HOK#100 – Meet Gail Cockburn

“I grew up in Peterborough, and went to Wilfred Laurier and studied political science and women’s studies. I did a co-op program and ended up doing a placement at the then External Affairs. I wanted to work on international development and human rights.

Through one of my co-op placements I met a woman who ran a non-government organization (NGO) in South Africa called Black Sash. That was during apartheid, and they were doing legal support for women and everyone else, too. I stayed there for a while and did some research on gender equality and oppressed groups in apartheid. I got to see the country and was there in 1992 for the last “white” vote. At that time I was in Pretoria with a group called Lawyers for Human Rights. Race was part of everything.

When I came back to Canada I worked with an NGO from the Philippines on development education. I decided I should get my Masters, so I went to Simon Fraser and lived in Vancouver.

I did my research in the Philippines. I looked at gender equality and indigenous rights. After finishing my Masters, I came back to Ottawa. I really wanted to work at Foreign Affairs and work in international development.

I got a job with CIDA working on children’s rights. Then we took a posting in India, and the whole family moved there with our three-year-old and nine-month-old. We spent three years in India, and our baby spoke Hindi before she spoke English. My kids grew up knowing what it was like not to be like everyone else and what it was like to be the minority. They have such a rich and diverse way of looking at the world. There’s not one religion, there’s not one way to act or look, and I’m really glad that is something they picked up.

After India, we came back to Ottawa. Then I got a posting to Mozambique and we stayed there for four years. We all loved it! Driving to the dentist, we would drive through the park and see rhinos, lions and other animals. We then moved from there straight to Peru; Peru is absolutely beautiful.

We all moved back to Canada last year. Throughout our time in Ottawa, we have always lived in Kitchissippi. This is our next adventure. We are going to stay put until our girls have finished high school. We love the neighbours, the urban feel but it’s a neighbourhood. I always want to live somewhere I can walk to a market and find olives and goat cheese.”

Collected by Ellen Bond

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