Category Archives: Action Canada Spotlight

[Op-Ed] Delaying Gender Identity In Sex Ed Plays Politics With Kids’ Lives

Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum fails to meet the rights and needs of kids

Op-Ed published in the Huffington Post

Activists should be proud this week. The fact that Ontario Education Minister Lisa Thompson announced on Friday that her government will not exclude vital lessons around LGBTQ+ sexuality, consent, and social-media literacy from Ontario’s sexuality education curriculum is proof that the massive wave of public push-back in support for sex-ed is working. The overwhelming majority of parents, educators, and young people who stood up to fight for sex-ed were impossible to ignore. It’s a win for sex-ed but what the government announced is a compromise between what they want and what parents, teachers, and young people are asking for.

Ontario’s plan for the sex-ed curriculum still fails to meet the rights and needs of kids. We need to remain vigilant.

Ontario’s new sex-ed curriculum will remain a step back from where we got to in 2015. The minister said that the curriculum will delay teaching about gender identity and expression until Grade 8, which is the latest they can possibly push it within elementary school curriculums. These compromises may seem small but they have serious implications for students and their families, particularity LGBTQ+ youth and their families. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. Now is the time to recognize that protest works and that we should continue to push until no child is left behind.

First, some context: according to UN experts and the 2018 UNESCO International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education, no curriculum in Canada meets the highest quality standards for sex ed. Almost no kid in Canada is getting the complete education they need to live full, healthy lives. Those few who do are fortunate enough to have exceptional supports that are often offered by sexual health experts who have made it their mandate to build capacity in schools or with children themselves. But this is the exception, not the rule.

The inconsistent, patchwork nature of quality sex education throughout Canada is nothing less than a human rights violation. That is why a recent letter sent from a large group of UN human rights experts to Prime Minister Justin Trudeaudemands that Canada immediately intervene to ensure that young people across Canada, in every jurisdiction, have equal access to high-quality sex ed. And that is why Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is campaigning for better sex ed everywhere in Canada.

Playing politics with the health of kids is a dangerous thing for any government to do. Thankfully, the public has proved that it has no intention of sacrificing the well-being of young people because of unwarranted fears based on misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia.

We should feel proud that parents, educators, and young people were successful in pushing back against what could have been an unmitigated disaster. But we should also remain deeply concerned that the new curriculum will not meet the needs of our kids.

The fact that children will not be taught about gender identity until Grade 8 may not seem like a big deal but it will have a huge negative impact. The notion that including gender diversity in classroom discussions is not “age-appropriate” is patently untrue, as well as dangerously stigmatizing. Most children will develop a sense of their gender identity between the ages of two and five. How is that child meant to feel when people are telling them that their thoughts, feelings and indeed, their whole self is not “appropriate” to express? For kids who are gender diverse, or gender creative, knowing that gender expression and diversity exists and that it is normal will have real consequences for their mental and physical health. This isn’t about politics, this is about real people and their lives.

All kids need to learn about gender identity. Gender roles that teach boys to be tough and unemotional and girls to be submissive and pleasing have serious consequences too. These messages, so pervasive in society and media, must be actively managed through gender-sensitive, gender inclusive, age-appropriate sexuality education that begins in kindergarten.

[op-ed]Dear Canada: We need sustained leadership on global sexual and reproductive health and rights

Published in the Hills Time and National News Watch

When it comes to standing up for sexual and reproductive health and rights, Canada is back.

There is a crisis of leadership on global development and nowhere is that more evident than in the area of sexual and reproductive health.

Canada’s support for women and girls to exercise their rights to bodily autonomy, make choices about their own reproductive health, and be treated with dignity and respect is driving economic, social, and political progress around the world.

There is enormous demand for services related to sexual and reproductive health. Every year 214 million women in developing countries want to prevent pregnancy but don’t have access to modern contraception. A lack of access to sexual and reproductive health services means that every day 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth and most of these deaths occur in fragile states, many of them affected by war and natural disaster.

Despite the obvious and pressing need, the last year has been marred with setbacks for sexual and reproductive health and rights.

From the fallout of Trump’s Global Gag Rule, to the crackdown on the LGBT community in Tanzania, the pushback against a person’s autonomy to make decisions about their own bodies and sexuality is being felt around the world. Stigma, the rise of regressive and populist movements, and major funding cuts to development assistance are all fueling a looming crisis for sexual health and reproductive rights.

