OTTAWA — The federal government will announce funding of $3 million for a project aimed at eradicating female genital mutilation in West Africa.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is to make the announcement of the four-year initiative on Tuesday, making it the first government project to target the controversial practice.
The issue sparked domestic political discord in Canada after The Canadian Press revealed last year that references condemning the practice had been cut from a draft of the Immigration Department's new citizenship guide for new arrivals.
The opposition Conservatives included the reference in their version of the guide while they were in power, and criticized the government for initially cutting it out.
The Liberals have since said the reference would be restored.
Bibeau tells The Canadian Press that the reference belongs in Canada's new citizenship guide so that newcomers realize the practice is illegal in Canada.
"FGM is considered as gender-based violence and a criminal act in Canada and I think it's important to inform the new citizens that this cultural practice is absolutely not acceptable in Canada," she said in a telephone interview Monday from Cotonou, Benin.
Bibeau has spearheaded the creation of a new feminist development policy, and she has been seized with trying to find a project worth funding.
She focused on Benin, a country with which she has a unique personal connection — she served in the West African country as an aid worker with the now-defunct Canadian International Development Agency in 1996-97.
She reunited with former colleagues there on Monday in advance of a planned announcement Tuesday of funding for a project to be run by CUSO International. The project will focus on two northern regions of Benin until 2021 and will include initiatives to combat sexual and gender-based violence.
Bibeau said 60 per cent of girls in northern Benin are affected by the practice.
"Our objective is to prevent 57,000 girls between zero and nine from being targeted and being cut."
Overall, some 200 million women and girls in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are affected by the practice. The age range of affected girls is vast — from infancy to age 15.
Bibeau said more research is needed to determine the prevalence of the problem among new arrivals in Canada.
"We have to have these conversations with these communities to work on their beliefs and cultural norms and for them to understand it's a matter of rights, and health for women and girls," Bibeau said.
An internal briefing note prepared for the minister, obtained by The Canadian Press, outlines formidable challenges in tackling the problem.
"Ending the practice requires collective and transformative processes that include government leadership and action as well as action by affected communities," it says.
"It also requires policy and legal reforms that support gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, and respect for their human rights."
Bibeau said the government is looking at funding other related projects but has no imminent announcements.