01/30/2017 09:25 EST | Updated 01/30/2017 09:25 EST

We Need To Address The Global Equality Gap With Concrete Action

Increasing economic inequality is shaking our global foundation. The world's richest one per cent own 99 per cent of our planet's wealth. The widening gap between the rich and the poor is contributing to global unrest, political instability, conflict and migratory crises. But most importantly, this gap continues to erode the well-being and dignity of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people.

When unrest and conflict happen in the global community, Canada feels the tremors and the impact. The refugee crisis in Syria gives us a glaring example. As Canadians we care. But compassion is just the starting point. Concrete actions are what we need, both in the interest of developing countries and Canada's own -- for an economy that works for the middle class, for a healthier and safer environment for our families and the generations to come.

To do so, Canada is playing a significant role globally in promoting greater equality. I am proud to say that we are refocusing our international assistance on the poorest and most vulnerable, and particularly on women and girls. Our new policy, which our government will outline in greater detail soon, responds to a clear mandate from Prime Minister Trudeau to "help reduce poverty and inequality in the world," promote inclusion and the respect for human rights.

Focusing on the right to education for girls is just one way we are working toward greater equality.

This is more than just talk. It's about doing things differently -- putting human dignity and those who experience the worst forms of marginalization, especially women and girls, at the center of everything we do. Our government envisions a human-centred economy that works equally for everyone and empowers women and girls to take greater control of their lives for the benefit of all.

In Afghanistan, for example, we are working with partners to implement the Community Based Education Enrichment Program. Through this initiative, families in some of the most vulnerable communities in Afghanistan are now sending their daughters to school, because they have access to safe, quality basic education.

Focusing on the right to education for girls is just one way we are working toward greater equality. Our work focused on climate change is another. The poor are the most vulnerable to the devastation and setbacks caused by erratic weather. They lack the resources to rebuild or survive when disasters like drought or flooding hit. Through Canada's investments we are helping developing countries adapt and promote more inclusive green economic growth initiatives.

For example, Canada's support is helping a company in Haiti make energy-efficient cookstoves that produce less greenhouse gas emissions. More than 60,000 cookstoves have been sold creating much needed jobs for Haitians, increasing air quality in households and protecting health of thousands of families.


Canada also supports international efforts that promote innovative thinking and ensure that technology is used to reduce poverty and inequality. Nowhere is this more evident than in our government's support for expanding access to mobile phone technology. This is a particularly powerful tool for women to access information, exercise decision-making power, do their banking, and access credit to start and operate new businesses.

Governments alone cannot bring about global economic and social change. Private companies can indeed become partners in development and agents for social change and inclusion. There are great opportunities to develop policies and encourage international efforts to align private sector incentives with public goals, including development objectives. Just over a year ago I was pleased to participate in the launch of the Convergence investment platform. With support from the Canadian government, Convergence is the first and only platform that helps public and private investors find and connect with each other to invest in emerging markets.

A great deal of legwork has been done in the global fight against inequality. In September 2015, Canada and other members of the United Nations committed to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda calls upon all countries and their citizens to work together to end poverty, to protect the planet and to promote peace and prosperity for everyone by 2030.

The collective challenge is to turn these goals into actions and results.

Together, we can build a better world -- one where there is greater economic and social equality -- a world where everyone can prosper and where women and girls are empowered to reach their full potential.

The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau is Canada's Minister of International Development and La Francophonie.

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