The Trump administration’s Global Gag Rule has slashed access to comprehensive health services like access to safe abortion and put life-saving care out of reach for many communities. Preliminary studies from Uganda, Senegal, and Nepal show that the Global Gag Rule has already led to less access to contraceptives and scaled back delivery of critical services. Vulnerable populations—rural and hard-to-reach communities, refugees, LGBTQI+ people, and youth—are the most affected by these cuts.

It is against this backdrop of shrinking global leadership that Canada has emerged as a champion for women’s rights and gender equality on the world stage. Since 2017, Canada has introduced its Feminist International Assistance Policy, committed $650 million to sexual and reproductive health and rights, and will host the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver in June of 2019.

These actions have already had an immense impact. In 2017-2018, Canada invested $43 million on family planning, which helped 1.4 million women and couples access contraception and prevented 387,000 unintended pregnancies.

That is why this month, over 100 organizations around the world signed a statement applauding Canada for its leadership. But the Government of Canada still needs to increase its investment in global sexual and reproductive rights if we want to see long-term change.

As part of the 100 plus organizations, we are calling on the Canadian government to double down on its commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights by investing $500 million a year over 10 years to the neglected areas of sexual and reproductive health as part of a $1.4 billion renewed commitment to global health beyond 2020.

By deepening its commitment, Canada can help empower 18 million women and adolescents—the same number of girls and women in Canada today—by supporting access to comprehensive sex-ed, safe abortion, and contraceptive care.

For women and girls, their families, and communities, investing in critical sexual and reproductive health services saves lives. This also results in cost-savings across health systems and leads to benefits in education, employment, and gender equality and empowerment.

More investment in sexual and reproductive health means basic access to contraception and menstrual products in emergency settings, like for Rohingya women in refugee camps in Bangladesh. It helps those on the frontlines care for the most vulnerable women and girls around the world and it is vital for maintaining the progress that has been made over the last two and a half years.

This is a time of both hostility and progress for women’s rights—and human rights. The world needs Canada now more than ever. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are the cornerstone of gender equality, strong economies, and healthy lives. This must remain at the heart of Canada’s global leadership.

We’ve heard from those on the frontlines who witness everyday the fallout of attacks on sexual and reproductive health and rights. As a country, we have taken a bold step. Now is the time to show the world that Canada is here to stay. Our leadership is vital and the world’s women and girls are counting on us.

Sandeep Prasad is Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. Julie Delahanty is Executive Director of Oxfam Canada.

[Op-Ed] The GNWT Must Remove All Barriers to the Abortion Pill

Op-ed published in Edge North

In November, NWT Health Minister Glen Abernethy said the territory would cover the abortion pill (branded as Mifegymiso in Canada) for residents who do not have any other form of health insurance.

FOXY (Fostering Open eXpression among Youth), the Midwives Association of the Northwest Territories,Northern Options for Women and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights wrote an open letter to the Premier asking him to go even further and provide universal cost-coverage for the abortion pill, and give healthcare providers other than physicians, such as midwives and nurse practitioners, the authority to prescribe it.

Some might say that partial coverage is better than no coverage. But we know from evidence across other provinces and territories that without universal cost-coverage, people can’t access the services they need and are entitled to.

In the case of the abortion pill, it means some people don’t claim the drug under their private insurance fearing disclosure to family members because they are covered through a spouse or parent. It means that some people who have private insurance may only be covered partially or not at all.

Private insurance often means dealing with co-pays, deductibles, paying upfront and filling out complicated paperwork only to be reimbursed later. This creates undue financial and administrative stress to many, especially when the abortion pill costs anywhere from $350 to $450.

We also know that the abortion pill is time sensitive, accessible only within the first nine weeks of pregnancy in Canada. There is often no time to navigate insurance claims that can delay and ultimately jeopardize access to this necessary medical procedure.

Alongside universal cost-coverage and in an effort to reduce delays, the government needs to allow midwives and other healthcare providers to prescribe the abortion pill – in addition to physicians.

This is crucial in Canada’s north where residents sparingly have access to a doctor.  Northern Options for Women is a program that provides abortion services to people in the NWT. Their mission is to provide accessible, non-judgmental, evidenced-based abortion care. With more support from the government and the expanding ability of midwives and nurse practitioners to prescribe the abortion pill they could support increased access to abortion services and care in the NWT.

