Will Canada step up and deliver on the promises we made to Malala Yousafzai?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I rise tonight to pursue a question I asked on a very memorable day, which was April 12 this spring. We were gathered here just hours after this place was electrified by the inspiring speech of Malala Yousafzai. She was extraordinary. I think we all remember her ability, her adept touch at humour, her compelling life story, and her challenge to Canada: to help, and make a priority, in the education of women and girls.

In question period that day, I asked the Prime Minister a question, and used the challenge that Malala Yousafzai had put to us. We will recall that her address laid out very clearly the case, the absolutely rock solid case, that educating women and girls was the best investment one could make in peace and security, and bettering the whole world.

As she said, “Secondary education for girls can transform communities, countries and our world.” However, she went on, “But around the world, 130 million girls are out of school today.” Her challenge to the Prime Minister, was “Dear Canada, I am asking you to lead once again”. She had very specific questions. Would the Prime Minister:

…make girls’ education a central theme of your G7 Presidency next year…use your influence to help fill the global education funding gap…Host the upcoming replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education…prioritize 12 years of school for refugees.

The Prime Minister’s answer was entirely positive, but as in the case with many answers in question period, it lacked specificity. Clearly, the Prime Minister spoke of the enormous honour of welcoming Malala Yousafzai. He agreed that we needed to do more. He agreed that in Canada’s G7 presidency, which will begin next year, there would be a strong emphasis on gender equality and opportunity for women and girls.

However, since that time, unfortunately the world has fallen short. There have been a number of disturbing developments. Again, one of these things still lies in the future, which is the G7 presidency for Canada.

The G7 meeting just months later, in June of this year, in Italy, was extremely disappointing. A much-anticipated report on education was shelved. Malala Yousafzai and her supporters, the Malala Fund, within 48 hours, generated more than 27,000 allies and individuals who mobilized in 134 countries, demanding the report be released. It was not.

Meanwhile, funding for the education of women and girls has dropped, particularly large funders. The United States and the United Kingdom, particularly, have reduced their funding. There is now less funding to meet this critical sustainable development goal for education than there was just a year ago. Another thing that was very specific in the challenge was whether Canada would step up to host the global replenishment, but, no, Senegal and France stepped up.

This is not a failure. This is not a broken promise, not yet. However, I ask the government, I ask the Prime Minister, and I ask the parliamentary secretary this. Will Canada step up and deliver on the promises we made to Malala Yousafzai?

Celina Caesar-Chavannes – Parliamentary Secretary for International Development

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I was to attend a toast to the late Jim Flaherty from my riding of Whitby this evening in support of the Abilities Centre, a project that he and his wife Christine worked hard to ensure came to fruition, so I want at this point to raise a toast from this venue to the late Jim Flaherty in honour of his work on the Abilities Centre.

To answer my hon. colleague’s question, we believe that every girl and boy should be able to go to school and complete primary and secondary education, regardless of their circumstances or refugee status. This is in line with Canada’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the United Nations in 2015.

We also believe that gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, and the promotion of human rights are key Canadian values. Canada integrates attention to gender equality into all issues of development programming and reduces barriers to girls’ education. We are providing community-based education, training teachers to address gender discrimination, and preventing gender-based violence in schools.

Canada is also working to end child, early, and forced marriage and to meet girls’ water, sanitation, and hygiene needs by providing $75 million to UNICEF for the WinS for Girls initiative. These initiatives emphasize our holistic approach to education, because girls cannot study or do well in school if these issues are not addressed.

Canada also supports increased access to education for girls, including in Kenya and Pakistan, as well as for Syrian refugee girls in Lebanon and Jordan. Canada is supporting a multi-donor initiative to meet the Government of Jordan’s commitment to ensure that girls and boys, including refugees, have access to public school.

In addition to supporting girls’ education, Canada is concerned about the gaps in education for crisis-affected children and refugees. We are providing $20 million to the Education Cannot Wait Fund for emergency education. Under the new Middle East strategy for 2016-2019, our government has so far committed $180 million to education initiatives for children affected by the Syria and Iraq crises.

In addition, Canada is providing $120 million to the Global Partnership for Education to strengthen education systems in 65 developing countries, actively participating in its board and committees, and supporting its work at the country level.

With respect to our work to address the education funding gap in developing countries, Canada was engaging with our G7 partners on the G7’s Taormina progress report, which will demonstrate Canada’s meaningful progress on education. This includes progress in areas where education outcomes have a direct impact on gender equality, health, inclusive growth, and peace and security. While it is too early to specify what themes Canada will prioritize next year during its G7 presidency, we certainly will build on efforts to strengthen gender equality and women’s empowerment, which cannot be achieved without education.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I join the parliamentary secretary in her toast to Jim Flaherty and thank Christine for their work for the Abilities Centre.

What we are looking at in terms of the education of women and girls remains urgent. I know we share a lot of the concerns in this place about that issue. To give the House a sense of the scale, Canada provided $20 million for the Education Cannot Wait Fund, but the fund aims to raise $3.85 billion. We have donated essentially a drop in the bucket. We can do better.

We provided $120 million to the Global Partnership in Education Replenishment campaign. The gap is huge. It needs to raise $3.1 billion for the period 2018-2020.

I know these are challenging things. There are multiple priorities that press on the government, but Malala Yousafzai is a Canadian citizen. I want her to be proud of her country. I want us to lead.

Celina Caesar-Chavannes – Parliamentary Secretary for International Development

Mr. Speaker, we both agree that the gap is huge. As I mentioned in my speech, we are taking a holistic approach to ensure that girls and boys have the education they need within crises and conflict in fragile zones.

With our new feminist international assistance policy, we are taking a comprehensive approach and ensuring that we are listening to local actors, that we are allowing for programming that listens to women and girls who are on the ground to ensure that once we make those investments in education, things like water and sanitation are also addressed. They also impact whether or not a girl could go to school and effectively thrive in that environment, whether a girl could reach her full potential because she will not be subjected to other acts of violence toward her. We want to make sure that we are looking at this issue comprehensively to ensure that girls can grow and reach their full potential.