In September, I take up my new responsibilities in Geneva, Switzerland as Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations and the Conference on Disarmament. The UN reflects the dreams and aspirations of not just Canadians but of the world. My new role will allow me to address global challenges from a different perspective than I've had at Plan Canada, but as I prepare to leave I reflect on a few proud accomplishments that bolster my confidence and hope for the future.
This Saturday, June 20, is the UN World Refugee Day. It's a day set aside every year to recognize the plight of refugees and acknowledge the efforts of those who assist them, often in the face of life-threatening obstacles. We need to recognize realities but not despair. We need to focus the global mind on our collective responsibility. We need to roll up our sleeves and help those who are so deserving of our assistance while urging others to double and triple their efforts to end the underlying conditions that have created this unacceptable human catastrophe.
Mosquitoes are re-emerging as a serious North American health threat as carriers of the West Nile Virus. In the developing world, mosquitoes pose an even more menacing danger. There, they transmit malaria, the deadliest disease borne by any insect or animal anywhere. This year, malaria deaths are expected to spike upwards, after more than a decade of steady decline. The reason: Ebola. The fragile health systems in West Africa have been stretched to the limit in the Ebola fight, and routine measures to combat malaria have gone by the wayside.
More than a century ago, an international conference of some 100 working women meeting in Copenhagen decided to establish an annual Women's Day. As we approach the 104th International Women's Day on March 8, large gender gaps remain both in Canada and globally. This time, however, the annual event may become a catalyst for meaningful action, at least in election-year Canada.
2015 promises to be a transformative year on the international development front and is therefore an appropriate time to reflect on a noteworthy milestone. The United Nations enters its 70th year -- and like some 70-year-olds, the beleaguered UN has found new vigour and relevance in people's lives, with Canada playing a role in some noteworthy accomplishments.
When the gunman, a rejected engineering student, shot those young women he was enraged that they were pursuing studies in a profession he believed was meant for men. That was a quarter of a century ago. Today, more and more women are flooding into professions, including engineering, once considered male preserves, but there is still so much more progress to be made in changing those attitudes that enable gender-based violence.
When hundreds of girls are kidnapped in Nigeria, disappearing into the night for months and counting, the world is outraged. When boys are handed guns and forced into militias, the world is shocked. When children work as slave labourers in mines, there are global cries for action. But these atrocities are only part of the picture.
In a new global report conducted by Plan entitled Hear Our Voices, we spoke with more than 7,000 adolescent girls and boys from 11 countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America. We wanted to learn more about what issues and concerns adolescent girls faced and how boys felt about those issues too.
Some six million children under the age of five die every year and there are still nearly 300,000 maternal deaths annually. It all comes down to the political will and necessary funds to make it happen. Canada is a recognized leader in both. In May, Canada committed a further $3.5 billion over five years to help eliminate these unnecessary deaths.
When the headlines fade, the daily, persistent, and pervasive violence against girls and women around the world will continue unabated and generally unreported. And it will persist until people and their governments start connecting the dots between these headline-making atrocities and the everyday, out of the headlines, violence targeted at girls and women on public streets, in the household, in the workplace, and in and around schools and why these incidents happen.
The officials revealed that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was about to announce that Canada would renew its five-year $2.85-billion commitment to saving the lives of mothers, babies, and children who die needlessly from preventable causes around the world every year. After we digested that, there were lots of smiles in the room.
The latest headlines about the kidnapping of some 300 Nigerian girls are part of an even larger and generally unreported story -- the widespread, worldwide tolerance of violence against women and girls. While the kidnapping is clearly an act perpetrated by an extremist group, it is also much more than that.
During the ice storm, people on my street helped each other in a number of ways, from providing food and shelter to clearing tree branches. People rose to the occasion. The community came together. Whether it is in Toronto, Tacloban or the South Sudanese capital of Juba, neighbours are the first responders. They are the ones who will rescue us from the rubble.
In recent weeks, we have heard statements from leaders on the international stage that we are on the path to eradicating absolute poverty in the next two decades. I'd prefer we wait to 2030 to really celebrate how much we did to close the gap and assure that these numbers reflect all countries and the people in them -- and that no one gets left behind.
We've seen an increasing amount in the news about Mali lately. A West African country in the grips of a conflict so brutal almost 400,000 people, mainly women and children, have had to flee their homes. With these concerns in mind, Plan has been stepping up our regular programs in Mali to help people through this period in their lives.
While "Giving Tuesday" hasn't fully migrated north to Canada, the idea behind it is appealing. With all the ads and other reminders to shop and give at this time of year, I think it's worth stepping back for a moment to consider how and why we give and also the far-reaching results certain gifts can generate.
Hurricane Sandy certainly got our attention. Billions of dollars (and counting) in damages. Communities crippled and left in the cold without electricity. Nearly 200 lives lost. Sadly, with the stark realities of climate change and frequency of extreme weather events, this likely won't be the last natural disaster we experience or witness in our lifetime or even this decade. So, what are we to do about that?
Just a few days ago I joined Canada's newly appointed Minister of International Cooperation, Julian Fantino on a trip to Burkina Faso in West Africa. Throughout this visit I was struck by many sights and sounds that will stay with me for a long time -- evidence of how the crisis is affecting lives, how people are coping, and what more needs to be done to avert a crisis from becoming an all-out catastrophe.