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Canada’s commitment to women

Feminists the world over were tickled pink when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared in public that he was a feminist, while wearing a pink shirt at that. He’s had many opportunities to prove his feminist bona fides since, the most prominent example of which is the composition of his Cabinet, where much more than a token one or two women are present. (He also showed off his belief in an inclusive society, with his Cabinet including representatives of minorities, migrant populations and even a member of the “First Nations.”)

But the Canadian government’s commitment to pursue gender equality and promote the welfare of women and girls goes far beyond Trudeau and well before the good-looking Prime Minister came to power. For decades, Canadian administrations, mainly through the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), had funded important and valuable initiatives the world over to promote development, with a special emphasis on women’s rights and participation.

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The other day, another groundbreaking initiative along these same lines got off the ground. Canadian Ambassador John T. Holmes presided over the opening in Tondo of the first of four “Maternity Plus” clinics. Three other clinics are set to open later in the year in Navotas, in Towerville Bulacan, and in Quinapondan, Eastern Samar.

The clinics are funded by Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Canadian NGO Inter Pares, while the local partner is the NGO Likhaan. In line with the project’s aim to provide “Safe, Responsive and Respectful Maternity Plus Care,” the clinics are located in “areas where there is a concentration of poor women to whom the project… is dedicated.” The project will also tap PhilHealth benefits and financial support for maternity and newborn care, and family planning.

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A “Maternity Plus” clinic offers skilled birth attendance by trained nurses and midwives, referral and transport to hospitals for emergency obstetric and newborn care (EmONC), and family planning services that “include the full range of methods.” Experts and advocates say that skilled birth attendance, access to EmONC, and family planning are “the triad of services that are known to rapidly reduce maternal and infant mortality.”

They are especially critical in the Philippines where the rate of maternal deaths (221 deaths per 100,000 live births) is still shockingly high and still rising. Likhaan says that family planning alone can reduce maternal deaths by at least a third, while skilled birth attendance and emergency services can save the rest.

After all, women who run the highest risk of dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth are those without access to services that a Likhaan Maternity Plus Clinic provides. Among them are poor women whether in urban or rural areas, women with little education, adolescent girls, women belonging to ethnic groups, and women with mental health problems and other disabilities. Such women will be the priority of Maternity Plus staff.

Aside from Ambassador Holmes, other dignitaries taking part in the clinic’s opening were former health secretaries Esperanza Cabral and Janette Garin, Rita Morbia and David Bruer of Inter Pares, Jordan Wiley of Medecins San Frontieres, Fabella Memorial Hospital director Emeraldo Ilem, and DOH director Joyce Ducusin, representing Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial.

Also present at Monday’s opening rites were Barangay 13 Chair Mario Dantes Macapagal, Manila City MNCHN (Maternal Newborn Child Health and Nutrition) coordinator Dr. Rozalina Tan, ILAW ng Maynila Foundation Program director Maria Jerika Ejercito, and Likhaan board of trustees chair Sylvia Estrada Claudio.

Women’s Month is drawing to a close, but the inauguration of the first Likhaan Maternity Plus Clinic is a beginning. It lays the ground for a woman-centered, and mother-and-baby focused, health approach. It may just show the way towards a healthcare style and system where women take prominence, as patients, caregivers and managers. Long may the clinics thrive!

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TAGS: Canada, Equality, Feminism, gender, Justin Trudeau, opinion, women, Women’s Month
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