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Advocates hoped for more concrete G7 gender equality commitments

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  • OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to make gender equality a key focus of the G7 summit, but some women’s rights advocates are lamenting a shortage of concrete commitments to action.

    The final communique of the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Que., included promises to work toward removing barriers for women in social, economic and political spheres and resolutions to end sexual and gender-based violence.

    The summit also produced a commitment of $3.8 billion for girls’ education — a fund the U.S. did not agree to participate in.

    Beyond the money, no other concrete actions to advance gender equality materialized — an outcome many women’s advocacy groups that participated in the so-called W7 summit in April pushed hard to avoid.

    Diana Sarosi, Oxfam Canada’s manager of policy, said while she’s glad to see strong language in support of gender equality in the communique and leadership from Canada in putting gender issues on the agenda for discussion, her organization would have liked a much broader range of commitments from G7 leaders.

    “The communique is full of lots of nice words, but it doesn’t really come with very concrete actions that the G7 is going to do to address some of these gender equality issues,” Sarosi said.

    “I think it would have been good to be a bit more responsive to the recommendations of the gender equality advisory council in terms of addressing some of the neglected areas that form part of really moving the needle on gender equality.”

    The G7 gender equality advisory council, made up of business and social leaders, including billionaire philanthropist Melinda Gates, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, released a comprehensive list of 60 recommendations for the G7. The recommendations detailed numerous actions and investments that would help advance the rights and opportunities of women, girls and LGBTQ citizens around the world.

    Katja Iversen was a member of the advisory council and is the president and CEO of Women Deliver, a global advocacy organization for investment in gender equality with a specific focus on maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights.

    She said she does not believe tensions between world leaders and U.S. President Donald Trump on trade distracted from the discussions on gender equality at the summit.

    The leaders who took part in a breakfast session on gender equality at the summit were engaged in the conversations, which Iversen characterized as frank.

    “Being in that room with the leaders that breakfast morning, I can tell you it was a very comprehensive presentation that they got, and they went in and discussed it,” she said.

    “We did not mince words and we did not leave out any of the so-called controversial issues.”

    The fact that two hours were set aside to talk about advancing gender equality at a meeting for world leaders shows the gender conversations did not get lost in the shuffle, Iversen added.

    “There can always be more … but for me the most important thing was the time they spent on this and how much they engaged in this in the conversation.”

    But while there are indications there could be further support for gender equality being on the agenda of next year’s G7 summit in France, the focus for women’s rights advocates will now turn toward the actions that individual countries will take to make improvements, rather than words they agree to in joint communiques.

    Many are also hoping the Women Deliver conference, which Canada will host in Vancouver in 2019, will offer some more concrete next steps and solutions for advancing rights and opportunities for women and girls.

    “I think it’s really within the countries and the women’s rights organizations that are working tirelessly within the countries to move things ahead,” Sarosi said. 

    “They will be the ones really making the difference.”

    — Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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    Canada should do more to help women refugees worldwide: Oxfam Canada

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  • OTTAWA — Justin Trudeau’s self-proclaimed feminist government could and should be doing more to address gender-specific challenges faced by female refugees affected by wars and displacement.

    That’s according to a new report from Oxfam Canada, which takes a close look at how Canada provides international humanitarian aid and the gaps that exist when it comes to outcomes for women and girls in refugee situations.

    Canada has made great strides when it comes to making gender equality and feminism a key priority of its domestic and foreign policy agenda, but more can be done to help women being disproportionately affected by global crisis, the report says.

    “Currently, Canada’s international assistance funding is out of step with its ambition to be a world leader on gender equality and feminist aid and foreign policy,” the report states.

    “The fact that Canada’s international assistance spending is at a near historical low, merely reaching 0.26 per cent of gross national income, as compared to the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent, undermines its credibility and leadership on the international stage.”

    The study zeros in on areas where women in conflict zones are not getting the help they need or where efforts to improve gender equality in these areas are not being fully realized.

    Some of the findings are unsettling, including a statistic showing 25 to 50 per cent of maternal deaths in refugee camps are caused by unsafe abortions and related complications.

    This is due, in part, to a lack of adequate access to sexual and reproductive health services, which are often seen as a “second-tier” priority when people are forced to flee their homes due to conflict.

