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Amal Attar-Guzman: Deepfakes, data, and war: The under-discussed issues facing women in our world


Today is International Women’s Day and this year I want to highlight a compilation of the under-discussed issues that impact women across the world but that do not get the same shine as some other high-profile topics.

Keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list that encapsulates every issue that impacts women. It is a partial look intended to broaden the conversation that typically takes place on days like today.

Voting and politics in Canada

The fight for women’s participation in the public square was not an easy fight. Since winning the right to vote on the federal level in 1918 and the right to be a parliamentarian in the House of Commons a year after that—followed by the abolishing of remaining voting restrictions throughout the 20th century—women in Canada have been voting in elections at steadily high rates. While overall voter turnout was a bit lower compared to the previous election, during the 2021 federal election, women under 65 participated at a higher rate (63.8 percent) than men (60.6 percent).  

One major breakthrough was seen during the 2021 federal election when 43 percent of candidates across the five major parties were female and gender-diverse candidates. There were 103 female members of Parliament elected, accounting for 30.5 percent of Parliamentary seats. Not only is that the highest number in Canadian political history, but it is well above the global average of 26.1 percent.

Now, before we toot our horn here, while this is a major win, many Canadian women are still apprehensive to run and become full participants in our government. We should not be satisfied with where that number sits. There are still challenges that women in politics face, from media coverage, online harassment, and socioeconomic barriers raising funds, to overall sexism and double standards that consistently plague women in positions of power.

Data and technology

Despite women accounting for about half of the world’s population, there is a data bias that favours men. As explained by Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women: Data Bias Designed for Men, the default data perspective in any industry, including the sciences, is male-centric. 

The lack of sex-disaggregated data has negative consequences, even fatal ones. Take this one case study: car safety equipment, including airbags, seatbelts, and headrests. Test dummies are calibrated to approximate the 50th percentile male. Consequently, the safety equipment tested on these dummies does not account for women’s physiological composition. As a result, women are 47 percent more likely to be seriously injured than a man in a car crash and 17 percent more likely to die. 

If data and science often ignore women, the opposite is too often true when it comes to emerging technologies. Frequently, the common real-world application of these tools is to target and victimize women.Due to the number of horrific reported cases of sexual assault by drivers to female passengers and drivers throughout the 2010s, Uber and other ride-sharing companies now permit passengers and drivers to share their location with friends and loved ones for safety purposes.

Case in point: the rise of deepfakes. Deepfakes are artificial images, videos, or audio that utilize machine learning to imitate someone’s likeness or voice. Now that they are reaching the point of convincing indistinguishability from reality, the societal consequences boggle the mind. They will be utilized to promote misinformation and disinformation by nefarious governments and actors the world over. But again, the first and most common victims of this technology are women. According to a study conducted by a cybersecurity firm, 90 percent of the deepfakes circulating online depict non-consensual porn that features women.

You do not have to be a high-profile public figure to be a target—with their increasing ease of use, these deepfakes are being used to shame, silence, and victimize women regardless of stature or status.

Reproductive health care 

While the issues surrounding abortion and its access have understandably taken centre stage, two other areas surrounding female reproductive health are under-discussed in public policy conversations: maternal deaths and forced sterilization. 

The good news is that globally, maternal deaths in childbirth have been declining. From 2000 to 2020, the global maternal mortality ratio declined by 34 percent. But while rates are overall low in Europe and North America, maternal deaths there have risen by 17 percent between 2016 to 2020. 

In Canada, between 2000 to 2020, 523 women died from maternal deaths, according to Statistics Canada.Experts say that the number may be much higher since much is unknown about how many mothers died months after childbirth due to childbirth-related reasons. With better and more clear communication and a more robust maternal health monitoring system, many of these deaths could be prevented.

This issue will continue to grow in importance considering that women in Canada are having children at later ages when complications with pregnancy and birth are more prone to occur. As Canadian health care is at a crossroads, maternal health should be at the forefront of our discussions. 

On the other end of the spectrum, forced sterilization unfortunately still occurs and is massively underreported, even in Canada and other Western societies.In 2020, ICE was accused of forcibly sterilizing migrant women who were being held in detention.

