Address by Minister Bibeau to 62nd session of UN Commission on the Status of Women side event on tackling climate change through the empowerment of rural women and girls

Speech

March 12, 2018 – New York, United States

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

Thank you for that kind introduction.

I am so pleased to be here with you today to talk about a subject that is key to a more hopeful and positive future for all: empowering rural women and girls as a way of tackling climate change.

When we consider that 46% of the world’s population is rural, it is clear that the fight against extreme poverty and hunger will be won or lost in the rural areas of developing countries.

And I know from the women I have talked to on many of my trips that they are already on the front lines of this battle against climate change.

Many of them are especially vulnerable to climate change since their livelihoods are highly dependent on natural resources that are sensitive to climate variability.

Many of those women are farmers: 43% of women in developing countries work in agriculture, and 79% of working women in least-developed countries earn their living through agriculture.

They do so with dedication and strength, in service to their families and communities, often without much acknowledgement or pay. One in three married women has no control over family spending or major purchases.

And yet, women perform three times as much unpaid work as men. They are the ones who carry water and firewood, cook the meals, look after the young, the sick and the elderly—all while trying to earn an income.

The world is at a turning point for women, where they are speaking up and their voices are being heard.

Canada believes that the best way to eradicate poverty is to create the conditions for women and girls to realize their full potential.

That is why Canada adopted a Feminist International Assistance Policy last year.

Canada is committed to amplifying women’s voices and promoting their leadership at all levels. Through our Women’s Voice and Leadership Program, for instance, we have allocated $150 million to helping women’s civil society organizations and movements in developing countries that promote the rights of women and girls, increasing their social, economic and political power.

In Haiti, I recently announced that the program will support up to 30 local organizations and women’s-rights advocacy networks.

Rooted in their communities, women’s organizations play a key role in defining needs and priorities, challenging the status quo, and holding governments to account.

Our partners must involve women in decision-making and make sure that projects respond to their specific needs.

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy also recognizes that women and girls are uniquely affected by the damaging effects of climate change.

We support women’s leadership and decision-making in climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. We are helping them to build resilience to climate shocks and training them in sustainable natural resource management.

And we are working to ensure that our government’s climate-related planning, policy-making and funding address the particular challenges faced by women and girls.

In addition, I believe we need to focus on rural women, not just because they are in vulnerable situations but, more importantly, because they are powerful and hold such potential for positive change.

Rural women are indeed on the front lines of food security and climate change.

Agriculture is therefore key to building resilience—but not just any form of agriculture. It must be climate-smart and centred on innovative smallholder farms.

Farmers who know how to adapt to changing conditions are better able to be resilient to climate shocks. In fact, being adaptive is key to ensuring that these farms succeed and thrive as small businesses.

I will never forget a woman named Ibodo, whom I met in Burkina Faso. She supported her family with a small farm and sold her produce at the market.

Once she got some extra agricultural training with help from Canadian programs, Ibodo was able to increase her profits. That meant that her daughter could finish her education and hope for a better life, instead of having to marry at a very young age.

In fact, Ibodo was so successful that she bought a solar panel for the roof of her house.

This is such an impressive example of someone learning how to adapt to changing climate conditions.

As our panellists will be discussing, small island states are on the front lines of the impacts of climate change.

That is why Canada was quick to respond in the aftermath of the hurricanes that struck the Caribbean last fall. We pledged $100 million over five years to the reconstruction efforts of Caribbean sovereign states and to help these states become more adaptive—and therefore more resilient—to climate change.

In fact, I was heartened to hear that, in the Dominican Republic, nearly half of those being trained to assess building damages were women.

Rural women are critical to meeting the climate goals and commitments made in the Paris Agreement because they are innovators and leaders in shifting to sustainable solutions.

To support them, we need to uphold their rights and give them the resources and opportunities to do so.

As mentioned, rural women don’t have the same access and control over land and productive resources that men do.

But if they did, research has shown that food production would jump by 30%—enough to pull 150 million people out of hunger.

Investing in climate-smart agriculture and local businesses led by women means growth that works for everyone.

But if we want to tackle gender inequalities, men and boys will also need to help us overcome discriminatory laws and cultural norms so that women can become equal partners.

Our policy recognizes that to foster innovation we need to make real and lasting change. And we must build our partnerships.

We are looking at opportunities to increase the impact of our $150‑million envelope for local women’s organizations by involving philanthropic organizations.

Following our announcement in June of last year, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $20 million in the fall of 2017 to supporting local women’s organizations.

Canada knows how to find consensus and bring people together. I often say that funding international development is only part of what we do. For us, showing leadership is fundamental.

We can encourage other countries to continue to be involved in global institutions. Canada’s role in the world has historically been that of a global convenor, in areas such as peacekeeping, human rights and climate change.

First among Canada’s foreign policy priorities is the need to support a rules-based international order, and all its institutions, and to find ways to strengthen and improve them.

We played a leading role in the negotiations to adopt a Gender Action Plan at COP23 [Conference of the Parties]. The plan is designed to integrate gender considerations into climate change actions and encourage climate-related resources that reflect the needs of women and girls.

We will continue to ensure that women are at the table in international climate negotiations.

You can count on Canada to stand for the rights of women and the full participation of women and girls in building a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world.

And now, I look forward to hearing the perspectives of the panel members.

Thank you.

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