12/07/2017 10:00 EST | Updated 12/10/2017 10:23 EST

Canadian minister in scandal-roiled DC: abuse of women a top international issue

WASHINGTON — In a U.S. capital roiled by debates about the abuse of women, a visiting Canadian cabinet minister spoke about women's issues in a broader global context Thursday, calling pervasive mistreatment a key impediment to human development.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau told a conference why female empowerment is at the centre of Canada's international agenda. Gender equality will be Canada's focus when hosting the G7 next year, as they are central to the Liberal government's development-assistance programs.

Part of that includes a three-year plan to spend $650 million on reproductive health issues ranging from contraceptives, to HIV prevention, to access to abortions.

In a speech to the Center for Global Development, Bibeau said women's needs are under-recognized in traditional development planning, and it's impossible to achieve development in places where women are marginalized.

That includes providing reproductive options, she said.

"Make no mistake: it is impossible to support sustained poverty reduction when half the population is not able to decide about everything from family finances to contraception and education," said the prepared text of Bibeau's speech.

"The link between gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and rights is fundamental. These rights are essential for the enjoyment of all other rights. Women's autonomy and opportunity to seize their full potential begins with the right to control their own bodies."

Earlier this year, Trump signed an executive order to enforce the so-called global gag rule that forbids organizations receiving U.S. funding from even mentioning abortion.

Bibeau also shared statistics on the worldwide status of women, which she said hinders economic development more generally.

They include more 150 countries actively discriminating against women, more than 15 million girls married before they turn 18, 225 million women lacking access to the contraceptive of their choice, more than 25 million women and girls having unsafe abortions every year, and one in every three women experiences physical or sexual violence.

Bibeau's speech came just as the explosive issue of the mistreatment of women was erupting, across town, on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Al Franken resigned Thursday as a senator following a series of groping allegations, but not before lamenting that President Donald Trump and current Alabama Republican senate candidate Roy Moore had not done the same.

An unfolding scandal over the long-term mistreatment of women has already forced the resignation of two U.S. lawmakers, top-level Hollywood and entertainment officials and several media figures.

Earlier this week, sexual-misconduct whistleblowers were declared Time magazine's Person of the Year.