In fact, while the exact numbers are unclear, Indigenous women in Canada are still being forced or coerced into getting sterilized by unethical health practitioners to this day. As a result, Senate Bill S-250 aims to amend the criminal code to have the practice criminalized and punishable by 14 years in prison.On the bright side, public policy has been starting to positively address women’s reproductive health in other ways. Spain recently passed legislation where women can request a paid sick day if they’re having painful menstruation. For anyone who has had painful menstruation days or chronically suffers from endometriosis, this is music to their ears. Canada should follow suit.

Conflict and diplomacy

War and conflict is a major threat-multiplier. Not only does it contribute to mass violence and threatens general security, but it is also a stressor that exacerbates pre-existing gender-related social problems and concerns. 

About 3.6 million people in Ukraine are estimated to need gender-based violence prevention and response in 2023, the vast majority of them being women and girls. That number continues to rise. Systematic sexual violence against women and girls of all ages has been used as a weapon of war. Due to stigma, the numbers of victims and survivors are still massively underreported.Despite these frightening realities, many Ukrainian women chose to remain and serve. More than 50,000 are currently serving the Ukrainian military, even in combat operations. Many others are participating in non-military roles, such as medics, and generally helping out whenever they can.

While the end of the war remains still out of sight, it is not too early to envision and plan for the eventual peacebuilding process. Research shows that from 1992 to 2019, women constituted, on average, a mere 13 percent of negotiators, 6 percent of mediators, and 6 percent of signatories in major peace processes around the world. 

War affects us all. Not including a massive portion of the population in these peacebuilding endeavours is bad policymaking.More research shows that when peace negotiations are done by the few, and primarily by men, 50 percent of them break down within the next five years. When women’s organizations and general civil society groups are actively consulted and included, a peace agreement is 64 percent less likely to fail.

Though not without its challenges, there is an example we can look upon. Post the 1994 genocide, Rwandan women have been very active in the rebuilding process in the short and long term. Consequently, though not without its challenges, Rwanda has seen major improvements politically, legally, socially, and in its security. At present, female MPs represent 61.25 percent of Rwanda’s national parliament, over double Canada’s proportion of female MPs. 

There has been massive progress made in gender equality. We should not take for granted the gains we have made in so many areas. But there is much work still to be done, and we should not let our attention be monopolized by a few high-profile issues when it comes to women’s empowerment.

There is perhaps no better place to be a woman in all of the world than Canada, thanks in large measure to the many women who lived and came before us and who took on the challenge to fight for their rights. They did it before, and we can do it again now. And not just for the sake of women, but for the betterment of all society—we are all better off when each and every one of us is able and encouraged to maximize our full potential and build a better Canada, and world, for all. 

Opinion: Should we have the freedom to choose death?: Debating MAiD in Canada


Canada’s legalization of assisted death in 2016 has set off one of the most contentious debates in Canadian society. With the federal government pushing to expand the eligibility of those with access to medical assistance in dying (MAiD) to those suffering from mental illnesses or even potentially minors, that debate has only intensified. Today, we are pleased to present two young leaders from the Canada Strong and Free Network’s Conservative Values Tomorrow mentorship program who are taking on this topic for The Hub in a debate-style format.

Noah Jarvis argues we should be focusing our efforts on treating and comforting the vulnerable instead of killing them, while Jonah Davids believes that if we truly are committed to protecting individual freedoms, this necessitates allowing people to access MAiD even if it makes us uncomfortable.

We should help treat the vulnerable, not kill them

By Noah Jarvis

In Canada, we are supposed to appreciate the value of every individual’s life and help those unable to see the value in their own lives to see said value. We set up suicide hotlines to help people who are on the brink of killing themselves. We tell the tragic stories of people, like Amanda Todd, who have killed themselves so that we can confront the sad reality of suicide and what leads to it. However, the expansion of medical assistance in dying (MAiD) in Canada represents a sharp departure from cherishing each individual’s life. Instead, it normalizes suicide as a socially valid option. 

