“Canada has a long-standing commitment to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in the developing world, particularly women and girls.” Justin Trudeau, Feb 4, 2018.
As we celebrate International Development Week (Feb 4 to 10, 2018), let’s give a thought to one of our pioneering women leaders, Lotta Hitschmanova, and the impact she had on her adopted country, Canada, through her humanitarian work during the 1940s to 1980s.
Quite remarkably, as a refugee, she became perhaps the most prominent Canadian woman of her generation. But more than that, she pushed hard for women’s development around the world, well before this became a key approach followed by international development agencies.
“Development often starts with a woman. Support leadership programs for women through the USC, 56 Sparks Street, Ottawa.” Lotta Hitschmanova, 1978.
In particular, she felt strongly about young women and girls. Once their basic food, shelter and clothing needs were satisfied, Lotta and USC Canada were at the forefront of ensuring that they were offered meaningful educational opportunities.
As we have seen, she also mobilized and empowered a whole generation of Canadian women, who joined her cause and indeed made it all possible, through the thousands of volunteer hours that they put in for USC.
Here is how Lotta’s biographer, Clyde Sanger, so aptly put it:
“Before many other agencies, [Dr. Lotta] was particularly concerned with the improvement of the position of women….
“I doubt that Dr. Lotta would ever have described herself as a feminist at any stage of her life….
“But it is intriguing that the staff she worked with in Ottawa for 25 years were all female, that most of the USC representatives she chose in Asia were women…and that a surprisingly high number of project leaders were also women.
“As well, the USC branches and working groups across Canada were mostly women, while men cheerfully headed for the background and basement where the packing cases were. It is not that men found it difficult to work with such a strong-willed ascetic woman….
“Rather, it seems to have been an instinctive desire on her part to bring out the leadership qualities she knew were in so many talented women she met, and an intuition that their ideas on human development would match her own.”
Thank you Lotta for your inspirational and ground-breaking leadership!
As we celebrate International Development Week this year, perhaps we can dream that one day we’ll see an international development centre or museum named after you, or hear your famous voice calling out to us once again, as we stroll down Sparks Street past that celebrated address (56) that you so deeply implanted in our memory cells.