BRIGHT LIGHT Although critical of the Canadian government, Lewis was optimistic that youth can make a difference.
Students should become engaged in global citizenship and civil society, said Canadian activist Stephen Lewis in a speech last Friday at the University of Alberta.
"Those of us who are still able to function and take positions and be engaged in international development, we have to do it with ever greater energy," Lewis said.
Lewis, a Companion of the Order of Canada, spoke at a conference organized by the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation (ACGC).
Lewis is a former Canadian politician and ambassador to the United Nations. He still holds much regard for the United Nations agencies working on the ground, directly helping people and making change.
"All of the issues [of the General Assembly and Security Council] elicit strong debates and engagement, but result in resolutions that are never implemented, that never get anywhere and induce […] a kind of skepticism in the body politic, which is most unfortunate," Lewis said. "But what rescues the UN is the work of the agencies on the ground. [These are] the projects changing the lives people lead."
According to Lewis, the Canadian government is cutting off funding for important global initiatives.
"Here we have a country which is drawing back support for civil society. The Canadian Council on International Co-operation had its funding cut by the federal government in an entirely draconian and destructive way. So too [did other] NGOs that had been funded by previous administrations for a considerable period of time; suddenly they lose the resources. It's so extraordinarily irresponsible and damaging," Lewis said.
Lewis spent the rest of his speech describing the UN's eight Millennium Development Goals: ending poverty and hunger, providing universal education, promoting gender equality, increasing child health, increasing maternal health, combating HIV/AIDS, promoting environmental stability, and enhancing global partnership.
Throughout his presentation, Lewis heavily emphasized the part gender inequality has to play in perpetuating many of the other issues the UN wishes to solve.
"There's no country that has gender equality. But in the developing world, it's staggering what we visit upon the women. Because this is such a male-dominated complex internationally, it's really important that struggle for gender equality is seen for what it is: the most important struggle on the planet."
Problems like education for children are slowly improving; however, girls are overwhelmingly disadvantaged for placement in secondary school simply because of their gender, he noted. Lewis also added that the AIDS pandemic can be curtailed through a reduction in sexual
Lewis advocated for students and the youth of society to engage in the issues adressed by the Millennium Development Goals.
"People say cynically and with a gross degree of stupidity that there isn't a place for youth in this world, [when the] world is so feted with stupidity among its political leaders. There is no right in this world to consign [youth] to some kind of catastrophe down the road, and then to deny them the voice that may avoid it. That's why engaging youth is so important and such an imperative."