Canadians suffering from mental illness and/or physical disabilities will soon be able to apply for and receive MAiD, a departure from the previous requirement that the patient had to be suffering from a condition that makes their death reasonably foreseeable.

The lives of Canadians battling disabilities and mental illnesses are no less valuable than those with able bodies and sound minds. Yet, instead of helping these people live fulfilling lives despite their ailments, we are euthanizing them. 

Suicidal ideation is an error in thinking that often comes from an ill mind with a warped perception of reality. For people that are in constant pain as a result of terminal cancer, it may, in fact, be within that person’s self-interest to end their suffering. But for people suffering from a condition like depression, where one of the symptoms is suicidal ideation, a person’s ability to act within their self-interest is compromised.

If we wish to preserve a free society in which citizens are provided with maximum freedom, we must restrict behaviours with harmful community effects. While the argument for expanding MAiD is often framed as solely an individual decision where the harm is restricted to the person dying, this offers an incomplete picture. Suicides have community effects that are damaging to the social fabric. Anyone who knows a person who commits suicide, from close family, friends, or co-workers, can face a great deal of emotional pain as a result of the suicide. Suicide-exposed persons are far more likely to have diagnosable depression, anxiety, and PTSD and are more likely to have suicidal thoughts of their own in comparison to those who aren’t exposed to suicide. Even if one doesn’t personally know the person who committed suicide, members of the community will still reflect upon and be affected by the death. 

Finally, in a country like Canada, where access to health-care services is plagued by chronic under-supply, we would be wise to ensure that our system does not incentivize killing off the mentally ill and disabled. Instances of Canadian veterans being offered MAiD are a troubling sign that we are already headed in this direction.

As a society, we are morally obligated to look out for and help the vulnerable. Canadians should find it appalling that the government would be facilitating the suicide of people suffering from treatable conditions, creating a hierarchy in the value of human life. MAiD for the mentally ill and the disabled is not a sign of a free society. It is a sign of a disordered one. 

Jonah Davids’ rebuttal: 

In arguing against the expansion of MAiD, Noah says that we should value every individual’s life equally, avoid normalizing suicidal choices, take care of the vulnerable among us, and restrict behaviour with harmful community effects, even if this requires limiting personal freedoms. He and other conservatives seem unable to recognize that this is the same logic used to justify COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates. In both cases, government officials decide which medical choices we can and can’t make in the name of health, safety, and the common good. I say we let people decide for themselves.

Noah concedes that it may be within the self-interest of terminally ill patients to seek MAiD because they are in constant pain which cannot be treated. But he ignores the fact that many people with disabilities and mental illnesses have conditions that cause them constant psychological pain for which treatments are ineffective. Once this is granted, it becomes unreasonable to restrict MAiD to only those with terminal conditions. Perhaps the government should do more to help these people live rich and fulfilling lives, but that’s a separate issue from whether they should be able to access MAiD if they want to.

MAiD expansion will not create a hierarchy of human life in which the sick, disabled, and mentally ill are second-class citizens. The Netherlands and Belgium have euthanasia access for people with mental illnesses and disabilities, and both are egalitarian liberal democracies that safeguard their citizens’ rights and freedoms better than most countries. Not expanding MAiD, however, will propagate a hierarchy of autonomy in which the disabled and mentally ill are at the bottom. The introduction and expansion of MAiD complement, rather than undermine, Canada’s commitment to freedom, autonomy, and dignity for all individuals.

Freedom matters most

By Jonah Davids

One of the most important foundational principles that unites Canadian conservatives is our love of freedom. We fight for freedom of speech, the freedom to spend our money as we see fit, and the freedom to make our own medical decisions. We advocate for the freedom of others to hold beliefs or take actions that we disagree with, as long as they respect our right to do the same. This is the essence of what it means to be a conservative.

Some of my conservative friends have not gotten vaccinated for COVID. While I personally made a different decision, I wholeheartedly support their right to make such a choice. I want to live in a society in which individuals are free to make their own medical decisions, not one in which the government coerces people into doing what they think is best. People won’t make the best choices for themselves every time, but they should still be free to choose.

