Canada hailed for focusing foreign aid on women’s rights

Ottawa –

Foreign aid groups have applauded Ottawa for funding efforts in developing countries aimed at ensuring that women who care for children and the elderly are not excluded from the economy.

“Canada has actually put up a very strong stance,” Equality Fund managing director Katherine Im Jenkins said in a recent interview in Kigali.

“This is a very difficult time for global development and for gender equality and women’s rights.”

From Rwanda’s capital, she was speaking alongside the Women’s Deliverer Conference, a large foreign aid gathering focused on the empowerment of women.

This conference takes place every few years, the last time being in Vancouver in 2019.

At last week’s Kigali conference, Minister for International Development Harjit Sajan announced a project to help those working in paid care economy and unpaid care roles as the world will have a much larger proportion of the elderly and infants in the next few years.

For example, an Oxfam Canada project advocates changes in developing countries to reduce the burden of unpaid care on women, including policies that encourage male involvement, the provision of care for children and the elderly, and state support for the purchase of time-saving appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines.

Sajjan also provided details on how $200 million of previously announced funding will be allocated for sexual health and reproductive rights.

Lim Jenkins, an organization that helps manage government funding for projects in developing countries, said Canada would not change course as other countries withdrew funds from sexual health education, contraception and family planning.

“The conference hall was buzzing as we watched Canada defend their line, follow through, follow up, stay focused, keep their course and keep their momentum going,” she said.

“When Canada does it is very important because many other funders are not ready to do it.”

The announcement comes after Canada, like some Western countries, has cut its foreign aid, with funding slashed by 15% in this year’s federal budget.

“I characterize the world situation as fragile as climate, conflict and COVID-19 continue to impact many countries in the Global South, and countries in the Global North are less prepared and better equipped to help them than they have been in the past.”

The conference was also disrupted by speeches by anti-abortion politicians, drawing criticism from feminist groups as well as the organizers themselves.

The head of the Hungarian government, President Katalin Novak, has previously argued that Hungarian women should not expect the same pay and careers as men, and the country is focused on boosting fertility, he told the Kigali conference. Conference organizers said Novak was invited by the Rwandan government.

The summit also posted a photo of Sajan, Gender Equality Minister Marcy Yen and Liberal MP Ariel Kayabaga meeting and smiling and shaking hands with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

The images drew criticism because Freedom House claims Kagame is a dictator responsible for “surveillance, intimidation, torture, deportation, or alleged assassination of dissidents in exile,” none of which are mentioned on Ottawa’s social media or press release.

Global Affairs Canada has now responded to the criticism, saying in a statement that human rights are “at the forefront” of Canada’s foreign policy.

“Rwanda has made progress in recent decades, particularly in terms of national reconciliation and socio-economic development,” wrote spokesman James Emmanuel Wanke.

“Canada maintains a constructive dialogue and frank exchange of views with the Government of Rwanda on a wide range of issues, including climate, gender equality, regional security and human rights.”

This report by the Canadian Press Agency was first published on July 24, 2023.

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