We know what the harmful impact of barriers to abortion, such as cost, look like. Barriers increase the number of unsafe abortions and the burden placed on those who are forced to travel long distances to access care. This disproportionately impacts young people, low-income earners and those living in rural and remote communities.

To address these issues, the NWT government must implement universal cost-coverage for the abortion pill and expand prescribing authority of the drug. Together, this will meaningfully begin to dismantle unjust barriers that prevent access to this medically necessary service.

If the NWT government provides universal cost-coverage to the abortion pill – just as nine other provinces and territories in Canada already have – it would reduce health inequities and improve accessibility, especially for people in rural and remote communities. It would also reduce the overall health care costs for abortion procedures, given the travel required to regional hospitals as well as hospital time for patients undergoing an abortion.

If healthcare truly is universal, access to abortion shouldn’t depend on your postal code.

Beyond equal access to health, increasing access to abortion care is a gender equality issue, and a human rights issue.

Universal cost-coverage of the abortion pill, and allowing midwives and nurse practitioners to prescribe the pill, has the potential to greatly advance reproductive rights in the NWT. When reproductive rights are secured, people are best placed to decide if, when and how many children to have, to have families in supportive environments, to exercise their right to health and bodily autonomy, to live empowered lives.

Governments in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, and soon in the Yukon, have implemented universal cost-coverage programs to ensure their residents have access to the abortion pill – so why not in the NWT?

Candice Lys holds a PhD in Public Health, is co-founder/executive director of FOXY/SMASH and lives in Yellowknife. Sandeep Prasad is executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights in Ottawa.

[Press Release] Sterilizing Indigenous Women without Consent is Torture, says UN Committee

(OTTAWA, ON, December 7, 2018) – In a report released today, the United Nations Committee Against Torture officially recognized that sterilizing Indigenous women without consent is a form of torture, and called on Canada to “ensure that all allegations of forced or coerced sterilization are impartially investigated, that the persons responsible are held accountable and that adequate redress is provided to the victims.”

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), Amnesty International Canada, and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights strongly support the recommendations of the UN Committee Against Torture, and call on Canada to:

  • Thoroughly investigate all allegations of forced or coerced sterilizations of Indigenous women in Canada;
  • Establish policies and accountability mechanisms across Canada that provide clear guidance on how to ensure sterilizations are only performed with free, full, and informed consent; and
  • Provide access to justice for survivors and their families.

“Canada’s legacy of colonialism and genocide have led to discrimination against Indigenous women in Canada’s public healthcare system,” said Francyne Joe, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada. “Sterilizing an Indigenous woman without her free, prior, and informed consent is invasive, medically unnecessary, and a serious violation of her right to life, liberty, and security of the person.”

In October 2017, a class action lawsuit was proposed in Saskatchewan representing more than 60 Indigenous women who say they were sterilized without their consent. Most women reported being sterilized in the last 10-15 years, and as recently as 2017. Since then, women in other provinces have reported they too were sterilized without consent in recent years. How widespread this practice is across Canada is unknown.

“Today’s report from the UN affirmed that sterilizing women without consent is intentional, committed by state officials, causes serious harm, and is rooted in discrimination,” said Jackie Hansen, Gender Rights Campaigner with Amnesty International Canada. “This is the very definition of torture, one of the most egregious human rights violations, and it must be stopped now.”

As a State Party to the UN Convention Against Torture, Canada’s record on preventing and addressing torture and other forms of ill-treatment is periodically reviewed by the UN Committee Against Torture. Canada’s most recent review took place last month in Geneva and the report issued today outlines the Committee’s recommendations stemming from this review. The Committee also called on Canada to adopt laws and policies to prevent and criminalize sterilization without consent, and to clearly define “the requirements of free, prior and informed consent with regard to sterilization and by raising awareness among Indigenous women and medical personnel of that requirement.”

Notably, the Committee has signaled that this deeply troubling human rights concern is of such urgency that Canada has been asked to provide an interim progress report back one year from now, rather than waiting for the next review in five or six years. This means that the Committee has put forced or coerced sterilization high on the list of issues that need to immediately be addressed when it comes to preventing and addressing torture and ill-treatment in Canada.  Governments across Canada must do the same.

“All levels of government and healthcare agencies have a role to play in ending sterilizations without consent. The federal government is a signatory to international human rights treaties and therefore, as duty bearer, needs to exert leadership to end reproductive violence,” said Sarah Kennell, Director of Government Relations at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. “The federal government must engage provinces in ensuring this does not happen again, in investigating when it does and stopping human rights violations like these across Canada.”

