Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time today with the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell.
I am honoured to stand in the House to discuss our mission in Afghanistan and to speak against this irresponsible and immoral motion.
I am also very proud to stand here today to defend our troops, our aid workers and diplomats who are making a real difference on the ground for the Afghan people.
I wish to share with members some of the remarkable news about the advancement on women's rights in Afghanistan and how Canada is playing a leading role.
Before I talk of the successes, let us recap where women in Afghanistan were six years ago under the Taliban regime.
It was not uncommon for adult women to be beaten by the Taliban's religious police for simply showing a portion of their skin. Women were not allowed to work. Nor were women allowed to go outside unless they were accompanied by a man. Sadly, we know of instances where a woman's bones would break when she gave birth. She was not allowed to go outside and because of that she did not get the sunshine and the vitamin D she needed to support her bones.
Making matters worse, women were not allowed to be doctors and those who were doctors, the Taliban did not allow them to practise. Women had no access to health care. They could not vote. They could not run for public office. They could not express their opinion. They could not own land. They could not own a business. Sadly, young girls were not allowed to be educated under the Taliban regime. This went on for 30 years. An enormous part of Afghanistan's population cannot read and write. I was also disturbed to hear that under Taliban daughters were given as debt repayment.
Thanks to our Canadian troops, our diplomats and our aid workers and the strong resolve of the Afghan people, times are changing.
I returned from Afghanistan a couple of weeks ago. I found it unbelievable, having been there on the ground and spoken to so many women and children, to see what the military presence was doing in allowing them to grow and develop. I was shocked and could not believe the NDP could even possibly suggest that we leave Afghanistan.
Members of the NDP like to claim they support women's rights. That is completely contradictory. They also like to claim they support basic human rights. What do they think we are doing in Afghanistan? The Afghan people cannot have development if they do not have the security. According to the NDP members, the military presence has not prevented any of the criminal behaviour or murders that have gone on, so we should leave as though it will not change. That is ridiculous.
In my opinion, the NDP is a party of hypocrites, a party of neophytes who do not realize that without security there can be no development. They say they support our troops, but not the mission. The Afghan people, our troops, our aid workers and our diplomats are the mission. It shows that the NDP, just like the Liberals, do not see the advances being made for Afghan women.
In February I met with Ms. Siddiqi, the Afghan woman and member of parliament, who I spoke of earlier. She just gave birth to her first baby boy, and I congratulate her on that. She has been a fierce advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan. I find it hard to understand how she can be so incredibly strong, and I admire that. She has a $500,000 bounty on her head because she believes in what she is doing, she believes in what the international community is doing for Afghanistan and she is standing up for women's rights. This bounty exists for her for no other reason than the Taliban want her dead because she is a woman in politics.
How can NDP members, members of a party that brags about the number of women in its caucus, look her in the eye and say that they are not going to help her, that they want our troops home, that they are going to abandon her in her time of need?
That is not the Conservative way, and that is certainly not the Canadian way, to cut and run when the going gets tough.
When I hear the NDP and the Liberals question why we are in Afghanistan, I remain astounded at their fundamental lack of understanding or appreciation of the good that we are doing. When I think about why Canada is in Afghanistan, I think of just how clear our mission is and how it has been from the very beginning.
The purpose of our mission is to help a democracy take root and support its people, the very people who have lived under 30 years of conflict and oppression and have asked for our help. They have asked us to be in Afghanistan to help rebuild their nation.
When I was in Kabul only a few weeks ago, I met a widow from the rural provinces outside the city. She travelled over seven hours to see me, and not by car. She had eight children, four girls and four boys. Her husband, like many, was killed by the Taliban. The family became impoverished, since women were banned from working. She was so poor that she could not afford her children and had to give the four girls up to the orphanage so they would not starve.
When the international community cleared the Kabul area of the Taliban and started micro-financing initiatives, she took out a micro-loan from an agency, in part funded by Canada. Canada is the leading donor for the micro-finance program in Afghanistan. She bought a cow. She used the cow for milk. She makes cream, yogourt and cheese and she sells this at the local market now. She has repaid the loan. She bought another cow and now she has enough money to support her family. She has told me that at the end of this month she will be able to get her girls back from the orphanage and then they will be able to go to school for the first time.
This is proof of progress. If we leave, as the NDP suggests and as the Liberals hint, then the Taliban will simply come in and end this progress. Under the Taliban, women could not own businesses nor could girls go to school. I wonder if anyone in the NDP sees this connection. Without security, these kinds of success stories cannot happen. Let us not forget that 5.4 million children now go to school and one-third of those are girls.
I had an opportunity to visit a school when I was in Afghanistan. No less than 20 girls, all around the age of 13, were for the first time going to school. What did they say to me? The only words they could say in English were “thank you”. What an incredible experience for me. Those girls will become a new generation of literate young women who will help lead their country. What does the NDP think will happen to those girls if the Taliban are permitted to once again take power?
It is time to stop the rhetoric of supporting our troops, but not supporting the mission. The troops are the mission. The international community believes in this mission. It is UN-sanctioned and NATO-led. Sixty countries developed the plan for Afghanistan. The Afghanistan government asked us to be there to implement it for them.
As I conclude, let me quote from a member of the House, who said:
It's not a question of should we be in Afghanistan. Yes, we should; we need to be...
Who said that? It was the former NDP leader, the current foreign affairs critic and member from Halifax. I agree with her. We need to be there. Perhaps her caucus should listen to her.