In early November 2019 , I spoke at the Nairobi Summit on the 25th Anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) about the need to end gender-based violence and poverty, realize gender equality and take urgent and sustained action to realize sexual and reproductive health and rights for all women.
I was proud to present the following speech at the summit as a Canadian Parliamentarian:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning on the role of parliamentarians in celebrating, renewing and reaffirming our commitment to the agenda of the Conference on Population and Development. I am Pam Damoff, Member of Parliament in Canada and I am joined today by Senator Marylou McPhedron. We are Vice-Chairs of the Canadian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development.
As a Canadian parliamentarian, I am proud to be part of a government that has been outspoken on the need to end gender-based violence and poverty, realize gender equality and take urgent and sustained action to realize sexual and reproductive health and rights for all women.
At home, our government introduced Canada’s first gender-based violence strategy in 2017. We have taken decisive action on gun control, and as part of this work I have spoken out on the need to expand the national conversation around firearms to include the issues of intimate partner violence and suicide, which is a crucial but often overlooked part of the issues surrounding gun violence. As an example, 80 percent of women in Atlantic Canada were less likely to come forward or seek help for intimate partner violence when there was a firearm in the home. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, I have also supported Canada as a vocal advocate for women’s reproductive choice both at home and abroad.
In June 2019, Canada announced that it would commit $1.4 billion per year, for 10 years, to global health and nutrition. This includes $700 million annually that will be earmarked for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Guided by our feminist international assistance policy, our goal is to foster meaningful and sustainable change, shift power to those whose rights are at stake and amplify the voices of women, children and adolescents and other people facing marginalization.
With the 2030 Agenda and the anniversary of ICPD25, this is an important moment in time. We must be bold and we must address those hard issues. If not, we will not achieve the ICPD Program of Action nor will we realize the Sustainable Development Goals.
That is why Canada’s commitment is not only centring the rights of women and children at the heart of our development approach, but we are also investing in some of the most neglected, and often most stigmatized areas, including: family planning and contraceptives, youth and adolescents, access to safe abortion, supporting advocacy to advance SRHR, addressing gender-based violence and harmful practices, and the provision of SRHR services in emergency settings. In 2018 I visited West Pokot, Kenya, where I met young women who had escaped early marriage and the practice of female genital mutilation. Their resilience pushes me to ensure we do more to honour their stories so that no other young women are forced to endure what they experience.
This week I met young women who told me crochet hooks are used to self-administer abortions. We know that when access to abortion is restricted, there are not less abortions – they just become more dangerous. This is unacceptable. Both in Canada and around the world, we must end unsafe abortions. I feel strongly that we must stop criminalizing abortion, and treat it as a health issue between a woman and her doctor. Women’s rights are human rights and include the right to good health and the ability to make choices about her own body.
Civil society plays an important role in achieving the ICPD agenda, and I applaud all organizations and individuals working to advance women’s reproductive and sexual health. In particular, I would like to acknowledge and thank Action Canada for their efforts in Canada and around the world, and the European Parliamentary Forum for their good work. Last night was the launch for the Global Parliamentary Forum Which wil allow like minded parliamentarians to amplify our voices.
There is a lot of work to be done. In some areas we find ourselves at a standstill and even backsliding on our achievements. In Canada we are seeing organized efforts to elect politicians who are anti-choice – elected politicians who vow to “make abortion unthinkable in our lifetime” and other Canadian parliamentarians working to introduce legislation that would reduce access to abortion. Now, more than ever, all levels of government, civil society, North, South, all must work together to help realize the ICPD Program of Action and the Sustainable Development Goals.
When it comes to development, we must always take a human-rights based approach. Because we know that when we are empowered and can access our rights, good health is much more attainable.
We are moving in the right direction, but the progress is not fast enough. As parliamentarians we have a critical role to play. On the anniversary of ICPD25, we must build and maintain this momentum to achieve health and rights for all.