“Too many Indigenous women have experienced trauma, shame, and stigma because they have been permanently sterilized without their consent,” said Francyne Joe. “We have the right to make decisions about our health and our bodies. We have the right to give birth in hospitals without fear. And we need immediate action from the federal government to defend these rights.”

Background information

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

  • Lucy Juneau, Director of Communications, Native Women’s Association of Canada, 613-722-3033, Mobile 343-997-3756, [email protected]
  • Lucy Scholey, Media Officer, Amnesty International Canada, 613-744-7667 ext. 236, [email protected]
  • Ani Colekessian, Director of Communications, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, 613-241-4474 ext. 7, [email protected]

[Press Release] Oxfam Canada & Action Canada receive support from the Government of Canada to empower women and girls in East and Southern Africa

The Her Future, Her Choice: Strengthening Young Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights program will directly reach 250,000 women (including young women and girls), and 90,000 men and boys in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

November 13, 2018

Thanks to a generous contribution of $19.9 million from the Government of Canada, Oxfam Canada will launch a new program to empower women and girls in four countries of East and Southern Africa to claim their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The Her Future, Her Choice: Strengthening Young Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rightsprogram will directly reach 250,000 women (including young women and girls), and 90,000 men and boys in Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia.

Her Future, Her Choice is about guaranteeing that women and girls can claim their human right to bodily autonomy, can make choices about their reproductive health, and are treated with dignity and respect. This program will help women and girls lead healthy and productive lives,” said Julie Delahanty, Oxfam Canada Executive Director.

Teen birth rates are among the highest in the world in these countries in Africa, as the rights of many young women to access sexual and reproductive health services are blocked. As a result, adolescent girls and young women, who are not physiologically ready, are having children at an early age, or attempting unsafe abortions, which further endangers their health.

Given this reality, the Her Future, Her Choice program takes a comprehensive approach to promoting and defending the sexual and reproductive rights of adolescent girls and young women in the four countries. The program will work in partnership with local youth and women’s rights organizations, Pathfinder International and Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

“There are still too many gaps in access to sexual and reproductive health services around the world, and at home,” said Sandeep Prasad, Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights. “This funding is an important step toward building global solidarity and ensuring that all people can access the services they need to live healthy lives, free from violence and discrimination.”

The Her Future, Her Choice program will tackle gender inequality and discrimination, and address the barriers that prevent women and girls from exercising their rights including: harmful social norms;  traditional practices and taboos regarding sexuality; lack of access to resources and services; and sexual and gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation and cutting, and child and early forced marriage.

“Too many women and adolescent girls don’t have access to information about sexual and reproductive health and are influenced by harmful social norms and stigma, and lack of decision-making power about their own health and sexuality. In order to address gender inequality we need to ensure that women and girls have access to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” Delahanty said.

In addition, Her Future, Her Choice will strengthen health systems to deliver comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services, and provide youth-friendly sexual health outreach services for girls and boys.  It will also build the capacity of local and Canadian feminist, women’s rights and youth-led organizations to advocate for changes in sexual and reproductive health and rights policies and promote greater awareness of these issues in the four countries and in Canada.

Notes to Editors:

  • According to the World Bank, adolescent birth rates are the highest in the world in sub-Saharan Africa with an average of 118 births per 1000 girls compared to the global average of 51 births per 1000 girls.
  • In 2016, the average contraceptive prevalence rate in East and Southern Africa was 38.6% (global rate was 63.6%).
  • Malawi experiences a high Maternal Mortality Rate with unsafe abortions accounting for 18% of all maternal deaths; and an adolescent birth rate of 152 per 1000 women aged 15-19.
  • Mozambique has a very low contraceptive prevalence rate of 12%, a high Maternal Mortality Rate (489 per 100,000 live births) and a very high adolescent birth rate (167 per 1000 women aged 15-19). Approximately 24% of deaths in adolescent girls are linked to pregnancy related causes and in the Northern provinces such as Zambezia, where the program is focused, rates of child and early forced marriage among adolescent girls are as high as 47% and initiation rites (female genital mutilation and cutting) continue to have perverse effects on the sexual and reproductive health of girls.
  • Zambia has a high adolescent birth rate of 146 per 1000 women aged 15-19 with adolescent girls in target communities in Zambia having difficulty accessing SRHR information, services, and commodities. If girls become pregnant, they face stigma and discrimination, drop out of school and are prone to unsafe abortions.
  • Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia have high HIV prevalence rates (10-15%), with rates two to four times higher in adolescent girls than boys, which affects overall reproductive health outcomes for girls.
  • Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is Canada’s Planned Parenthood. We are a progressive, pro-choice charitable organization committed to advancing and upholding sexual and reproductive health and rights in Canada and globally.

