Tag Archives: human rights

In the Wake of Nelson Mandela’s Death

13 Dec

There are many things I could write about this week:

How the sign language fiasco at Nelson Mandela’s memorial is an example of how bias keeps us from recognizing or acknowledging issues that for some people are so very vital.

How the stigma of mental illness keeps it in the shadows, and prevents people from accessing information, support and help – and is another example of how bias can isolate.

How a handshake between Obama and Castro show us that moments of humanity and connection can help to build bridges – if we let them. And how determined some are to not let them.

Mostly this week I have wondered if my daughter and her generation will ever see a leader like Nelson Mandela in their lifetime. Someone who stood for, and fought for, human rights, dignity and freedom, who had such integrity and character, and who was so genuine and humble. Someone who did so much, at such a great cost, for his people and what he believed in.

I fear they won’t.

I hope I’m wrong.

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Copyright 2013 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity & Inclusion.


Questions about Slavery

7 Nov

Last week my partner and our daughter were at a Royal Ontario Museum program exploring the Mesopotamia exhibit.

 The guide was explaining the ins and outs of Mesopotamian civilization, which included the “Free Pass” for slaves that had been freed by their owner. This is when one of the moms in the group asked “Why would they want to do that?”. 



The guide answered the question, but not before a few of the moms looked at my partner (the only person of colour in the group), perhaps hoping she would say something, perhaps looking for her reaction, perhaps to share a silent “can you believe it?!” She chose to sit this one out.

Why would you want to free a slave is not a question I imagine I would hear from someone my age in 2013. It makes me sad. It’s about basic human rights – and slavery isn’t just a thing of the past.

People don’t always realized what they are saying, or the impact of their words. It may be possible she was thinking about the logistics of getting work done and not expressing ignorance about human rights. If the guide had asked “what do you mean by that?” we would have more information.

What do you mean by that can give you time to pick your chin up from the ground, think of how you want to respond, plan your exit strategy or take a deep breath and brace yourself for what may come next. It gives the person who spoke a chance to explain what they have said, which can clear up a misunderstanding and avoid a possibly unnecessary conversation. It can also lay the groundwork for a needed conversation, but one in which we have more information to work with.

What do you mean by that. Five words that can make a big difference. 

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Copyright 2013 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, Speaker and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion

The Dangers of Ignorance in Positions of Power

4 Oct

You have undoubtedly, by now, read or heard about MP Rob Anders petition against bill C279 and why he is opposed.


Let’s all take a moment to review:
– Transgender individuals currently don’t have human rights in Canada. This is a disgrace.
– Bill C279 is about rectifying this so that Trans Canadians are protected at work and where they live, have access to health care, and can learn in a safe environment. Oh, and go to the bathroom of their choice, without harassment. All basic human rights.

The bathroom issue, so often used when talking about Trans people, is ignorant an misguided (and transphobic). It also ironically misses the point that it is usually Trans people who are harassed in bathrooms, not the ones doing the harassing.

What is your company, organization or school doing to make bathrooms safe for Trans individuals?

PS – By the way, transgender men wouldn’t be using the women’s bathroom, as the article suggests. They would be using the men’s bathroom!
*sigh* we clearly have a lot of educating to do.

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Copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
Speaker, Author and Facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.


Improving Human Rights in Canada

11 Apr

What’s it like to not have human rights protection in Canada?
Yes, you read correctly.

You may be thinking if someone is old enough, and depending on their identities, that they may remember.

Think again.

If you are transgender* in Canada, you are not protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code. Nor do you have protection under provincial or territorial Human Rights Codes or Acts – unless you live in the North West Territories.


Bill C-279 – the Federal Gender Identity Bill – hopes to change this.

Bill C-279, introduced by Mr. Randall Garrison (Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, NDP)  had its first reading in the House of Commons last Thursday April 5th. The debate was…interesting, and if nothing else showed the ignorance and misunderstanding that undermines human rights for transgender individuals in Canada and around the world.
(To read the transcript of the debate, check out Hansard. All comments are listed separately starting on the page linked to and continuing on the following page.)

One of the arguments in the second reading debate was that the higher courts have successfully taken on cases for transgender plaintiffs using sex as a prohibited ground, so why do we need another category?

Food for thought:  By listing some identities and not others, we send a problematic message that some groups’ rights are more important than others and that only these groups are therefore worthy to be listed. Transgender individuals have unique experiences of discrimination that differ from those we would typically see under the prohibited grounds of sex – by virtue of the fact that they challenge our idea that gender and sex match in all individuals, and also challenge gender norms in the attempts of transgender individuals to live as the gender they feel they are.

