than their counterparts and are a sizeable part of our society.

There is discrimination in our public and private sector and this small step toward ensuring a level playing field can be of immense benefit. 

Finally, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra started its blind auditions, where performers were not visible to others as they played their instruments. This has helped the TSO now become a far more diverse symphony thanks to ensuring that the most talented individual is playing and not the person with the easiest name to pronounce.

Bessma Momani is an Associate Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs and a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation. 

7. Provide humanitarian flights.

Two years ago, MOAS (Migrant Offshore Aid Station) was founded as a disaster relief organization in response to the deadly consequences of the migration crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Two years on, we are still dealing with those same consequences. Not only that, but the needless loss of life in the Mediterranean has only increased as a lack of alternatives are forcing asylum seekers further into the hands of smugglers, who take them on ever more dangerous routes, both on land and at sea. The horrors our search-and-rescue crews have borne witness to have only served to reinforce our belief that ‘No One Deserves to Die at Sea,’ but we are also aware that our work is not the solution to the problem. Our efforts at sea are merely a stop-gap since sustainable solutions have yet to be established.

With our experience on the frontlines of the most devastating humanitarian catastrophe of our generation, MOAS is calling for a radical rethink of the global migration crisis through the creation of humanitarian flights — a visionary policy that addresses the missing link in the EU’s asylum policy by granting a group of asylum seekers trapped in Libya legal entry to Europe — from countries of transit where the living conditions for asylum seekers are deteriorating and access to basic human rights, particularly protection, are lacking. Humanitarian flights are the only sustainable and long-term solution for the ongoing and unprecedented mass movement of people, which history has clearly demonstrated will not and cannot be stopped by building walls, hiding behind razor wire or militarizing the sea.

Pete Sweetnam is the Executive Director of the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS). He has been involved in development and relief sectors for over 30 years.

8. Support proactive hiring laws, such as Nunavut’s Article 23.

In Nunavut, Inuit have always been the majority ethnic group in the region and, as they have for the past 20-plus years, make up 85 percent of the territory’s population. As in many other Indigenous regions, Nunavut Inuit have a modern-day land claims agreement, similar to treaties.  

In our claims agreement, Article 23 attempts to increase Inuit inclusion in the government workforce, which is the primary employer in the territory. The purpose of Article 23 is to ameliorate the historical problem of Inuit not being hired and therefore being under represented even in the public institutions that are set up to serve them.  

While some non-Inuit have criticized Article 23 for its priority or preferential hiring as discriminatory, the law permits government to address systemic discrimination that has resulted in under representation of minorities. Fundamentally, democratic societies understand that their public institutions should and need to reflect the people that they serve and that is the basis behind Article 23. The north has long been governed and managed by a non-Indigenous minority over the Indigenous majority.  

Article 23 obligates the government, whether local, territorial or federal within Nunavut, to increase the number of Inuit within its bureaucracies to proportional representation levels. This means that each level of government should ideally have 85 percent Inuit within each of its respective public institutions. Furthermore, not just 85 percent at the entry or lower levels but 85 percent throughout, in all sectors and all professions.  

Before 1999, the Government of Northwest Territories employed approximately 50 percent Inuit in the Eastern portion of the territory (what would become Nunavut) and in 2015, the Government of Nunavut employed approximately 50 percent Inuit. The number of government jobs has increased but proportionally Inuit remain significantly under represented. In 2006, Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) sued the Government of Canada for failing to fulfill its land clams obligations, including specifically failing to increase the number of Inuit in government. NTI and the Government of Canada settled the lawsuit in 2015 with the Government of Canada paying NTI $225.5 million ($175 million for initiatives to provide Inuit with skills and qualifications needed for employment). The federal government is also giving the Government of Nunavut an additional $50 million over eight years to fund training initiatives and programs to enhance Inuit employment and fulfill its obligations under Article 23.  

There is recognition that the biggest hurdle for government in hiring and increasing Inuit employment within its institutions is the lack of Inuit with sufficient education, skills and experience. Therefore, the goal for this settlement money is to wisely invest it and thereby give more Inuit the opportunity to gain the requisite capabilities necessary to compete and secure employment, fulfilling their individual aspirations and achieving the original spirit and intent of the land claims agreement, which is to see Inuit governing and managing all aspects of democratic governance. This would create a distinctly unique Inuit territory within Canada based on democratic principles that promote Inuit political and societal aspirations, while respecting the rights of non-Inuit and the multiculturalism of Canada. 

Madeleine Redfern is the Mayor of Iqaluit. She has 25 years of experience working on housing, education, employment, business, economic development and governance.

9. Promote the three Ps: policy, programs and people.

We are blessed to live in a country where the concept of pluralism is often considered one of our core values. And when that concept is challenged, as we saw during the last federal election, the majority of Canadians will step forward to defend it. Our response to Syrian refugees is a good example — as that crisis unfolded and Canadians learned more about the role we could play, the most common question (and dare I say most “Canadian” of questions) was: how can I help?

It’s helpful to consider the state of pluralism in Canada through the frame of 3Ps (Policy, Programs and People) and how they work together. The right application of all three can yield the most impressive results. For example, we’ve learned that, when it comes to building community, the most effective government policies enable local action. While the federal government may create the policy and NGOs craft the programs, it’s ultimately the people who make it all work. With resources and encouragement, Canadians do amazing things. 

The result has been even better than expected: Canada has welcomed many thousands of new citizens without the doom foretold by those who struggle to imagine the pluralism we both take for granted and fight to maintain. With smart policy enabling the best of ourselves, we’ve made Canada and the world an even better place.

Naheed Nenshi is the Mayor of Calgary. He was Canada’s first tenured professor in the field of nonprofit management at Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business and a former business advisor.

6 Degrees runs Sept. 19-21 in Toronto.

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