Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to speak to the recommendations of the report on Canada's role in taking action to end sexual violence and impunity, which go beyond the specific context of the situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The first four recommendations in the committee's report, as well as recommendation 12, urged the government to take concerted action to strengthen the participation of women and girls, promote respect for their human rights, and prevent all forms of sexual violence against them, including through the implementation of Canada's national action plan for women, peace and security. The government really concurs with these recommendations. Equality between women and men, the empowerment of women and girls, the respect for and promotion of their dignity and human rights, and the prevention and response to sexual violence against them are fundamental Canadian values.
What is self-evident to Canadians is not so clear within other societies, where human rights may not be respected. Countries that are in conflict, such as the DRC, Central African Republic, Syria and Iraq, or those in post-conflict recovery and transition to democracy, such as Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, have many challenges and need to do more to empower women and protect them from sexual violence.
In too many countries, legal, economic, cultural and social frameworks and practices impede the freedom, human rights and dignity of women and girls. They create barriers to women's participation in their communities and countries, and impede the search for sustainable peace, prosperity and development. That is why the government is so committed to the promotion of maternal, newborn and child health; the ending of child, early and forced marriage; and the elimination of all forms of violence against women and girls, including their trafficking.
It is my honour to describe some of the government's actions and policies aimed at promoting the empowerment, human rights, and well-being of women and girls in countries of concern.
First is maternal, newborn and child health. All mothers, newborns and children should be healthy and safe. That is why maternal, newborn and child health is Canada's top international development priority. At the 2010 G8 summit, Canada drew the world's attention to the issue by championing the Muskoka initiative for maternal, newborn and child health, MNCH. Thanks to the Muskoka initiative and the UN Secretary-General's “every woman, every child”, EWEC, initiative, maternal mortality rates are declining, and millions more children are celebrating their fifth birthday.
However, more needs to be done. That is why, in May 2014, Canada once again championed MNCH by hosting the “saving every woman, every child” summit in Toronto. At that event, the Prime Minister of Canada announced a recommitment to improving the health of mothers and children for the years 2015 to 2020.
The second topic is child, early and forced marriage. As members know, child, early and forced marriage is a widespread, harmful practice that threatens the lives and futures of girls and young women around the world. The statistics are staggering. Approximately 15 million girls are married every year. Over 700 million women alive today were married as children.
This is a violation of human rights. It denies girls their childhood. It disrupts or ends their education, jeopardizes their health, makes them more vulnerable to violence, including sexual violence, and limits their participation in economic and social spheres. When girls are not able to reach their full potential, everyone suffers, including girls, their families, communities and countries.
Canada has been instrumental in bringing the world's attention and action to this issue. For example, in 2011, Canada led the initiative to establish the annual international day of the girl child, which focused on child, early and forced marriage in its first year. In 2013, Canada played a leadership role in the development of the first resolutions focused on child, early and forced marriage at the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly, putting this issue firmly on the international agenda for the first time.
Building on the success of these resolutions, in the fall of 2014, Canada and Zambia co-led the most substantive international resolution to date on child, early and forced marriage. The resolution showed the detrimental impact of child, early and forced marriage on international development goals, including on six of the eight millennium development goals, building consensus to meaningfully include the issue in the post-2015 development agenda. We are proud that this resolution was adopted unanimously by the General Assembly, with the overwhelming support of 116 co-sponsors from all regions of the world.
Canada has also committed to intensifying our programming efforts to end child, early, and forced marriage globally. Since 2013, Canada has contributed over $36 million to targeted programs aimed at ending child, early, and forced marriage globally. Our partners include UNICEF, Girls Not Brides, and civil society organizations around the world. Our programming focuses on empowering women and girls; preventing child, early, and forced marriage; supporting those who have already been married; engaging stakeholders at all levels; mobilizing communities; and strengthening legal frameworks.
Third is the elimination of violence against women and girls. The unequal treatment of women and girls is one of the main reasons why they are unable to realize their basic human rights and is a contributing factor to violence against women and girls. Canada leads the annual resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council on accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women. The 2014 resolution at the Human Rights Council focused on violence against women as a barrier to women's political and economic empowerment, was co-sponsored by 81 member states from all regions, and passed without a vote. Canada also uses the opportunity afforded by the Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council to voice our concerns and make our recommendations when it comes to preventing violence against women and girls and promoting their human rights.
As well, Canada is a strong supporter of the resolution on the “intensification of efforts to eliminate...violence against women” at the United Nations General Assembly.
Fourth is children and armed conflict. Canada is a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its first two optional protocols on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. However, more needs to be done. Canada is recognized as a leading advocate for children in situations of armed conflict. We established and chair the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict, an informal New York-based network of more than 38 member states. Members of the group have formed a united front to press for more robust action by the Security Council, including sanctions to hold perpetrators accountable for committing grave violations and abuses, such as the killing and raping of girls and boys and attacks on schools and hospitals. Canadian development investments in fragile states support child protection mechanisms. Our humanitarian assistance responds to the immediate needs of the most vulnerable, including the needs of children affected by conflict and natural disaster situations.
Fifth is trafficking in women and children. The Government of Canada recognizes the serious nature of human trafficking, which disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable members of societies, predominantly women and children. Human trafficking knows no boundaries and affects all countries, including Canada. Canada supports programs in countries that enhance the capacity to prevent and respond to threats posed by transnational criminal activity.
In June 2012, the Government of Canada announced Canada's national action plan to combat human trafficking, a comprehensive blueprint to guide the government's fight against this serious crime. In addition to taking concrete steps to address this scourge at home, Canada supports programs in countries that enhance the capacity to prevent and respond to threats posed by transnational criminal activity.
Sixth is women in international peace and security. Canada also addresses the rights of women and girls in conflict-affected countries and fragile states, as well as in situations of humanitarian crisis. Conflict and crisis can be both a cause of increased suffering for women and girls and a result of their subjugation within their communities and countries.
The empowerment of women and girls and their freedom from discrimination and violence are prerequisites to sustainable peace, development, and prosperity. This is why the government announced Canada's national action plan on women, peace, and security in 2010 and has tabled in Parliament the first two annual progress reports. The government continues to implement the action plan in close co-operation with Canadian civil society organizations and will be submitting the 2013-14 progress report soon. The government welcomes the report of the committee and agrees with the recommendations for the government to take a broad approach to promoting the empowerment, human rights, and well-being of women and girls.
Canada will continue this important work.