The Muskoka Initiative: helping every woman, every child?
In November 2010, the government of Canada launched the Muskoka Initiative to help “prevent the deaths of 1.3 million children under five and 64,000 mothers” worldwide. The countries who will benefit – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Haiti, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Sudan, Burma, and Tanzania – are known for high rates of disease and death in mothers and children. At the end of this year, our country will be responsible for giving nearly three billion dollars to these causes. 97 percent of the funds have been distributed as of January 2015. The Muskoka Partnership Program will provide another $82 million over the same period, while the Saving Every Woman, Every Child campaign continues this work from 2015 to 2020. Canada has pledged $3.5 billion during that time.
Here are a few projects that Muskoka has implemented:
- $6,600,000 going to provide nutrition supplements and manage malnutrition in Afghanistan
- $18,000,000 to eradicate polio in Nigeria
- $15,000,000 to provide education on nutrition and training in home-based agricultural production in Tanzania and nearby nations
- $5,764,283 to improve sanitation and hygiene in Haiti, Ethiopia, and other countries
These sound like great ideas, don’t they? Everyone wants to see mothers and children around the world thrive. Resource-rich countries like ours should help their neighbours in need. Unfortunately, some of our Muskoka partners advocate and finance questionable practices along with all the good they do. Organizations such as the Clinton Health Access Initiative, UNICEF, the United Nations Population Fund, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation see contraception and abortion as the solution to poverty. (In fact, the Clinton group is a key player at a 2020 conference on “family planning” in London. Papers which will be presented there include Family Planning Improves Nutrition: Evidence from Studies in Low- and Middle-Income Countries and Family Planning Improves Food Security: Evidence from Studies in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Since when does a supply of contraceptives relieve hunger? We should strive to increase the amount of food available instead of killing off the number of people who can consume a set portion.)
More specific Muskoka goals include providing family planning (and “averting unintended pregnancies”!) in Nigeria, training for reproductive health in Tanzania, and reproductive health care in Mali. A detailed profile for the Malian project shows that 69% of the funding will go to reproductive health care. The remaining 31% will go to promotion of basic nutrition practices – when the expected outcome includes “improved nutrition practices of women and children (and) increased use of integrated maternal, newborn and child health services by women and children under five years of age.” “Reproductive health” is a general term that encompasses a variety of necessary services. However, it is also used as a euphemism for contraception and abortion on demand by many non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It is difficult to trace where Canadian tax dollars are spent, but I hope that Stephen Harper’s promise to keep abortion out of our country’s international maternal health funding is upheld.
Even more troubling is the refrain repeated by these NGOs, that women around the world want – let alone beg for – such services. It seems they are upset that only 1.4% of Muskoka Initiative funding is directed towards contraception. Less than 2% of anything doesn't seem like a lot, but if the budget is almost 3 billion dollars, you can do the math (Hint: most Canadians don't see this amount of money in their lifetime). Nigerian-born biomedical scientist and activist Obianuju Ekeocha wrote the following in an open letter to Melinda Gates: “Amidst all the socioeconomic and political instabilities, our babies are always a firm symbol of hope, a promise of life, a reason to strive for the legacy of a bright future…Where Europe and America have their well-oiled health care system, a woman in Africa with a contraception-induced blood clot does not have access to 911 or an ambulance or a paramedic. No, she dies…Please Melinda, listen to the heart-felt cry of an African woman and mercifully channel your funds to pay for what we REALLY need.”
As the saying goes, everything looks like a nail when you have a hammer. We are nearing the end of the Muskoka Initiative and are well into the Save Every Woman, Every Child campaign. The real question is, when all is said and done, and the bank accounts have been emptied, will our government be able to guarantee that Canadian money was spent on life-affirming and life-saving foreign aid? Or will Canada be known for its global promotion of contraception and abortion in the developing world?