Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to address this Bloc Quebecois motion. I am not only proud because the Bloc Quebecois presented this motion, but because this extraordinary march of women in 2000 has its roots in a similar initiative by the Fédération des femmes du Québec in 1995, a march that all Quebecers remember and which was called the Bread and Roses March.
This women's movement is something extraordinary for all Quebecers and Canadians, for all those interested in organizing a movement to counterbalance the constant and rampant phenomenon whereby the rich are getting richer—it is true of countries and it is also true of the people living in these countries—and the poor are getting poorer, which is also a reality for countries as well as for the people living in them.
In a way it is just a start, but a very promising one, which was strongly felt in my riding, and perhaps also in yours, Mr. Speaker. In the riding of Mercier, women's groups, and two women's centres in particular, namely the Centre des femmes in Pointe-aux-Trembles and Info-Femmes in Tétreauville, mobilized and prepared this great march of women, first in my riding and then here in Ottawa. A number of these women are currently in New York city to take part in the great international march. I am very proud of all the work that has been done.
However that is not the end of it. One only had to hear the replies provided today by the government to realize that the fight is far from being over. This mobilization—that is what this is—will ensure that issues as serious and as important as poverty among women and children and violence against women will no longer remain secret. The women who are the victims of such situations will no longer be isolated and basically led to believe that they are responsible for what is happening to them.
Even if the time available is extremely short, I would like to speak today to the international outlook of this march of women, which began in Quebec, became Canadian and is now an international event.
What are Canadian women calling for? They are calling for an international outlook. They are calling on Canada to get ready to meet the international aid objective of 0.7% of GDP, which could be called the nation's wealth. It makes sense to link international aid to wealth.
They also called on the government to reduce the debt of the 57 poorest nations. They are so right, because these debts are eating up what little revenue these small countries have leaving nothing for health and education.
The government's reaction to this should not be that everything it is doing is just fine. I would remind the House that it was in 1990 during a full recession that Canada made its commitment to the UN to meet an objective of 0.7% of GDP. At the time, Canada was contributing 0.48% of its GDP to international aid. It was already close to 0.7%.
Since then, its contribution has continued to slide. So much for the so-called “best country in the world”. Right now, international aid stands at 0.25%, compared to the 0.48% it was at the time the commitment was made. How many years have we been enjoying this period of prosperity of which the government is so proud? Six years, seven years?
The situation is completely unacceptable and I am extremely grateful to women for adding their voices to those of all the people in Quebec and in Canada who think that Canada's position does not make sense.
It makes so little sense that in committee I asked the president of CIDA and the minister responsible for international cooperation what percentage of international aid comes back to Canada.
The minister was somewhat taken aback. At first she said it was 30%. The president of CIDA had to step in to correct that statement by saying that it was 75%. Of all the international aid we provide, which is far from the objective set out by Canada in 1990, 75% comes back to Canada.
Everything we heard about helping underdeveloped countries to repay their debts, about helping poorer countries by providing international assistance, about targeting the hundreds of million dollars announced by the minister is nonsense.
We are very worried because it is in the poorest countries of the world, mostly in Africa, that the status of women is the most vulnerable in terms of health and violence.
What is even more horrible is that these women often have to face poverty and violence in countries that are fighting what seem to be endless wars, where the international community is reluctant to interfere because it fears that it may not be equal to the task. People have to realize that the international community has been extremely cautious. Unfortunately the troops the UN sent to Sierra Leone, for instance, became the laughing stock of the world, to make a long story short since my time is limited.
I want to quote a report that everyone ought to read, the Year 2000 Report of the United Nations Population Fund. The introduction begins as follows:
Gender inequality holds back the growth of individuals, the development of countries and the evolution of societies, to the disadvantage of both women and men.
It goes on:
The facts of gender inequality—the restrictions placed on women's choices, opportunities and participation—have direct and often malign consequences for women's health and education, and for their social and economic participation.
They added something that is extremely important and important to this country too:
Yet until recent years, these restrictions have been considered either unimportant or non-existent, either accepted or ignored. The reality of women's lives has been invisible to men. This invisibility persists at all levels, from the family to the nation. Though they share the same space, women and men live in different worlds.
That is true here, improved to some extent in certain areas, but it is poignantly true in developing countries and in the poorest countries.
I am going to wait for the party opposite, on the eve of an election, to wake up and provide money instead of fancy words, wherever it wants to appear generous. Canada does not have the situation under control by any means. Far from it. This is shameful in the field of international aid.