Trudeau announces landmark investments in women’s sexual health rights

Ana P. Santos
Trudeau announces landmark investments in women’s sexual health rights
(UPDATED) The financial commitment puts Canada on the map as the world's leading donor to comprehensive sexual reproductive health rights

VANCOUVER, Canada (UPDATED) – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Tuesday, June 4, his government’s plan to increase by 1.4 billion Canadian dollars its invesment supporting maternal and newborn health around the world.

Of the annual investment, about 700 million Canadian dollars will be allocated to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Trudeau made the announcement at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference, the largest global health conference on women’s reproductive health rights and gender equality.

The financial commitment puts Canada on the map as the world’s leading donor to comprehensive sexual reproductive health rights.

“This summit is another chance to keep creating meaningful progress on women’s empowerment. Globally and here at home, we’re seeing attacks on women’s rights. The moment for Canadian leadership is now. We’re stepping up,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau, speaking before the estimated 8,000 delegates from all over the globe, has condemned what he called “the politicizing of women’s reproductive health rights” and the global pushback against women’s reproductive health rights.

Canada’s financial support comes at a time when the US government imposed a “global gag rule” that prevents any charity that offers or even advises women about abortion services from receiving US funding.

In recent months, several US states like Alabama have passed abortion policies that are so restrictive that public health advocates have referred to them as “abortion bans.”

Mending cracks

When he was elected in 2015, Trudeau fulfilled his campaign commitments to transparency, feminism, and indigenous rights by appointing a gender-balanced cabinet.

In 2017, Trudeau launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy that integrates gender equality and women empowerment in Canada’s international development assistance programs.

In the Philippines, Likhaan Center for Women’s Health has opened 4 reproductive health clinics in marginalized communities in Manila and Eastern Samar with assistance from the Canadian Embassy and other Canadian organizations.

The Canadian Embassy also supported Oxfam Philippines in launching the Sexual Health and Empowerment (SHE) Project, which provides sexual reproductive health rights (SRHR) services to 6 conflict-affected regions in the Philippines benefitting an estimated 85,000 people.

While lauded internationally as trailblazing and bold, Trudeau faced criticism domestically. His feminist agenda was criticized as a publicity stunt, with the prime minister being a willing poster boy.

Now, amid democratically elected despots who wear their sexism and misogyny like badges of honor, Trudeau stands out as an outlier.

Today’s announcement on Canada’s additional funding support is seen as filling in the gap left by the US’ “global gag rule” on abortion.

“I don’t think it can fill in the gap. But what Canada is doing is playing a leadership role as a responsible donor. It’s not just about the investment. It’s taking a very clear position to say that we are talking about women’s health and women’s rights, and these are non-negotiable,” said Rita Morbia, executive director of InterPas, a Canada-based nongovernmental organization that focuses on equality and social justice.

Ipas, an international reproductive health and rights organization focused on expanding access to safe abortion and contraceptive care, lauded the additional investment by the Canadian government.

“The Canadian government’s announcement to continue to invest in the sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and girls, including access to safe abortion care, sends a signal that these rights are critical to international development and are a fundamental part of human rights,” said Anu Kumar, president and CEO of Ipas.

“At a time when sexual and reproductive rights are under threat, it is a welcome and needed reminder that human rights are universal and apply to Canadian women just as much as they do to women living outside Canada. We applaud the Canadian government in its long term vision for women and girls.”


Pauline and Claire both work with the Women First Project that aims to make safe abortion accessible to women. They asked that only their first names be used as they work in sensitive environments around the world where abortion is criminalized.

They described the events in the US and the global crackdown on women’s rights as “something coming out of a dystopian novel.”

“It will get worse before it gets better,” Claire said.

But the two women remain hopeful.

Dozens of advocates and supporters dropped by the Women First Project booth at the 2019 Women Deliver Conference to say that they want to be part of the conversation to advance abortion rights and give more women information about accessing safe abortion.

Pauline said she has seen a similar kind of “pushback on the pushback” at the grassroots level.

Abortion has long been considered “the bad word” in the reproductive health discourse. This might just be the time when that changes. –

Ana P. Santos is covering the Women Deliver 2019 Conference in Vancouver, Canada, with support from Women Deliver. 

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