How Canada Is Funding Women’s Health Around the World
In 2018, Canada contributed $128 million to the UN family planning fund to empower women and girls.
The Canadian government reiterated their commitment to funding women’s global health at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) this week in Kenya.
Delegates from over 160 countries gathered to discuss women’s sexual and reproductive health at ICPD25, a summit organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), taking place from Nov. 12 to 14 at the Kenya International Conference Center in Nairobi.
The event marked the 25th anniversary of the ICPD first held in Cairo, Egypt, where governments adopted an action plan for women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health for all.
“We still have a long road ahead of us in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and we know the SDGs will only be attained if we fully realize the goals of ICPD’s [action plan] along the way,” Lisa Stadelbauer, Canada’s high commissioner to Kenya, told Global Citizen.
Although Canada is considered a core donor of UNFPA as it is one of the top 20 donor countries, in 2018, its contributions fell behind Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Japan, Germany, Finland, and Switzerland.
In 2018, Canada contributed over US$128 million, in both core funding and co-financing contributions. A UNFPA spokesperson said this amount is distributed amongst the agency’s various funds: the Maternal and Newborn Health Thematic Fund, the Humanitarian Action Thematic Fund, and UNFPA Supplies.
UNFPA Supplies is a thematic program dedicated to expanding access to family planning in 46 of the poorest countries around the world, which have high rates of maternal mortality.
To date, Canada has supported UNFPA Supplies with an investment of US$15.3 million, according to a spokesperson for the agency. This investment is estimated to have averted 1.3 million unintended pregnancies, 400,000 unsafe abortions, and 24,000 mother and child deaths.
Canada is also on the steering committee of UNFPA Supplies.
“When we sit with Canada to plan, they ask us to pay attention to the countries with the greatest needs, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Mali — and they give us [UNFPA Supplies] additional resources for those countries,” Dr. Gifty Addico, chief of commodity security branch in UNFPA’s technical division, told Global Citizen.
She shared that in recent years, while “other countries fell back on their support, Canada stepped forward and said it would make a significant contribution.”
Canada’s involvement in UNFPA Supplies has been essential to the fund’s rights-based approach, according to Addico.
“It’s not just about increasing numbers, but empowering women and upholding their rights and upholding their choices. This [reminder from Canada is] what we value about Canada’s contribution to this program,” she said.
Canada adopted a Feminist International Assistance policy in 2017, placing gender equality at the centre of the country’s foreign aid priorities. It committed funds to combat gender-based violence, to respond to sexual violence in conflict zones, and to increase access to health care services such as family planning, contraception, and safe and legal abortion.
In June, the government announced a 10-year commitment to reach an average of CAD$1.4 billion in annual investments by 2023 to support the health of women, adolescents, and children around the world.
Addico said Canada’s multi-year commitment has helped UNFPA Supplies stretch the money further.
“When we have visibility of funding we can reduce processes and negotiate [better costs on supplies] with governments, so it helps our supply chain be more efficient,” she explained.
Although the government’s feminist foreign aid announcement made headlines, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who identifies as a feminist — is widely considered to be globally conscious, Canada falls short on foreign aid.
The United Nations’ target for foreign aid from developed countries is 0.7% of a country’s Gross National Income (GNI). Canada currently sits at 0.28% — and the country's foreign aid spending has been wavering in recent years. Canada’s foreign aid contribution peaked in 1987, when the country dedicated 0.5% of its GNI to aid, nearly double the current rate.