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Canada’s leadership on sexual and reproductive health must be matched by healthy development budget

By Julia Sanchez      

In the context of a flat-lined official development assistance budget—which is well-below the levels expected from Canada—it is time for the Canadian government to cement the leadership it clearly wants on the global stage with a healthy and proportionate budget to support its ambitions.

Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau, who made a $20-million commitment on behalf of Canada at the “She Decides” high-level pledging conference last week in Brussels. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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On International Women’s Day, Prime Minister Trudeau made an important pledge towards supporting a key set of rights that so often go neglected—sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, alongside Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau, announced that the government would be committing $650-million in funding over three years to support SRHR programming internationally—a key pledge the Liberal government made during the election.

This will complement existing investments in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH). The announcement follows a $20-million commitment made by Minister Bibeau on behalf of Canada at the “She Decides” high-level pledging conference last week in Brussels.

The Canadian government’s commitment to increase funding for SRHR is fundamental to making real progress on women’s health, rights, and gender equality.

By committing to support and promote sexual and reproductive health and rights as an integral part of its feminist agenda for development, Canada is demonstrating global leadership at a time when the world needs it most. SRHR has long been neglected by the international system and considerable additional funds are required to address existing gaps in global SRHR.

As welcome as this announcement is, it comes as civil society—in a collaborative effort to enhance Canada’s contributions to the world—is urging the Canadian government to increase its contribution to international development, as part of the Federal Budget 2017, to be announced on March 22nd.

Canada’s development assistance is well-below the internationally agreed-upon target of making official development assistance (ODA) equal to 0.7 per cent of the donor country’s gross national income (GNI). Canada is, in fact, at a near all-time low—providing just an estimated 26 cents in 2016 for every $100 of GNI, or 0.26 per cent.

This falls below the average of Canada’s peers at the G7, and open mid-sized economies. In contrast, for 25 years, between 1970 and 1994, Canada committed more than 40 cents per $100 of GNI, and was above the weighted average of other OECD donors.

Yesterday’s commitment positions Canada well to move the needle on gender equality, and improve the lives of women and girls on the ground, but this must not be at the expense of other successful programs that are underway and that address a whole host of complementary needs and indivisible rights.

This is why, in the context of a flat-lined ODA budget—which is well below the levels expected from Canada—it is time for the Canadian government to cement the leadership it clearly wants on the global stage with a healthy and proportionate budget to support its ambitions.

Following extensive public consultations last year to refocus and reshape Canada’s international assistance policy and programs looking forward, we expect the government to set a timetable of predictable increases in Budget 2017 that clearly articulates how Canada is going to grow its investment in international development and humanitarian assistance over the next five to ten years.

Women and girls around the world are counting on Canada to make this commitment.

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