Speech Article from
Address by Minister Bibeau on adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights
March 15, 2016 – New York City, New York
Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with the Government of Canada’s communications policy.
We know that sexual and reproductive health is not only a matter of health. It’s also about human rights and gender equality.
Women and girls are often the most marginalized, the poorest and the hardest-to-reach people in communities.
As a woman, and as a minister, I want to make sure that we do what we can to support women and girls to live their lives with dignity, free of coercion, discrimination and violence.
This cannot be achieved if women do not have access to contraceptives. If they are not allowed to plan and space births as they choose.
They need services that ensure their own sexual and reproductive health. They need to be informed about these services and they must be free to access them. This is particularly true for adolescent girls who live in conflict and fragile zones. In this situation, at best, their health is being neglected and, at worst, they are victims of sexual violence. That is why Canada’s response to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, for example, includes specific assistance to victims of sexual violence.
In addition to a lack of access to health care and services, women and girls face a lack of educational and economic opportunities. They also face cultural and social barriers. And they are subject, in many cases, to sexual and gender-based violence and harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and child, early and forced marriage. The effects of these practices are profound and far-reaching.
We need to support strategies that keep girls in school. The longer a girl stays in school, the lower the risk of early marriage, unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
One of the highlights of my recent trip to Jordan was a visit to a Makani Centre, which provides education, skills development and psycho-social support to out-of-school Jordanian and refugee children and youth. It was inspiring to witness their optimism and their hopes for the future, simply because they now had the time and space to learn.
Last December, I visited an inner city HIV clinic in Vietnam supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria—one of our key health partners.
While I was there, I met an HIV-positive woman holding her HIV-negative baby in her arms. She spoke to me about the difference this clinic had made in her life and that of her daughter, thanks to the antiretroviral treatment she was able to access at the clinic.
It was wonderful to see our pooled resources making a difference in the lives of those too often forgotten or left behind.
Last week, the Canadian government demonstrated its commitment by announcing institutional support to the UN Population Fund’s [UNFPA’s] 2016 budget, and its contraceptive supplies program. We also announced a contribution to a UNFPA project in Honduras to prevent teenage pregnancies, and to a project in South Sudan to train midwives and other front-line health care providers. Our approach to women’s health must rely on a global vision that considers the facts, not ideology. That is the direction we are taking.
As a member of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Advisory Group for Every Woman Every Child, I look forward to working with our partners to address the health of women and adolescents, including their sexual and reproductive health needs.
We need to think creatively and collectively about how to do this.
This is why Canada contributes to the Global Financing Facility in support of Every Woman Every Child—an innovative model that leverages lending from the World Bank and private sector investments to fund comprehensive health systems and often underfunded, critical health investments, such as nutrition or family planning.
Closing existing gaps in health and rights will not only save lives, it will empower women and adolescent girls to be transformative forces in their communities and the world.
Reproductive, maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health is a priority for the Government of Canada. We will work with key partners on Agenda 2030 and maintain international momentum around the Sustainable Development Goals, including the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls.
They need to be at the centre of all we do, and we must listen to them. I can assure you that their voices are at the heart of my attention as we review our development programs. I will be listening very carefully to what you have to say to ensure that your concerns and priorities contribute to the review of our long-term development agenda.
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