The 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA 77) opened on September 13th. After two years of virtual forums, I was all curiosity going into a packed three days of meetings in NYC. Upon arriving, I could immediately feel the excitement in the air, UNGA was back, complete with more black sedans and security details than you could count, long lines and beautifully dressed people from all over the world.
UNGA offers a unique international stage for heads of state, government officials, civil society leaders, and activists to come together in one place to focus on the globe’s most pressing challenges. This year we heard about healthcare worker shortages, food shortages and empty classrooms meant to be full of future leaders. There has been a dramatic spike in crisis, both in the number of crises and the protracted nature of crises – war, climate and the scarring left from the pandemic have created a near numbness in the global community all asking – what do we take on first and how do we address everything?
Minister Sajjan and I had a conversation about exactly this at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in New York – what is Canada’s role and how can we contribute to a world where Canadians feel invested as global citizens? If a healthy, safe, and secure global economy creates the conditions for a healthy, safe, and secure Canada, how do we get there?
Prior to the pandemic, the global healthcare system was already in crisis. At an event hosted by the Frontline Health Workers Coalition, I heard moving stories about how those existing challenges have been exacerbated by COVID-19 and how they are ongoing in countries around the world. A healthy woman is one with access to primary health services. The Government of Canada met the moment with a major $1.2B investment in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Investments in multilateral initiatives like the Global Fund help with disease prevention and treatments that create an environment where women can not only be healthy but thrive in all parts of their lives.
Another area of focus this year was education including the Summit on Transforming Education. Students in communities around the world – especially young women and girls – have experienced unprecedented setbacks to their education because of COVID-19 and its subsequent lockdowns. An educated woman is a healthy woman. CanWaCH members recognize this strong connection between health and education and we know that investing in education is an investment in healthy communities.
Another crisis that could not be ignored is the ongoing global hunger crisis. In some regions of the world, a hunger crisis has been ongoing for years with millions of people going to bed hungry – especially women and girls who are often the last to eat and eat less. This crisis has been accelerated on a global level by the conflict in Ukraine and rising food prices and cost of living due to the pandemic’s impact on labour and food supply chains. A gender lens is essential to addressing this crisis because a healthy woman is a well nourished woman.
One of my favourite events was the launch of the PUSH campaign a global movement to accelerate access to sexual and reproductive health and rights through midwifery care. The role that midwives play as trusted healthcare providers in communities around the world is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – a healthy woman is one who has access to sexual and reproductive health services.
I left New York with sore feet and a full heart, inspired by ideas and feeling reconnected to the wider global women and children’s health community. Canada’s unique Feminist International Assistance Policy was on full display to the rest of the world with participation from Minister Joly, Minister Sajjan and Prime Minister Trudeau. The Government of Canada met the moment with a major $1.2B investment in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The international community doubled down on its commitment to addressing COVID-19 setbacks.
I look forward to carrying this momentum forward to other international forums like the International Conference on Family Planning as we continue to push for the ambitious targets set in the SDGs that will create an environment where women and girls are healthy. And a healthy woman is able to reach her full potential.