    “Our argument is that services are totally life-saving when you consider, for example, that last year 500 women and girls died during emergencies every single day from pregnancy and childbirth complications simply because sexual and reproductive health and rights weren’t a priority,” said Brittany Lambert, a women’s rights policy and advocacy specialist with Oxfam Canada.

    “These things should be prioritized from the very inception of these humanitarian responses and could save many lives.”

    Oxfam Canada also published findings last month following a series of interviews, focus groups and surveys of hundreds of women and men from the host and refugee communities in Bangladesh, suggesting Rohingya women and girls who survived genocide in Myanmar are facing new risks in refugee camps, notably when it comes to access to water and sanitation facilities.

    Some women are choosing to go hungry and thirsty and are restricting their children’s diets in order to limit their trips to these facilities to reduce risks of physical and sexual abuse and harassment, according to this research. 

    The organization is calling on Canada to develop a 10-year plan to achieve the United Nations aid target of 0.7 per cent of national income.

    It also wants Canada to establish a dedicated pool of 15 per cent of all its humanitarian aid to be specifically earmarked to address the needs of women and girls.

    “Right now the way Canada’s funding system works is that humanitarian assistance is aligned with the global humanitarian system priorities, which are things like shelter, water, food — but gender is not one of those categories,” Lambert said.

    “Women’s needs can be inserted into these categories but there are really limited funding opportunities to actually undertake programming that address gender inequality as a main goal so that’s why we’re calling for a stand alone pool of funding where Canada could actually fund this kind of feminist programming.”

    In addition, Oxfam Canada says the Trudeau government should take firmer action to ensure weapons do not end up in the hands of those who commit gender-based violence.

    Several international aid agencies, including Amnesty International, have said loopholes exist in Canada’s arms export policy that would allow arms sales to the United States — weapons which could end up being transferred to countries that abuse human rights.

    The government has announced several measures aimed at championing women’s issues both at home and abroad, including launching a feminist international assistance policy and a national action plan on women and government. Canada also disbursed more than $68 million in humanitarian assistance to support sexual and reproductive health needs in 2017-18.

    In addition, Canada has committed to increase its foreign aid effort by $2 billion over five years, which will bring total assistance to nearly $6 billion by 2021, says Global Affairs Canada.

    “We agree with the report that we need to ensure that the voices of civil society partners and affected communities, particularly women and girls, are included throughout the humanitarian response,” said the statement from Global Affairs Canada.

    “That is why Canada expects its partners to directly consult affected communities, and ensure that women and girls, in particular, are involved in the design of initiatives and decision-making processes that affect their lives.”

     

    —Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

     

    Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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    MP pays tribute to baby daughter on pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day

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  • OTTAWA — Conservative MP Tom Kmiec choked back tears as he recalled his infant daughter in a heartfelt speech in the House of Commons to mark national pregnancy and infant loss remembrance day.

    Kmiec’s daughter Lucy-Rose died in August when she was only 39 days old.

    MPs from all parties struggled to maintain their own composure as an emotional Kmiec used a member’s statement as an opportunity to thank the medical staff who cared for Lucy-Rose, the neighbours who brought his family food and support, and the parliamentarians who sent their condolences.

    Lucy-Rose died of Trisomy 13, a genetic condition that leaves babies with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. Also called Patau syndrome, only five to 10 per cent of babies diagnosed with it will live past their first year.

    “On this day, let us grieve with the parents who have lost a child, as well as the siblings who lost a lifelong best friend,” Kmiec said.

    Speaker Geoff Regan said he hoped Kmiec could see that love and support from the parliamentary family was around him.

    About one in five pregnancies in Canada ends in miscarriage.

    Congenital malformations and chromosomal abnormalities are the leading cause of death for babies under the age of one year. In 2016, 404 infants died of a congenital abnormality, according to Statistics Canada.

    In all, more than 1,700 babies died before their first birthday in 2016, 75 per cent of them before they were one month old.

    On Tuesday, the House of Commons human resources committee is starting to study the impact on parents of the death of an infant, including possible updates to parental leave programs and benefits.

    The study comes after a motion from Conservative MP Blake Richards, who identified shortcomings in the parental leave program when it comes to being compassionate to parents who are grieving.

    Kmiec urged MPs to hug their kids the next time they go home.

    “If they are old and have their own (kids), hug them anyway, even if they protest,” he said. “Life is too short and none of us knows when our time will come.”

    The Canadian Press


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