Contact information

Paula Baker
Media Relations
Oxfam Canada
(613) 240-3047
[email protected]

Ani Colekessian
Director of communications
Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights
(613) 241-4474 ext. 7
[email protected]

[Media Advisory] Right to health: UN expert to visit Canada

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights is pleased to be facilitating engagement with civil society organizations from across the country with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health during his visit to Canada.

We will be highlighting issues related to comprehensive sexuality education as part of the right to health, discrepancies in access to safe abortion care, forced sterilizations, and cost coverage for sexual and reproductive health drugs and commodities.

Read the Media Advisory below:

Right to health: UN expert to visit Canada

OTTAWA/GENEVA (1 November 2018) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health will visit Canada from 5 to 16 November 2018.

Dainius Pūras has been invited by the Government to look at moves to achieve the right to physical and mental health, including progress made and challenges remaining.

“I look forward to engaging with the Canadian authorities, civil society and other stakeholders to assess the enjoyment of the right to health, including availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of healthcare,” he said.

Pūras, an independent expert, will also examine factors that affect the right to health, including poverty, discrimination, and social exclusion.  “I am particularly interested in issues related to access to primary healthcare; mental health; sexual and reproductive health rights, as well as the right to health of children, adolescents and indigenous peoples,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur will hold a news conference at the end of his visit

  *   When: November 16th, 13:00pm, 2018

  *   Where: Charles Lynch press room, 130-S, Centre Block

Access to the press conference is strictly limited to journalists.

Pūras will only engage with the media at the end of his visit, after he has gathered all information for a global preliminary assessment. He will present a comprehensive report to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2019.

ENDS

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to the highest attainable standard of health (right to health). Dainius Pūras (Lithuania) is a medical doctor with notable expertise on mental health and child health; he took up his functions as UN Special Rapporteur on 1 August 2014. Dainius Pūras is the Director of Human rights monitoring institute in Vilnius Lithuania, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry and public mental health at Vilnius University and teaches at the faculties of medicine and philosophy of the same university. 

Learn more.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

For press inquiries and additional information, please contact:

Lucía de la Sierra (+ 41 79 444 3940/ [email protected])

In Geneva (during the visit): Marina Narvaez Guarnieri (+41 22 917 9615 / [email protected])

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact: Mr. Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])      

Tag and share – Twitter: @UNHumanRights and Facebook: unitednationshumanrights

Check the Universal Human Rights Index

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN on 10 December 1948. The Universal Declaration – translated into a world record 500 languages – is rooted in the principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It remains relevant to everyone, every day. In honour of the 70th anniversary of this extraordinarily influential document, and to prevent its vital principles from being eroded, we are urging people everywhere to Stand Up for Human Rights: www.standup4humanrights.org.

[Op-Ed] More than 150 international parliamentarians to meet in Ottawa to defend sexual, reproductive health, rights

Op-ed published in the Hill Times

Sexual and reproductive health and rights aren’t controversial, they’re essential and life saving. Rights and health services related to gender, sexuality, and reproduction support each person’s ability to make decisions about their own bodies (like if and when to have children), help build a culture of consent that protects personal safety and support the end of gender-based discrimination and a culture based on equality.

For decades, experts and research on public health and economic and social justice have demonstrated the benefits associated with realizing these rights. Why then, are they considered controversial and why must they be protected and championed in political contexts around the world?

Too often—in Canada and internationally—we see elected officials initiating attacks on women’s reproductive choices, young people’s ability to access accurate health information, and the rights of LGBTQI people. Controversies around sexuality, gender, and reproductive health are manufactured and exploited on the grounds that women’s bodies and choices should be controlled by governments and that marginalized groups should not be offered the same human rights protections as all individuals. This is a serious problem.

Although they don’t receive as much media attention, there are thankfully also progressive governments, opposition parties, and individual parliamentarians standing up to defend and promote these rights within their capacity as politicians, and with the support of feminist and social justice advocates, in every country around the world.

