By Kathleen Harris | CBC News | 8 March 2017
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau marked International Women's Day by promising $650 million for reproductive health and rights around the world.
The money, which will be invested over a three-year period, will support projects that provide sex education, strengthen reproductive health services, and support family planning and contraceptives. It will also fund programs to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and supporting the right of women to get safe and legal abortions.
The figure represents a doubling of current funding, Trudeau said in Ottawa this morning.
Canada is also supporting initiatives that will accelerate the use of contraceptives by 2020.
Trudeau said that around the world, women and girls are subjected to sexual violence, denied education and ownership of their own bodies, and held down by poverty.
Missed economic opportunities
"This is not only a tragedy; it is a missed opportunity for many countries that could benefit greatly from the economic contributions of women," he said during an event to mark International Women's Day at a government building across from Parliament Hill.
Trudeau, a self-described feminist, said women and girls must have the same rights to choose when and with whom they want to start a family, and its size.
Canada's announcement comes in the wake of an executive order by U.S. President Donald Trump to block funding to organizations that support abortion services. That decision is estimated to leave a $600-million gap for international groups.
Trudeau said Canada is committed to taking a leadership role in the fight to prevent risky abortions and promote reproductive rights.
"For far too many women and girls, unsafe abortions and lack of choices in reproductive health mean that they are either at risk, and at risk of death, or simply cannot contribute or achieve their potential through education, through involvement in their community, through a broad range of opportunities," he said.
"It is important that as a world we recognize that empowering women, that respecting their rights, is fundamental to building a world in which everyone has a real and fair chance to succeed. "
He said he looks forward to a day when it is not "remarkable or rare" for men to declare themselves feminists, and when there is gender equality on executive boards and community organizations.
Equal power, influence
"When women have equal power and equal weight and equal leadership influence, the kinds of decisions are better," he said.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau called on men and boys to rally behind the feminist cause to empower women and girls.
"We cannot do it alone. We need you," she said.
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose said the government should target funds for programs that are supported by the recipient aid agencies and countries instead of delivering dollars to abortion which is illegal in a majority of the countries.
She said the Conservative maternal and newborn health initiative was "wildly supported" around the world.
"We think it's important to continue to fund the kinds of aid packages and aid that actually gets to these countries, to help the women, and some of the funding that the Liberals are talking about may never get to these countries because abortion is illegal in these countries," she said.
Sexual violence reporting barriers
At a separate event in Gatineau, Que., Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould launched a forum to discuss the systemic problems in Canada's criminal justice system in responding to the needs of sexual assault victims. She said the crimes disproportionately affect women, yet go largely unreported to police and are less likely to result in a guilty verdict.
"This crime has a gendered impact, and unfortunately myths and stereotypes continue to surface at all stages of the criminal justice system," she said.
Wilson-Raybould said the government is "unwavering" in its commitment to improving practices to ensure these "horrific" crimes are brought to justice.
Sheila Malcolmson, the NDP's critic for the status of women, issued a statement criticizing successive Liberal and Conservative governments for "consistently failing to act" on women's issues.
"The current Liberal government was elected with high hopes of real change, but women are now facing the disappointing reality of a government that fails to back up feminist rhetoric with actual policies to improve women's equality," she said.
Call for action
Malcolmson urged the government to take a number of steps, including pay equity legislation, a national action plan to end violence against women and girls and universal and affordable child care.
She also called for more funding for shelters helping women fleeing violence and a plan to improve access to sexual and reproductive health care in Canada, including abortion.
Ambrose posted a video on Facebook outlining the issues her party has championed in the past, including improved response to sexual assault survivors, property rights for Indigenous women, resettlement of Yazidi women and girl victims of ISIS and the UN declaration of the International Day of the Girl.
"We are capable of anything we put our minds to. I will always believe that," she said.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston also issued a statement to mark the day, saying Canadian women play a vital role in every aspect of our society, yet continue to be "underrepresented and undervalued."
"Every day, women demonstrate their determination, courage and solidarity, continually pushing back against the limits imposed upon them simply because of their gender," he said. "However, if the aim of true equality is to be attained, we must collectively redouble our efforts."