Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin’s visit is timely given Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s commitment to increased UN engagement and gender equality. With the recent adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, the 15th anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security and ongoing crises worldwide, this is an opportunity for the government of Canada to demonstrate its commitment to women’s rights and renewed leadership on the global stage.
Access to sexual and reproductive health services are a cornerstone in supporting women’s rights. They are critical to the health and survival of women and adolescents; yet are scarcest at the time they are needed most. 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.
Recognizing Canada’s ongoing efforts in this area – including its commitment to resettling Syrian refugees, adopting a ‘whole of government’ approach to the crises in Iraq and Syria, advancing the rights of women and girls and bringing an evidence-based approach to the integration of sexual and reproductive health into initiatives like the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health – this visit is an opportunity for the government of Canada to demonstrate its renewed leadership on the global stage.
“The health and rights of women and adolescents should not be treated like an afterthought in humanitarian response,” says UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. “For the pregnant woman who is about to deliver, or the adolescent girl who survived sexual violence, life-saving services are as vital as water, food and shelter.”
Without the usual protection of family and community, women and adolescents in crisis situations are more vulnerable to sexual violence, unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, like HIV. Basic needs for safe childbirth, family planning and reproductive health care are rarely met when women and adolescents become untethered from the lifeline of health systems.
“Having the means to prevent a pregnancy and being safe from sexual violence—these are basic human rights,” Dr. Osotimehin says. “Rights don’t just go away, and women don’t stop giving birth when a conflict breaks out or disaster strikes.”
“Committing to women’s rights needs to include supporting access to a comprehensive package of sexual and reproductive health services, which include abortion,” says Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. “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 manner, we need a Canadian Global Policy on sexual and reproductive rights to guide Canada’s overseas development efforts both in terms of foreign policy and international development.”
“Agencies like UNFPA need Canada’s increased support. They are at the forefront of work with governments and civil society to improve sexual and reproductive and provide technical assistance, capacity building, and needed supplies,” says Prasad. “And while aid levels continue to increase at the global level, support for multilateral institutions, particularly those working on sexual and reproductive rights and human rights more broadly, has stagnated and even fallen.”
“Most donors don’t consider women’s needs for protection and response services related to gender-based violence as worthy of early intervention – and even less so prevention”, noted Julie Delahanty, Executive Director of Oxfam Canada. “These needs are deprioritized because they affect those most often without a voice, those who don’t speak out for a variety of reasons and who accept violence as a part of their daily lives. We need to challenge that narrative because gender-based violence is found in all societies and in all situations and relates to existing gender power imbalances and gender inequality. We have to stop putting women’s rights on hold while we wait for an emergency to be over”.
“The business-as-usual approach to humanitarian assistance will leave too many behind at a time when needs are so great,” Dr. Osotimehin says. “We need to do a much better job of helping the most vulnerable, especially adolescent girls. But we must also do a much better job of investing in a more stable world, capable of withstanding the storms ahead.”
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CONTACT: Ani Colekessian [email protected] +1 613 241 4474 x7
NOTES FOR EDITORS:
UNITED NATIONS POPULATION FUND (UNFPA) is an international development agency that promotes the right of every woman, man and child to enjoy a life of health and equal opportunity. UNFPA supports countries in using population data for policies and programmes to reduce poverty and to ensure that every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe, every young person is free of HIV, and every girl and woman is treated with dignity and respect. For more information visit www.unfpa.org
ACTION CANADA FOR SEXUAL HEALTH & RIGHTS is a progressive, pro-choice charitable organization committed to advancing and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally. For more information visit www.actioncanadashr.org
OXFAM CANADA is part of a global movement for change made up of 17 Oxfam affiliates working in more than 90 countries to mobilize the power of people against poverty. Women’s rights and overcoming inequality are at the heart of everything Oxfam Canada does. For more information visit www.oxfam.ca