Why, Stephen Lewis said this exact same stuff to me just the other day.
Still, I think it bears repeating:
Despite being a major part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech to the World Economic Forum last week, the government's plan to champion action on maternal and child health is still a work in progress, CIDA Minister Bev Oda said Monday.
No kidding. She might consider starting right here at home. As former Minister of State for the Status of Women, she did nothing either.
Meanwhile, former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS Stephen Lewis has described Mr. Harper's speech as "a piece of crass, political opportunism" amid accusations the government is late to the issue, and sees women as mothers and little else.
Last Thursday, Mr. Harper outlined his goals and priorities for Canada's presidency of the G8 in a speech to state and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland. He noted that in developing countries, more than 500,000 women die each year in pregnancy and 9 million children die before the age of five.
"As president of the G8, Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's most vulnerable regions," he said. "It is therefore time to mobilize our friends and partners to do something for those who can do little for themselves, to replace grand good intentions with substantive acts of human good will."
Reducing the number of children who die before the age of five is the fourth Millennium Development Goal, while doing the same for mothers during pregnancy or childbirth is the fifth goal. They are the two MDGs that are furthest from being achieved by 2015.
Ms. Oda said the government has had its eye on these targets for some time, and argued that they fit neatly into CIDA's priority focus on children and youth, though nutrition for infants and mothers also relates to food security.
Ah. Might this explain its total withdrawal from anything to do with Palestinian human rights?
Ms. Oda said the plan now is to hold more consultations with an expanded list of stakeholders, particularly obstetricians and pediatricians in Canada who have worked internationally, as well as multilateral organizations, developing countries and G8 partners "to see what they had been supporting in the past and how and where they might chose to support the general initiative." She also plans to review projects currently supported by CIDA "to find out which ones are most effective, which ones are really making a difference."
So Harper takes all the international credit while Oda has all the 'splaining to do now and later, when nothing happens?
"You don't just throw in the phrase 'maternal and child health,'" Mr. Lewis said. "You actually spend some time setting out what you intend to do and putting a dollar figure beside it. And because there was none that, it's not that I can't take it seriously, it's just that it has to be taken cynically."
He also noted that other countries have been extremely active on the issue over the past three years, and his perception is the Conservative government "stumbled on it and finds it politically advantageous to pursue it at the G8."
"My objection is that you make an announcement without any dollar sign," he said, "without any appreciable planning, without any sense for how long Canada's commitment lasts, and what research and work has gone into laying the groundwork for it. And you pretend that somehow you're leading the world.
Can somebody please look yo the meaning of empty promise?
Equally troubling to Mr. Lewis is that the stated focus avoids many of the root causes of maternal and child deaths, particularly gender equality—which is actually another Millennium Development Goal.
"To deal with maternal health is also easy for Canada because it avoids all of the issues with which women are engaged beyond being mothers," he said.
"I don't think you'll ever overcome maternal mortality and you'll have a great deal of difficulty with child health until equality or something approaching equality is achieved. And women don't lead lives simply as child bearers. They lead whole lives where discrimination and hardship are felt in a whole world of other ways."
As if the Con men care.
According to sources, CIDA's efforts over the past decade to improve gender equality were reviewed a few years ago and an internal evaluation was released internally in April 2008. However, while the agency has been developing a plan to improve those activities, nothing has emerged.
Ms. Oda said the gender equality plan has not has been delivered to her office yet, but that Canada has been recognized for its leadership on work on "gender issues," which remain a cross-cutting theme for CIDA's work.
That's a pretty good punchline in and of itself.
But I just have to ask: Why hasn't Canada reported, as it was supposed to have done last November, to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which asked to hear how we are improving our sorry record on women's poverty and violence to aboriginal women?
Illustration: William Blake, Europe Supported By Africa and America, 1796. Engraving.