By Executive Director Sandeep Prasad
Originally published in the Huffington Post
On Tuesday March 8th – International Women’s Day – Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, Under-Secretary General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund, will visit Ottawa for the first time.
The Official visit represents the first in over a decade by the head of the UN agency responsible for sexual and reproductive health, who will meet with Canadian civil society and government officials to strategize on advancing UNFPA’s aim to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.
The visit is an opportunity for Prime Minister Trudeau, a self-proclaimed Feminist, to explain exactly how the government will champion gender equality, women’s bodily autonomy and choice.
While Maternal Newborn and Child Health has been a top development priority for Canada since the Harper era, the limited focus on human rights, gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights and core-funding cuts to UN agencies working in the area of sexual health, women’s rights and human rights (more broadly) have meant that less than half of funding needs for reproductive health in humanitarian settings are being met. Specifically, only 43% from 2002 to 2013.
This means that to date, three out of five of all maternal deaths take place in humanitarian and fragile contexts; every single day some 507 women and adolescent girls die from pregnancy and childbirth complications in emergency situations and in fragile States; and in general, the sexual and reproductive health needs of women and girls are not being met.
If Prime Minister Trudeau is serious about engaging with the United Nations and promoting gender equality, increasing funding for multilateral organizations that are working to advance women’s rights – which include sexual and reproductive rights – should be top priority.
The visit is an opportunity to hear how Canada can demonstrate its renewed leadership on the global stage. It’s also an opportunity for Canada to take real action for gender equality beyond cabinet appointments: because it’s 2016.
Ending the previous government’s refusal to fund abortion services abroad was a strong first step, but to truly move forward on this, in a sustained and systematic way, we need a Canadian Global Policy on sexual and reproductive rights to guide Canada’s overseas efforts both in terms of foreign policy and international development.
Other donors – like the Dutch, the Danes and the Finns – all have such policies, which provide government officials with clear guidance on how to safeguard and advance sexual and reproductive rights in global policy dialogue, and how to best meet sexual and reproductive health needs through development assistance. Such guidance could include how the Government of Canada will take strong and progressive positions at global forums such as the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women, as well as plans to again support local and national organizations that advocate for increased access to abortion services, comprehensive sexuality education and family planning.
Canada needs a policy that will address these issues head on. A policy that will address a comprehensive and integrated package of sexual and reproductive health services and information, prioritize gender equality and women’s empowerment, and support comprehensive sexuality education by collaborating with multilateral institutions (like the UNFPA) that are working to advance sexual and reproductive rights, gender equality and human rights.
When it comes down to it, this is about human rights and saving millions of lives. Because in 2016, women in Syria should not have to go into labour without access to trained care providers. Because in 2016, women in Canada or elsewhere in the world should not have to travel hundreds of kilometres to access medically necessary procedures, like abortion. Because in 2016, on International Women’s Day, we should be working toward real gender equality.