As a conservative who strongly believes in freedom, including medical freedom, I am disappointed by the opposition many on the Right have expressed toward MAiD. MAiD allows those with serious and incurable illnesses, diseases, or disabilities to end their lives. As a policy, it upholds individual liberty, prevents unnecessary suffering, and has the potential to save millions of dollars in health-care costs that would otherwise go toward providing care that people would rather not have.

Much of the conservative opposition to MAiD is fueled by partisanship, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore critics’ concerns. Those who oppose MAiD are worried that people who could lead fulfilling lives are ending theirs prematurely; that mentally ill individuals and minors may be unable to consent to the procedure; that some may be choosing assisted death over poverty and homelessness; that MAiD is being offered too readily by government workers to suffering individuals. Above all, they are worried that MAiD is a slippery slope, and that the eventual response to any serious suffering will be, “Have you thought about MAiD?”

These concerns are understandable, but the available data we have from Canada and other countries with similar policies show these fears are largely unfounded. Canada’s own statistics show that very few young people have accessed MAiD since its introduction: in 2021, the average age of those who received assisted death was 76, and only 1 percent of those who received it were between the ages of 18 to 45. In the Netherlands and Belgium, which have had euthanasia policies since 2002, the number of minors who receive assisted death each year is in the low single digits. The Canadian government’s own expert panel has written that mental disorders are “highly unlikely” to be deemed incurable before a person reaches the age of 18 or 19, which means that minors in all likeliness won’t be able to access MAiD solely for mental illness.

While it is unlikely that MAiD in Canada will lead to a dystopian nightmare, there will be cases that make many of us deeply uncomfortable. Should the government allow a 23-year-old suffering from blindness, depression, and diabetes to die by MAiD? What about a 54-year-old with crippling back pain who is facing homelessness? How will Canadians react to seeing a 40-year-old with debilitating bipolar disorder end his life via the procedure, or a 15-year-old with end-stage cancer? Such cases will be debated in the media and extrapolated to condemn what is by and large a system to help older Canadians suffering from terminal illnesses end their lives in a dignified manner. And yet, it is undeniable that there will be some individuals who make decisions we disagree with, object to, and may even be appalled by. What should we do?

The answer is that we should let them. We as conservatives believe in freedom. Freedom isn’t just the freedom to make easy, popular, and obviously good decisions, it’s also the freedom to make difficult, unpopular, and potentially tragic decisions as well, so long as the individuals making them are the ones to suffer the consequences.

Many conservatives fought to defend the freedom and autonomy of the unvaccinated and their right to make a medical decision many vehemently disagreed with. They ought to support the extension of those same rights and freedoms to those with incurable suffering who wish to end their lives, even if they don’t always agree with their reasons for doing so.

As conservatives, I hope we can rise above partisanship, set aside our own feelings about the medical decisions of others, and come together to support MAiD, a policy that promotes individual liberty and medical freedom.

Noah Jarvis’ rebuttal:

It is true that freedom is an important principle that has shaped the development of the Canada we know and love today. Conservatives ought to not only respect but also champion freedom. But we must ask the question: the freedom to what?

Certainly, we aren’t free to harm others and society at large. Suicide has serious societal ramifications, as I previously explained. And we certainly don’t have the positive right to government-provided assisted suicide services. That is not a right or freedom found in the Charter of Rights and Freedom, nor is it a moral imperative. 

Edmund Burke once said: “The State ought to confine itself to what regards the State, or the creatures of the State…in a word, to everything that is truly and properly public, to the public peace, to the public safety, to the public order, to the public property.” It is within the Canadian public’s interest and the government’s purview to ensure the safety of its most vulnerable population and deter them from ending their own lives. 

While Jonah makes a passionate appeal to freedom with which many conservatives may sympathize, his analysis fails to consider that there can be no freedom without order. There is a great difference between the MAiD program and Covid-19 vaccination policies that attempted to coerce unvaccinated citizens to get vaccinated against a virus that, by in large, does not kill healthy people under the age of 60

There is no freedom in the Canadian government facilitating a euthanasia regime for those capable of living rewarding lives. Because there is no freedom to be enjoyed when you are dead.