It is the challenging of “what we know about gender” and the challenging of deeply ingrained gender norms that causes discrimination and transphobia – and which also underlies the debate in the House about whether all Canadians should be afforded human rights in this country. It’s tragic.

What you can do.  The second half of the second reading will take place (hopefully) in May or June.
1. Spread the word.
2. Get in touch with your MP and urge them to vote for it Bill C-279 – for including Gender Identity and Gender Expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as the Criminal Code.  To find your MP.

See more.

copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of Diversity and Inclusion.

*transgender individuals’ gender (social constructs of what it means to be male or female) and sex (biology) do not match. The new term cisgender is used for individuals whose gender and sex match.

Recent article on Bill C-279

Systemic “isms”

14 Mar

Systemic ‘isms’ are often hard to detect.


  • Sometimes because we have grown up with these policies, laws, and ways of doing things –  and so don’t critique them (like the fact that until 1990 only Canadian women were able to take time off when their children were born).
  • Sometimes because they don’t impact us (like the fact that many health plans don’t cover hormone therapy that transgender individuals may require).

But in Arizona, there is a new law that screams “systemic sexism” and is worth using as an example.

According to House Bill 2625, employers in Arizona get to decide if they want their company health benefits to cover women’s birth control for any other reason except medical. Yes, you read correctly. That means that if a woman is or wants to be on birth control and wants it covered (read: can’t afford it – so this is also an example of systemic classism, because it also disproportionately affects women of lower incomes) she has to a) have a medical condition and b) tell her employer. Can we say invasion of privacy?

Oh, and one more thing: if the employer finds out a female employee has been using contraception for contraceptive purposes – they can fire her! ACK! What century is this??

This is  sexism because it only impacts women.
It’s classism because women who can afford to buy their own contraception won’t be affected.
And and it’s systemic in both cases because it’s written into law (policies and procedures or even informal “that’s the way we do things here” also qualify as systemic).

Check your policies and procedures/ways of doing things at work (or home, school, community)- what systemic isms are lurking that you can work towards eliminating to create a more equitable and inclusive space? And remember, just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there…

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copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion


The Power of One Word

28 Nov

Language is an important part of creating and sustaining safe and inclusive space. It’s also relatively easy to change, so can start to make a difference quickly (unlike some changes that require policies, or that can get stuck in organizational red tape).  Checking your language requires awareness and commitment. It’s a decision you can make and start doing right away.

One of the examples I like to share with workshop participants is the choice of using the word “partner” instead of wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend – like when you are inviting the new person and their significant other to the company social, for example. If they are lesbian or gay, it suggests that you may be an ally, and provides the opportunity to come out if they wish to. “Partner” is a clue that a space may be LGBT inclusive, and clues are important.

Last week, I was returning some music equipment. The sales person was looking for the pedal, and I mentioned that I couldn’t confirm its presence since this was my partner’s rental and I was merely returning what I had been given. The response? “Let me look in this pocket to see if maybe they put it in here”.

Did you catch it? He said “they”! While not grammatically correct, it was a simple way to side-step assumptions, and a powerful example of how easy it can be to make someone feel more comfortable, and possibly make a space safer.  One choice, and one word made all the difference.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion

Faith @ Work II

22 Nov

One of the workshops I attended at the Nov. 9th Diversity@Work conference put on by Skills for Change was by Nadir Shirazi. He spoke about dedicated spaces in offices for quiet time, prayer, meditation etc.

Nadir’s presentation was very interesting; he shared the challenge for companies to name these rooms, and the lack of follow-up to see who is using them and how they are used. He confirmed that most of the requests for such rooms are made my Muslim employees. And he explained that complexities arise when these rooms are used by many people with different beliefs and needs. Providing a room, as the title of his workshop suggested, is just the tip of the religious accommodation iceberg.

What stood out for me most, however, was the inequity Nadir shared of where these rooms often are. In their commitment to diversity and inclusion many companies have such spaces in their corporate offices. This is wonderful for the executives and employees who work there, but doesn’t help the staff in the company’s call centres, or retail stores, or franchise outlets (for example).

It was an interesting manifestation of privilege within the context of attempting to be equitable; of how easily people can be overlooked even when we are trying to be inclusive. I’m willing to bet it’s largely unconscious that the men and women at head office have a meditation or prayer room while the workers “on the front lines” of these companies may not. But if this is the case, what do our accommodation efforts really amount to?

It sure made me wonder when I placed my order for tea at the Toronto Airport last week before boarding my flight, and noticed that not a single person working there was White.

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Copyright 2011 Annemarie Shrouder
author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity and inclusion

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