Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise in this place to again speak to the subject of Afghanistan.
I almost wish I was rising to ask a question of the person from whom we just heard who said that it is the role of cabinet to make the decisions about whether or not we are in Afghanistan. I am thankful that we have a Prime Minister who brought this to Parliament. Although we were not the government that sent our troops there, we supported the government in doing so. We also recognize that it is not just the role of cabinet. All Parliament should hear.
It is a real privilege to split my time today with my colleague, the member of Parliament for Prince George—Peace River.
I have the privilege of serving in this Parliament in a number of capacities, one being as chair of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. I want to commend all members of that committee from all parties and say that again we have the privilege of studying the issue of Afghanistan and Canada's role there.
It is important that we have this type of debate. We have had it in the past. It is important for Canadians to get as much information as possible about what our troops are doing in Afghanistan. It is not an exercise that Canadian troops and Canadian governments take lightly. We want to make sure that we are making certain achievements, and we see that, and it is good that Canadians can hear that today.
First, Canadians should be proud of the men and women of our troops, who are serving not only Canada in Afghanistan, but serving NATO and the United Nations. Afghanistan is a country that is emerging from years of war and destruction. Afghanistan is a country that is looking for hope. Its people understand democracies to a certain degree and they want to try to achieve a democratic country.
In this country, we know that it is not just a general election that forms a democracy, but rights, values, principles and the rule of law, all those things. Canadians wish to extend those same rights and those same benefits to countries and regions all around the world and very specifically to Afghanistan.
Canada is working hard to support this process. Not only are we working hard to back our military, our defence and our troops, but we are working very hard to support the process of extending human rights and those priorities that Canadians have.
Our soldiers, our Canadian development workers and our diplomats are helping Afghans pursue their legitimate aspirations of peace and security and a guarantee of a better future for their country and for their children.
The progress made by the people of Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban regime has been very impressive and we must take every opportunity to ensure that Canadians are aware of their own role in this success.
Today I would like to tell members of the House of Commons about what Canada has done to help develop and support development in Afghanistan.
A number of speeches have been given, and there will be more, but I want to look specifically at one of the issues that has come forward at our committee, and that is how women's lives very clearly have been changed in Afghanistan. I want to take a very brief look this afternoon at how we have made an impact for the women in Afghanistan.
We know that these women bear the lion's share of the responsibility for looking after the health and the educational needs of their families. In many places, the men, the husbands, are out working, but the mothers and the women of the communities are the ones on whom a great deal of the burden falls.
When the women have the opportunity to participate more broadly in their communities, development progress takes place at a greater pace and their families benefit even more. For that reason, Canadian development assistance places a priority on ensuring the equality of women.
In Afghanistan Canada has helped over 300,000 Afghans, 72% of them women, to obtain small loans and financial services to start their own businesses, their micro-businesses, or to purchase tools so that, even very primitively, they can become engaged in agriculture and farming in order to facilitate and meet their families' needs.
Another Canadian project supports the renovation of up to 4,000 community schools. For the first time, many young girls are able to attend these schools. Extracurricular activities are created around the schools so that these children and these communities find something to do with their time, something that is going to enhance their communities. Through all these schools, 9,000 teachers will be trained. This project, whose essential goal is to educate girls, has a budget of $14.5 million.
Why is the government responding in this kind of way? Because we recognize the importance of making sure that boys and girls and men and women get the type of education that is needed in the long term. It is not just to solve the problem of getting them into schools now, but to solve the problem in the long term so that we can see productivity in a country where it has been so badly lacking over the years.
Last fall the Minister of International Cooperation announced another project, with a $5 million budget, intended to help some 1,500 Afghan women develop horticultural operations in home based gardens. By growing fruits and vegetables, they supplement their families' diets, they supplement their families' incomes, and they generate an income and again become productive.
Canadians are encouraging women to participate in local development. More than 16,000 community development councils have been elected across Afghanistan. On many of these councils women are participating for the first time as full members, making important decisions and playing a role in how these projects can be delivered to improve, for example, public health in Afghanistan. As well, the women are the ones who are making decisions on the curriculum and the education for their communities.
Canada is working to make women's rights known in Afghanistan. Again, it is not simply that we want to educate the children. We want Afghans to know what is acceptable when it comes to women's rights. We have helped to open centres where women can get legal advice, find shelter, take literacy training or obtain health services.
We are supporting the democratization of Afghanistan. The country has adopted a new constitution. It has held presidential and parliamentary elections.
I am not certain of the percentage of women in our Parliament. The other day here many people wore pins that stated, “Elect more women”. I know that 25% of the parliamentarians in Afghanistan are women, a higher percentage than Canada's. They are contributing in that manner and they are showing the country that there is a place for them in their democracy.
We are promoting the education of girls. Today 5.5 million Afghan children to go school. A third of these children are girls. This is something that country has not seen before.
These initiatives show the very concrete steps that Canadians are taking in Afghanistan to help Afghanistan rebuild. There is a long road ahead.
Today in committee, a former journalist and an expert on Afghanistan, Mr. Van Praagh, stated the following in his presentation: “Democracies and would-be democracies near and far will suffer a great defeat in the greater game if Afghanistan, Canadian credibility and NATO effectiveness are lost”.
I ask members to listen again as I repeat it: “Democracies and would-be democracies near and far will suffer a severe defeat in the greater game...”.
What is that greater game? It is the greater game of spreading these rights and freedoms, the democracy, the values and the principles that we appreciate here, and this will suffer a great defeat if the credibility of Canadians and NATO there in Afghanistan is lost.
We can make a difference in that country. Canada has always looked for places where we can make a difference. It is one thing to talk about sending aid here and sending aid there, but when we are in a place where we can make a difference and when we make that difference, let us make sure that we continue to do that. Let us make sure that we continue to do the fine job that we are doing.