Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as he arrives in Monrovia, Liberia on Nov. 24, 2016. (Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)Trudeau was responding to a question about how to address the fact that many people in Liberia do not condone same-sex marriage, which has been legal in Canada for years. Homosexual activity is also criminalized here. Standing beside Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Trudeau moved on to another area of human rights that affects the region — female genital mutilation — and praised the leadership she has shown on the issue. "I understand that culture can be a challenge in pushing that, but doing the right thing is something that people shouldn't shy away from," Trudeau said.
"The fact is different countries have different paces of evolution in terms of recognizing and enshrining those rights, but we can see that there has been tremendous progress over the years in many different areas."
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(Photo: Adrian Wyld/CP)Thursday afternoon after visiting a local school, Trudeau will join gender equality advocates for a roundtable on the leadership role that women can play in working for peace, security, governance and sustainable development. Trudeau was welcomed by sweltering humidity and a military band early Thursday morning as his plane touched down in Liberia. They rolled out the red carpet, a young girl gave him flowers, and a local chief presented him with a kola nut — a traditional gift considered to be a symbol of respect. Trudeau and Johnson Sirleaf then inspected a Liberian military guard of honour. The fanfare is a far cry from what greeted Johnson Sirleaf during a visit to Ottawa nearly a decade ago, when former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was apparently unaware she was in town until she was introduced while sitting in the gallery overlooking the House of Commons.
Liberian leader had awkward moment with HarperThe awkward moment in diplomacy speaks to the fact that Canada and Liberia have quite a limited relationship. That had some observers scratching their heads when the Liberal government announced Trudeau would spend a day in Liberia during his first voyage to Africa as prime minister, instead of South Africa or another country with more influence. Ian Smillie, a long-time Canadian development specialst who has written extensively about the violence linked to diamond mining in West Africa, said he is glad to see Canada taking an interest in Liberia, even if the economic benefits are not obvious. "It is a fragile state whose fragility is due in part to the fact that nobody in the past century thought it was important enough to pay attention," Smillie said of Liberia, which was hit hard by the Ebola epidemic in recent years and is the site of an ongoing United Nations peacekeeping mission following civil conflict.
'Empowerment' of girls a goal"If we are to get beyond failed, failing and fragile states, we need to stop thinking about Africa only in terms of the markets and investment opportunities they hold for Canada," said Smillie. Tanjina Mirza, chief programs officer at Plan International Canada, said working to empower girls and women in Liberia would go a long way to addressing the root causes of poverty and vulnerability in that country. "It has a female president, but that empowerment has not trickled down to the community level," said Mirza. The government said Canada provided about $24 million in development assistance to Liberia in fiscal 2014-15, including support for the Global Fund, which provides bed nets to protect against malaria and drugs needed to treat HIV and tuberculosis. Canada also gave more than $130 million as part of its response to the Ebola epidemic, which affected Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
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