It is July and I am in Ghana. I am sitting under a mango tree in Punyoro — an impoverished community in the upper east — talking to 16 women farmers and entrepreneurs. I listen in rapt silence as each woman shares her story of personal transformation.
One woman proudly tells me that she learned to write her name thanks to night literacy classes. Another woman explains how she grew her livestock herd from two sheep to six, allowing her to pay for both of her children to attend school. Others describe their village savings and loan group. They save together, loan to each other, and contribute to a social fund to support one another in times of crisis.
The women tell me that their additional income and savings has also earned them the respect of the men in the community and a coveted seat at the district assembly meetings.
These women are powerful agents of change in their own lives, and for their families and communities.
These stories are not isolated incidents. The 16 Ghanaian women I met — as well as others in Iraq, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti and South Sudan — represent a new wave of women around the world, who are overcoming tremendous barriers to insist on their rights.
Everyone from politicians to economists to policy experts now recognize women as gamechangers. If you want to end poverty, empower women. If you want to build lasting peace, involve women. If you want to increase economic growth, invest in women.
It is in this context that I launched Canada's first ever Feminist International Assistance Policy in June. Its objective is to reduce extreme poverty by promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls, not at the expense or exclusion of men and boys, but alongside and with them.
As we implement these changes, Canadians will see a difference in how their tax dollars are invested.
In the past, only three per cent of Canada's funding went to projects that specifically targeted gender equality. Under our feminist policy, we will increase that number to 15 per cent by 2022.
As we implement these changes, Canadians will see a difference in how their tax dollars are invested. For example, to receive funding, our partners will have to consult and involve local women in decision-making to ensure that their specific needs and priorities are addressed. We will also work more closely with local women's organizations because they know their priorities and best approaches to change social norms. They are also best placed to question the status quo and hold their governments accountable.
Women's sexual and reproductive health and rights is now one of Canada's main priorities. As some backed away earlier this year from funding organizations that support women's sexual and reproductive health — a devastating cut that could represent billions of dollars worldwide — Canada ramped up its efforts.
In March, our government pledged $650 million to support programs that provide comprehensive sexuality education to girls and boys, family planning and contraception, prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence. Part of our funding will also provide women with access to safe and legal abortions and post-abortion care. We do this because we firmly believe in upholding women's rights to control their bodies and to make their own decisions.
The integration of sexual and reproductive health will not only be limited to our development efforts. From now on, we will also apply it to our humanitarian assistance.
Too often, donors focus solely on supporting basic services like water, food and shelter, and overlook the particular challenges faced by women and children, some of whom are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. This is not sustainable as humanitarian crises become increasingly protracted and complex.
That is why Canada is ensuring that its responses this year to the famine in South Sudan and the persecution of Rohingya people in Myanmar addressed the specific needs of women and children, including support for sexual and reproductive health services, and psychosocial counselling.
As Canada's Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, and as a woman, I am extremely proud of our government's efforts in 2017 to reduce global poverty and respond to humanitarian crises by empowering women and girls.
The launch of our Feminist International Assistance Policy is just the beginning, but in times of considerable change and uncertainty, it provides us with a clear vision that will achieve meaningful and lasting results.
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