Minister Bibeau on Why Canada Won’t Shy Away from Sexual Health and Rights
Everywhere I go as Canada’s Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, I meet young women and men who are full of hope, energy and creativity. I see a spark in these young people—a spark of potential that, if nurtured and allowed to blossom, could truly transform our world. With 1.2 billion adolescents in the world today, we cannot ignore their potential or their needs.
Yet, 303,000 women and adolescent girls still die every year from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. We are not meeting the sexual and reproductive health needs of far too many women and adolescent girls around the world, putting them at risk of poor health and death and depriving them of their rights and privileges. If we are going to successfully advance gender equality and empower women and girls, there is no question that we are going to have to improve access to sexual and reproductive health and rights—for all.
The reality, however, is harsh. 225 million women and adolescent girls want access to contraception, but do not have it. Complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second leading cause of death among adolescent girls aged 15-19. More than 16 million adolescent girls every year have unintended pregnancies that can rob them of their childhood and their future. They often have to drop out of school, they have fewer job prospects and are at higher risk of health complications, infection, disease and death. To avoid that fate and out of despair, 22 million girls every year put their lives at risk by undergoing unsafe clandestine abortions.
We know what adolescents need to be healthy and empowered. They need access to quality health care. They need a good education. They need to be safe—at home, at school, at work and in their communities. They need to develop the skills to make their own decisions about their lives. Taking a comprehensive approach to the health, rights and empowerment of adolescents, including accelerated action on sexual and reproductive health and rights, will allow women and girls to flourish.
If we could meet adolescents’ need for modern contraception, there could be 2.1 million fewer unplanned births, 3.2 million fewer abortions, and 5,600 fewer maternal deaths. That is an opportunity that we must seize.
This is why Canada is taking action. We are investing in sexual and reproductive health and advocating for women's rights and empowerment because we believe that healthy women and girls should have the opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute meaningfully to their families, communities and countries.
We are supporting comprehensive sex education for girls and boys. We are helping to ensure access to contraceptives and family planning. We are supporting efforts to improve maternal and newborn health. And, we are working to ensure that women and girls have access to legal, safe abortions and post-abortion care, because we know that when access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services decrease, unsafe abortions increase.
We applaud the initiative of the government of the Netherlands for their global fundraising initiative She Decides, which supports the right of women and girls to decide, freely and for themselves, whether, when and how many children they have. We believe that, in Canada and around the world, women have the right to choose.
We must put an end to violence against women, child, early and forced marriage, adolescent pregnancies and unsafe abortions. To do that, we must build on evidence to understand exactly what adolescents need and what works best. We must engage men and boys, we must ensure that adolescent girls have advocacy and leadership opportunities, and we must promote visionary leadership that empowers women and girls.
Canada is working to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, and every girl and woman is treated with the dignity and respect she deserves. Our collective ability to meet the sustainable development goals will depend on ensuring that women and girls around the world are able to reach their full potential. I call on the global community to join Canada and Women Deliver to promote the health, rights and empowerment of women and adolescent girls and to scale up action on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Let us not let those beautiful sparks die out.