Sunday, March 14, 2010

Clinton vs Guergis

What a contrast, reading Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's address to the UN on Friday then reading Minister of State Helena Guergis' address of March 2nd. The power of one over the other is so evident. Clinton's is full of groundbreaking statements and there's credibility that comes with who she is in that role. Her speech was well-received, naturally (there is video at the link above, well worth watching). Guergis, by contrast, is said to have fallen flat and if you read the speech, you can surmise why.

Guergis provided a litany of statistics on women's progress in Canada that likely meant little to those in the room, geared more so toward the domestic audience. For example, she highlighted the federal cabinet being "28.9%" women in Canada. Such statistics mean little if their policies are discriminatory toward women ("Women getting less of Tories' cash,") or if they're bent on dismantling the long gun registry or have abolished advocacy funds for women in Canada. The underlying reality undermines the presentation.

Consider, for example, Clinton on maternal health and notice what she combines it with:
We aim to reduce maternal and child mortality and increase access to family planning.
Yet consider Guergis' statements on the same point, a Canadian minister dares not say that to the world:
Prime Minister Harper said when he addressed world leaders in Davos in January "Every year over 500,000 women die in pregnancy and nearly nine million children die before their fifth birthday. Often the keys of life are nothing more sophisticated than clean water and basic treatment against infection."

That's why Prime Minister Harper announced that as host of this year's G8 Summit, Canada will champion a major initiative to improve the health of women and children in the world's most vulnerable regions as part of its international aid efforts.

In fact, in Haiti alone there are thousands of pregnant women at risk of giving birth in unsafe and unsanitary conditions as a result of this year's earthquake. Clearly our leadership on this initiative cannot come too soon.
We're all unsafe and unsanitary conditions, fine, but the elephant in the room is there. The fact that the Harper government chooses not to include such words as family planning in their speeches at such events is indeed a real choice. Bev Oda confirmed this recently:
CIDA Minister Bev Oda says the government's child and maternal health strategy will not address unsafe abortions in developing countries or support access to family planning and contraceptives. Rather, she said that to ensure the aid agency remains effective, "it's the lives of mothers and babies that we are focused on."
I choose Hillary's formulation.

Beyond the contrast in how we're choosing to address maternal health, there are also the Harper government's policies on climate change, essentially inaction, and the message they've sent by dialling back commitments to gender equality internationally. Those messages are emblazoned on Canada's international stature now when ministers such as Guergis speak to international forums. It's no surprise to hear that the international community is not impressed.

Update: Here's the video of Clinton: