Will PM Trudeau follow Harper's lead on girls' education?
Published Wednesday, April 12, 2017 5:35PM EDT
Last Updated Friday, April 14, 2017 12:35PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Malala Yousafzai delivered a powerful speech to Canadian parliamentarians Wednesday, in which she called on them to follow through on government promises to fund girls' education.
More than 130 million girls around the world aren't in school, according to UNESCO figures, and Canada has committed to ensuring education around the world through the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
"Our nations promised every girl she would go to school for 12 years," Yousafzai said in the House of Commons.
"I know that politicians cannot keep every promise they make, but this is the one you must honour."
Yousafzai praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his work on gender equity and with refugees, but made it clear she expects more from the feminist prime minister when it comes to helping women and girls.
Canadian aid funding has gone down since the Liberals took office in 2015, according to new OECD figures released Tuesday, hitting its second-lowest point in the last decade, at 0.26 per cent of gross national income.
Canada is one of the countries that committed in 1970 to spend 0.7 per cent of its GNI on aid. The closest it came was in 1975, at 0.54 per cent, according to OECD figures.
NDP foreign affairs critic Hélène Laverdière says pressure to increase funding hasn't just been coming from Yousafzai, but from multilateral groups, civil society and the NDP.
"Nothing is moving. What we've seen really in real terms is a decrease since the Liberals took power," she said following Yousafzai’s speech.
"We should be up to this challenge. Up to this challenge also includes investing money in girls' education… beyond words, we need actual money and that starts with increasing our international assistance money."
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the government will increase funding for girls' education, but suggested the overall aid budget isn't going up. The last federal budget had no additional funding for international development.
"We will focus our investment in international development towards women and girls, and we will invest more in education because this is the basis for women's empowerment," Bibeau said outside the House.
But asked whether she would increase funding, Bibeau said, "I don’t have a budget announcement today."
Yousafzai called on Canada to do for education what it did for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, by hosting a funding replenishment conference at which countries renew or increase their pledges. She also called on Canada to prioritize schooling for refugees, with only a quarter of refugee children getting secondary education right now.
But her other wish request may be most resonant: to make girls' education a central theme of the country's G7 presidency next year. The presidency rotates among its members, and it was during Canada's last presidency in 2010 that then-prime minister Stephen Harper used his chairmanship to leverage billions of dollars in funding for maternal, newborn and child health. The program was hugely successful and set Canada’s aid focus for the ensuing seven years (second-round funding was announced in 2015 and wraps up in 2020).
"We have a responsibility to improve the world. When future generations read about us... I don't want them to be shocked that 130 million girls could not go to school and we did nothing," Yousafzai said.
"I don't want them to be shocked that we did not stand up for child refugees, as millions of families fled their homes. I don't want us to be known for failing them. Let the future generations say we were the ones who stood up. Let them say we were the first ones - we were the first to live in a world where all girls could learn and lead without fear. Let us be the ones who bring the change we want to see."