These parliamentary champions play a vital role in protecting human rights. That’s why 16 years ago, roughly 50 of them first came together in Ottawa to promote and protect sexual and reproductive health and rights at the International Parliamentarians Conference of the Implementation on the ICPD Program of Action. The conference has since taken place five times around the world and on Oct. 22 will bring 150 parliamentarians together again in Canada’s capital—three times the number since 2002.

These parliamentarians are at the front lines: responsible for the elimination of discriminatory laws and policies, the enactment of progressive legislation, and advocating for increased spending on sexual and reproductive health (both domestically and in official development assistance). They played critical roles in passing legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia, in blocking Poland from criminalizing abortion, and in Canada, passing legislation to add gender identity and expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination and repeatedly working to safeguard access to safe and legal abortion.

The countless activists who protect and fight for these rights rely on parliamentary allies to advocate for progressive policy change and hold the line in the face of regressive law and policy discourse. When access to inalienable human rights depends on any government’s legislative decisions, the presence of a robust group of parliamentary human rights defenders becomes critical.

This is why it is so important for Canada to be convening this group of parliamentarians with a clear message: attacks on women’s bodies and their reproductive choices, on the right to live free from violence, and on all other rights associated with health, genders, and sexualities will not go unchecked.

Canadian parliamentarians from across all major political parties have been among these parliamentary champions for decades. And with support from Canadian sexual and reproductive health and rights organizations, they have continued to hold the Government of Canada accountable to better support rights domestically and in Canada’s international development assistance.

By hosting the IPCI conference, Canada is supporting the parliamentary actors who advocate for change within their roles as legislators and demonstrating its support for sexual and reproductive health and rights to the world.

This is part of a larger journey Canada is on to reposition itself as a leader on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights more broadly, which includes launching the Feminist International Assistance Policy and hosting the Women Deliver conference in 2019.

For Canada’s commitment to be truly lasting, continued support is needed for the feminist and human rights advocates working with their decision-makers at all levels of government to establish and protect laws, policies, and programs that safeguard these rights.

Sandeep Prasad is the executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights.

Yukon government will finance abortion pill

Palak Mangat, Whitehorse Star 

Yukoners hoping to access abortion will now have an alternative that will be fully covered by the territorial government, thanks to a partnership with the Yukon Hospital Corp.

It comes after the territory began rolling out universal coverage of Mifegymiso on Wednesday. It’s a measure the government hopes will reduce the barrier to accessing abortion medication.

Those interested will have four main hubs to choose from, with full-time resident physicians prescribing the medicine out of Haines Junction, Dawson City, Watson Lake and Whitehorse.

That means somebody living in other communities where services are not being offered will need to travel to the closest hub.

“The decision to provide coverage is about providing better service for Yukon women,” Health and Social Services (HSS) Minister Pauline Frost said Wednesday, noting that it’s also expected to lead to a decrease in overall health costs.

“By providing coverage of the medication, we are allowing Yukoners to make the choice that is right for them, regardless of the cost.”

According to the department, the costs of that are as follows: the pill will be substantially less than a surgical procedure, setting a woman back by about $300.

The alternative can range between $1,200 and $1,400, which includes the doctor’s fee, anesthesiology and operating room costs.

Coverage of the medication is also a long time coming and will help put the territory on par with other jurisdictions across the country, the minister told the legislature Wednesday.

With the territory seeing upwards of 110 abortions per year, Frost explained that “during my time here, it’s come to my attention that it’s a priority for Yukoners.

“Right now, the only way of abortion is very intrusive,” she later added.

The territory is the eighth jurisdiction in the country to offer coverage for the drug so the announcement was welcome news, said Sandeep Prasad.

Serving as the executive director with Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights, Prasad explained this morning that offering coverage does not necessarily mean more women will begin looking at terminating pregnancies.

In fact, through his work, he estimates the split between those seeking medical and surgical options in areas where both have been offered for a longer period of time sits at about 50-50.

An additional barrier to accessing the drug was who Health Canada permitted to prescribe it.

The drug was approved by Health Canada in mid-2015 and became available to the public in 2017.

Initially approved to be prescribed up to seven weeks (49 days) into a pregnancy, Ottawa approved it an additional two weeks in late 2017.

Health Canada also permits patients to take the medication either at home or a health facility, as directed by a professional.

As per federal regulations, those prescribing are required to have “appropriate knowledge” about it beforehand.

Health Canada notes that while education programs are available, professionals are no longer required to complete it before they can prescribe the drug.

