Reproductive health and foreign aid or when feminism needs to become political

"Canada's 'signature' initiative at June's G8 summit - a strategy to improve the health of mothers and young children in poor countries" will not include family planning programs, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said on Tuesday, the Globe and Mail reports. Cannon said the initiative "does not deal in any way, shape or form with family planning. Indeed, the purpose of this is to be able to save lives."
According to the newspaper, "Cannon's statements distressed those who had hoped for some flexibility" with the plan, even though the government had hinted that it might not include family planning provisions.
"Maternal-health advocates worry that the government's desire to steer clear of the abortion issue - and therefore not upset part of its political base - is also pushing it to rule out all other family-planning programs, like distributing contraceptives," the Globe and Mail writes. "I'm very concerned that they're equating family planning with abortion," said Katherine McDonald, executive director of Action Canada for Population and Development.

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This is what I’ve been reading about the last couple of days. This whole issue triggered much debate on parliament hill and around kitchen tables. Needless to say it was mayhem on the news wires and on blogging platforms… Just thought I’d through in my two cents on this issue.
During the past three years, I have been working on a project that engaged Canadian citizens in a dialogue on foreign policy. And guess what: one of the five areas Canadians wanted their government to lead by example was promoting human development and gender equality:

Well guess what government officials, gender equality starts with giving women the right and means to manage their own reproductive health.Why is reproductive health important? Because you cannot save mothers and babies if you don’t allow women to choose when and how many babies they want. Multiple pregnancies in a short span of time, in conditions where hygiene and safety are not warranted leads to a higher rate of maternal and infant death. Period.

Educating women and giving them the tools to manage their own reproductive health has been proven to improve health outcomes both for them, their children and their communities. It has also been proven over and over that empowering women in that sense results in them becoming change leaders. Women who have the choice and are educated usually manage to improve the lives of their communities.
I think it would be very foolish to follow the footsteps of policies only aiming at promoting “abstinence only” programs. We know that teen pregnancy rates in our western countries have certainly not improved but worsened by choosing abstinence education over other forms of sex-ed. Seriously, you cannot expect abstinence to be the best way to prevent the spread of AIDS or unwanted pregnancies… Or you really have a very rosy and unrealistic view of human nature…

In war-torn countries, women are often subjected to rape on a routine basis, leading to pregnancies that are neither desired neither healthy. Allowing women not to carry the fruit of such traumatic events is essential, even if it goes against the beliefs of well-meaning men on our side of the planet. How hard is it to understand?
You could suspect the Harper government to have something against women and their rights to equality with this type of policy. What worries me more is that the public’s tax dollars may not be used wisely and in line with what the tax-payers actually wish. Yep, you heard me. No need to prorogue parliament once more to avoid this delicate question!

I you care about how Canada spends your tax dollars on foreign aid, write to your member of parliament and let them know how you feel. Reproductive health is a right for women here and there and obscure political agendas should certainly not get in the way.


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