When actress Teri Hatcher recounted her horrifying childhood experience with abuse at the United Nations last November, the room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
Molested by her uncle when she was just seven years old, the star of the TV show Desperate Housewives broke down in tears after speaking to the General Assembly and later helped light the Empire State Building orange in honor of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Former Burlington MP Paddy Torsney was there that day and she describes it as the most touching moment she has experienced in her new job as permanent observer to the United Nations for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) in New York.
“When she was finished Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon jumped up and gave her a big hug,” Torsney said. “It’s just very powerful how personal a place that’s so large can get.”
Hatcher’s appearance helped launch the Orange YOUR Neighborhood initiative, which is part of Moon’s campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women.
Established in 1899, the IPU is an international organization of Parliaments. The union, which represents 166 countries, is the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and co-operation among peoples and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.
Torsney said one of her main tasks is ensuring that countries achieve proper sustainable development goals over the next 15 years and improving democratic governance is a key part of that.
“We’re trying to enhance the quality of democracies and women’s representation in government,” she said.
At the end of March, Torsney will travel to Hanoi, Vietnam to attend the IPU’s spring meeting. She will also be at the fall meeting in Cartagena, Colombia. During her first year on the job, she traveled to IPU headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, three times.
Another huge job on her agenda is organizing a meeting at the end of August for the Speakers of all World Parliaments that belong to the IPU.
Even though the U.S. does not have a Parliament, John Boehner, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Senator Oren Hatch, President pro tempore of the Senate, will also be invited and she will be in Washington in early March to finalize plans for their visit.
Torsney flew home to Burlington recently to host the annual International Women’s Day Breakfast, where Dr. Catherine Zahn, president and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, was the guest speaker. Zahn was recently recognized as a member of the Order of Canada, and as one of the country’s 25 most influential women.
Dr. Kahn, who grew up in the U.S., said that in her senior year of high school, she was named recipient of the Betty Crocker Award for homemaking. But she added the world has changed dramatically over the last half-century and now all kinds of professions are open to women.
She urged high school and university girls to get themselves mentors who can set a good example for them and point them in the right direction.
Burlington’s Elizabeth Small was honored with presentation of a ‘Leading Women, Leading Girls, Building Communities’ Certificate of Recognition for her volunteer efforts in the community. Small has served as a mentor for young women interested in woodworking.
Torsney lives just 12 blocks away from the U.N. building in the Big Apple and said she is trying to enjoy the city’s wide scope of entertainment on the weekends. One of her most enjoyable outings was to a concert by the internationally acclaimed Canadian rock band Tragically Hip.
Torsney served as Member of Parliament for Burlington from 1993 to 2006. When the Liberal government was defeated, she was Deputy Principal Secretary to the Stephane Dion, Leader of the Opposition between 2006 and 2008, then Vice-President of the Capital Hill Group, a national Government relations firm, since 2008.
While in the House of Commons, she also was Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment between 1998 and 2000, and to the Minister for International Cooperation from 2004 to 2006.