Mr. Speaker, my colleague gave a superb speech, as she usually does. She reached an emotional pitch which, I hope, will not leave our colleagues across the aisle unmoved. Speaking after her is not easy. So I will try to keep it simple
I think that the G8 and G20 meetings give Canada an opportunity to say how important it is to achieve the millennium goals and how important it is to deal with maternal and child health. What do I mean by that?
It would be nice if it were easy and all we had to do was provide some money to supply clean water. It is great to have clean water in a number of developing countries. But when the situation is such that women have no control over their own bodies and are denied access to contraceptives, when they are not well and find themselves pregnant, when the pregnancy is high-risk and they cannot get an abortion that would help them regain their health, these women are going to die, give birth to a child who is not healthy or be permanently weakened by their pregnancy. Instead of these women being able to contribute, first, to their own happiness and that of their children and husband, if they have one, and then to the development of their country, they will be dead or at least a burden.
There is a lot of interest, at present, in these issues. I was at the Council of Europe in January and at the debate on Friday, when usually nobody is there, about a hundred people were present. We saw a very vigorous debate between the progressives and liberals on one side and the conservatives on the other. I am sure everyone here will be surprised.
At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 179 countries agreed that population and development are inextricably linked, that women need their autonomy and that the educational and health needs of couples and individuals need to be met, especially in regard to reproductive health, for the sake of both their personal well-being and international development. The conference adopted a 20-year action program focusing on the needs and rights of individuals rather than on demographic objectives.
That was not all. Advancing the equality of men and women, eliminating violence against women and ensuring that women are able to control their own fertility were acknowledged as the cornerstones of population and development policy. The conference objectives were basically access to universal education, the reduction of maternal and infant mortality, and universal access by 2015 to reproductive health care, particularly family planning services, birthing assistance and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV-AIDS.
The Parliamentary Assembly noted that even though progress had been achieved, the results remained modest in regard to school attendance, equity and equality between the sexes, infant, child and maternal mortality and morbidity, and access to sexual and reproductive health services, including—and this is what is lacking in the motion—family planning and safe abortion services.
One hundred and thirteen countries have not achieved the gender equity and equality objectives when it comes to primary and secondary school education. It was estimated in 2007 that 137 million women did not have access to family planning and more than 500,000 died each year for pregnancy-related reasons. Ninety-nine percent of these women lived in developing countries.
In addition, violence against women, especially domestic violence and rape, is still common. More and more women are in danger of catching AIDS and other STDs because of the risky behaviours of their partners. In many countries, prejudicial practices to control the sexuality of women cause much suffering, for instance, female genital mutilation, which is a human rights violation and puts women’s health at risk for their entire lives.
The parliamentary assembly's general declaration of principle allows us to take a step back from the problems we are having in Quebec and to focus on other countries where a growing number of women, from little girls to grandmothers, are having more serious problems. Often grandmothers end up raising their grandchildren.
In the current context, international aid has to provide real tools for development. There cannot be any real development if women do not have access to equality and independence in their personal lives and the freedom to control their own bodies. This is essential. We cannot assist development if women are not in control of their fertility, if they cannot raise the children they bring into the world and if they do not have the right to abortion, if necessary. It is a right that is closely linked to international aid, but some people are afraid to admit it.
I re-read the 1988 Supreme Court ruling, which declared the abortion law of the time unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has reiterated—constantly, unanimously and in a number of rulings—that the right to freedom is a fundamental right, and that freedom includes having control over one's body.
Fortunately we have the opportunity to have this debate. If it does not lead to a dialogue, then at least it will allow the Parliament of Canada to strongly reaffirm as a majority that the right to maternal and child health is essential.