An HSS spokesperson, meanwhile, confirmed this morning that requirements and procedures for prescribing the drug in the territory are set by Health Canada.

“The training that is required (now) is basically self-studying,” Prasad said, noting that doctors are encouraged to read up and exercise sound judgment when prescribing the combination drug.

“That doesn’t require formal training or courses as Health Canada once did require, but it can be done.”

Prasad noted his group has a 24-hour access line that receives calls from all over the country from those seeking abortion but don’t know where to go to access it.

He explained that anecdotally, some callers say their doctors can’t prescribe it because they haven’t done the mandatory training (which Health Canada had since revised).

“That’s a big piece of misinformation that’s out there,” he said, which his organization and others with the help of governments are trying to curb.

Prasad’s statements were echoed in part by Stephanie Buchanan, a general practitioner in the territory who is involved in women’s health care.

Continue reading on the Whitehorse Star

Canada Takes a Lead Role Funding Reproductive Health, Women’s Rights & Sustainable Development

IPS News, Thalif Deen

Canada, which has been described as one of the world’s most progressive countries, has legitimized gay rights, vociferously advocated gender empowerment, offered strong support for abortion rights – and recently became the world’s first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana.

Currently the fifth largest donor to the UN’s development agencies — and holding the Presidency of the G7 comprising the world’s leading industrialized nations– it is planning to run for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for 2021-22.

Host to the 7th International Parliamentarians’ Conference (ICPI) on population and development in Ottawa last week—and having hosted the first such meeting in 2002 – Canada has also launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).

Sandeep Prasad, executive director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, says Canada is repositioning itself as a leader on gender equality, women’s rights and sexual and reproductive rights, which includes FIAP, and hosting the upcoming Women Deliver conference, scheduled to take place in Vancouver in 2019.

“For Canada’s commitment to be truly lasting, continued support is needed for the feminist and human rights advocates working with their decision-makers at all levels of government to establish and protect laws, policies and programs that safeguard these rights,” said Prasad.

Leading the fight for women’s rights, gender empowerment, and sexual and reproductive rights is Marie-Claude Bibeau, the Canadian Minister of International Development, who is also a strong advocate for increased development financing.

In an interview with IPS, she said international events like IPCI can be a strong catalyst for mobilizing people, ideas and resources.

Click here to read the rest of the article. 

The Future of Abortion Rights: An Interview on Sexual Health with Sandeep Prasad

The McGill Daily Written by: Visual by: Abortion Beyond Bounds Conference

Sandeep Prasad is the Executive Director of Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights (Action Canada). After speaking at the October 11-12 Abortion Beyond Bounds Conference, hosted by the McGill Institute for Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies (IGSFS) and the Centre for Research on Gender, Health, and Medicine (CRGHM), Prasad sat down with the Daily to talk about the state of abortion care in Canada, and his work in the sexual health and rights field.

The Daily: Now that 30 years have passed since the decriminalization of abortion in Canada, how easy or difficult is it today to access abortion care in Canada?

Sandeep Prasad: Practical access to abortion care in Canada, despite thirty years of decriminalization, is still difficult. There are numerous barriers that still […] hamper the abilities of those seeking abortion services to actually access them. Things like uneven distribution of services, the concentration of services in urban centres, creates large distances that people still have to travel to access these services; these are of course compounded by other factors of oppression such as poverty or young age, making it even more difficult to access care. Fortunately, there have been steps in the right direction of expanding abortion access primarily through the role of mifegymiso [the Canadian trade name for the abortion pill mifepristone] within Canada, which is the [World Health Organization] gold standard of medical abortion. But at this point, there is a lot more work to do in terms of achieving an effective rollout of mifegymiso that would transform access to this drug. So there is promise in that, but at the same time, we also have to confront the realities of anti-choice actors who create barriers to access through misleading information, biased counselling practices, and through activities that stigmatize abortion. These make it far more difficult for those seeking abortion care to actually find the information they need to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

MD: What is the role of Action Canada in this situation?

SP: Action Canada is Canada’s national sexual and reproductive health rights organization. As such, we have a number of issues that we focus on in the sexual and reproductive health and rights field, and abortion care is one of the key areas of this focus. Abortion work relates to both helping to ensure that accurate information related to abortion is out there for the public, and that through our access line, members of the public seeking to terminate pregnancy are supported with accurate, unbiased information about abortion procedures as well as referrals to the appropriate care nearest to them. We’re helping to connect people seeking to terminate pregnancy to services that they want. Furthermore, our organization is also engaged in policy work on abortion. We see that advocacy is critical to changing the landscape of abortion and have been prioritizing within that advocacy the universal cost coverage of mifegymiso, [and] ensuring that restrictions relating to mifegymiso are removed.

