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G8/G20: The Issues Pt. 1

Women's Groups Respond to G8 Health Agenda

by Gwalgen Geordie Dent

PHOTO Toban Black
PHOTO Toban Black

Toronto - With a heavy focus on G8/20 security, protesters, weapons and summit costs, Mainstream Media have been accused of failing to cover another important aspect of the G8/20: the issues.  The Toronto Media Co-op takes aim at the Toronto G8/20 agenda and the grassroots response in a week-long series.

With concrete details emerging from a G8 development ministers meeting in April, women's health has been one of the more heavily reported-on issues for the G8 meetings this coming week.

Yesterday, activists in Toronto marched in "defense of the rights for all", while an event entitled "Harper's Attacks on Reproductive Rights at Home and Abroad" was held later in the evening.

Though the Canadian government's decision to stop funding abortions has drawn attention and criticism from other political parties and numerous women's rights groups, little attention has been paid to their refusal to fund fammily planning (contreception) as well.   More importanly, little is known about what else is contained in the maternal health initiative and how much success G8 initiatives have generated in general.

March and April articles in The Globe and Mail outlined the strong disagreements between UK and US ministers (former UK Minister David Miliband and the US' Hillary Clinton) in regards to a lack of the abortion and family planning elements in what is supposed to be Canada's "signature initiative".  However besides comments from Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon that the initiative would eliminate abortion and contraception funding abroad and focus on "saving and helping young children as well as mothers," there has been almost no other information released.

(ed note: reports indicate that Canadian Minister Bev Oda stated that contraception would be included in the initiative in April.)

Fariah Chawdhry, an Organizer with the Shelter Sanctuary Status Campaign says that this is one of the major problems with the G8, a group she feels is both undemocratic and dominated by men.  "I think the much larger question here is accountability, we don’t know what’s going on here," she said. Chawdry says that the G8 has a history of unveiling new initiatives (for example AIDS and food security projects) where ordinary people have neither a say in the process nor any details of what it entails.

"As long as the folks affected are not at the table, these decisions will be undemocratic," she said.

Anna Willats, a Professor at George Brown College agrees.  "I’m not understanding why the focus is on maternal and child health.  If [the G8] wants to be effective you have to look at promoting equality rights for all women.  What about seniors or women who remain childless?  These women have a lot to offer.  Are they not deserving of help?

"I’ve listened to activists from other countries; a women from Chad was talking about medicine.  Would Canada be willing to intercede with pharmaceuticals to ensure access for all women and childrens health?"

Willats also sees a major problem with the democratic structure of the G8.   "Some of the countries need to get a means to get grassroots women on the ground to the table.  Harper gets his info not from the women doing the work...he shuts them out...but from right wing groups like Real Women Canada."

While the finer details of the maternal health inititive have not been released there have been tremendous amounts of reports and releases on planned 'austerity measures' coming and what Bank of Canada Head Mark Carney has dubbed the "Age of Austerity" for developed nations.

Both Willats and Chawdhry believe that future budget cuts will hurt womens across the globe immensely.

"We only talk about austerity after we’ve bailed out the rich.  Women will bear the brunt of austerity costs.  Even the moderate talks on women’s health [at this years G8] will get shoved to the side when economic restructuring is being discussed, says Willats.

Chawdry adds, "I think we’re going to see things like the special diet cut, shelter beds being closed down, transitional shelter, rape crisis centers, food banks," being the focus of cuts.

While the G8 has historically introduced a number of initiatives, their success is often scrutinized.

"Usually with the G8 the host countries make a commitment, but these will not be met," says Greg Albo a Professor of Political Economy at York University.  "You saw this in 2005 with Africa - the [G8] Summit basically released an expansion of the Millenium Development Goals but none of these goals will be met."

According to documents prepared by the University of Toronto G8 Research Center the G8 has previously made committments on tuberculosis, AIDS, malaria and mother-to-children diseases; committments with deadlines set for this year have been previous made, but whether or not the commitments have been met has not yet been reported.

 "I don’t think they have a track record on meeting their goals," says Chawdhry. "I think there is little to no process on fallowing through; they do not get implemented and do not trickle down to the communities that are affected."

There have been no recent media releases by the Canadian government on the progress of these previous initiatives.

"I think parsing women’s lives up into pieces and saying we’re going to focus on this piece, will not help.  These folks are all sitting around in an ivory castle with little connection to the actual conditions for women on the ground," says Willats.

"TB and AIDS have actually been hightened in the world, particularily in the Global South.  I think there is no process to ensure these [initiatives] are followed in a meanful way and no accountability when people do not follow through on them.  Rather than coming up with another issue, the summit should focus on the fact that their policies have not been followed," says Chawdhry.


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