MD: Action Canada in its current form has evolved out of prior organizations like the “Canadian Federation of Societies for Federation Planning” or “Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada” that carried a different language in their names. Why should we be talking about sexual health and rights rather than reproductive health and rights?

SP: When we come down to it, it’s all the same issue. Whether we’re talking about abortion, or sexual orientation, same-sex sexuality, trans rights, issues around contraception, we’re all talking about, on the one level, the right to bodily autonomy; the right of each person to do with their body as they want and to have the information and education services to support their decision making around their body. […] In a very practical way, abortion rights are sexual rights. Abortion stigma is also stigma related to sexuality. So all of these issues are fundamentally connected and we use “sexual rights” as a shorthand to describe all of these issues because we see that, traditionally, when we look at definitions of reproductive health and reproductive rights, the sexual is defined through the reproductive. We intentionally want to change that paradigm. Reproduction is an aspect of sexuality. There are numerous aspects of sexuality, but our broader frame is sexual rights which is inclusive of reproductive rights.

MD: The Abortion Beyond Bounds conference focused on self-managed abortion. How is self-managed abortion widening access to abortion care and which barriers remain?

SP: It is important that we work towards expanding options for how individuals interact with their body, how they manage the care of their body, whether that’s about methods of contraception, methods of terminating pregnancy, we want to expand the frontiers of possibilities for them to do that and to support them in doing that, and to have the control over the level of support they want in doing that. The autonomy needs to rest with that individual who is making the decision on their own in relation to their bodies. In terms of self-management of abortion care, we need to be looking into options that remove abortion care from the medical system. There is ample evidence that self-managed abortion is safe and effective. And there are a lot of examples in many other countries that we can point to that have been using medications through community access for abortion, which we need to look at in Canada.

MD: In health care systems that are not accessible to all, how does self-managed abortion widen access to underserved communities?

SP: The geographic circumstances of the country are such that it is very difficult for individuals who live in rural or geographically remote areas to access care. […] Expanding the scope of practice for different types of providers is one important step […] but what is also important is more self-managed models of abortion care as well. So we need something that is inclusive of these parts, because we need to get to a place where access to abortion is community-based and is accessible to communities which are remote.

MD:
 You were instrumental in starting the Sexual Rights Initiative, an intersectional Global South-North coalition of organizations that work towards advancing sexual rights in the United Nations. What is the place of a Global North organization in global sexual health activism?

SP: That is a great question, thank you for asking that. There are a few places for a Global North organization. First of all, as a merged organization, we also have in our organizational history the work of Action Canada for Population and Development (ACPD), which did a lot of formative work initially within the intergovernmental human rights system on sexual and reproductive rights. Quickly, we saw the need for a Global South-Global North coalition and for that coalition to actually be of national and regional organizations doing work on these issues. Where ACDP was different though, was that it didn’t actually do domestic advocacy. So one of the appeals for ACPD for entering into this merger is that we need to be more like our partners in the Global South that are doing effective national work and that come together with us to do that kind of work as well. We wanted to model that. So our engagement with partners in the Global South fundamentally changed the structure of our organization. As Action Canada, we have lent our ability to act as coordinators. Our job has been to ensure that resources are pooled together for this work, but also to ensure that each partner is bringing its analysis from its national and regional context to that work at the global level, so now we are able to participate on that more fully, doing national work like our other partners within the coalition.

MD: Where do you see your place in a sexual health organization?

SP: I’m very fortunate because I went to law school to do human rights work globally with my law degree. And while there were a lot of individuals like me in my law school, there aren’t that many jobs within the human rights field [after graduate school]. I’m one of the lucky ones who actually gets to do human rights work in Canada and globally as a professional. My own interest in wanting to go to law school to do that [comes from when] as a young queer guy I did a lot of organizing on campus at Queen’s University, which is quite conservative and quite white as well, that was particularly focused on LGBTQ issues. When you start looking at some issues, often times you can see the relationship to other issues of social justice. That compelled me to have a broader perspective on how sexuality and gender are fundamentally interrelated, but also to go to law school to work on these broader issues professionally.

Find the interview on the McGill Daily website.