Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is actively promoting "comprehensive sexual and reproductive health" abroad.

Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is actively promoting “comprehensive sexual and reproductive health” abroad.

While media were distracted by the free trade flare-up between U.S. President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the G7 Summit held in Charlevoix, Quebec, June 8-9, focused on not only the standard issues for such meetings, like economic growth, employment, the environment, and global conflict, but featured discussions on gender equality.

After leaving the G7 early, Trump tweeted several broadsides against Trudeau regarding new tariffs leveled at the Canadian steel and aluminum industries, including calling the Prime Minister “very dishonest & weak.” Most of the coverage of the G7 meeting focused on the escalating trade feud between the two erstwhile allies. Consequently, there was little coverage of a priority issue for Justin Trudeau at the 2018 G7 Summit: gender equality.

Prior to the Summit, Trudeau named businessmen Melinda Gates and Isabelle Hudon as co-chairs of the G7’s Gender Equality Advisory Council, signalling the issue’s importance to the meeting. Gender was also the focus of a pre-summit meeting of G7 development ministers meeting in Whistler, B.C., held a week earlier.

There was no mention of reproductive rights in the “Declaration on Unlocking the Power of Adolescent Girls for Sustainable Development,” although Ottawa was pushing for recognition of abortion in the statement. Instead, the G7 representatives said their countries were committed to “promoting and protecting adolescent health and well-being, through evidence-based health care and health information.” The Devex website reported that the American representative nixed language that committed the G7 to the reproductive rights agenda, which is often code for not only family planning (contraception and sterilization), but abortion-on-demand. Canadian Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who hosted the meeting, said in her chairman’s summary, that some of her colleagues had called for “access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and information, including family planning and prevention of sexually transmitted infections.”

The development ministers heard from six young feminists from around the world, brought in by Ottawa to promote the Trudeau government’s feminist foreign policy. Bibeau said, “They want to have choices. They want to have the choice over their own body, of course, but they also want to have choices regarding their career, their education, so this was also very interesting to hear directly from them.”

Rebecca Oas, associate director of research for the Center for Family and Human Rights, said prior to the G7 summit “Canadian officials were explicit” in their support of abortion as a necessary precondition for the “empowerment” of women. The Gates and Hudon advisory council formally called for the United States to rescind the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy (also known as the Mexico City Policy, which prohibits American foreign aid to go to groups that promote or commit abortions). Furthermore, the W7, a group of more than 60 feminist groups, issued a communique calling on the G7 to incorporate a “feminist approach to sexual and reproductive health and rights,” including: “comprehensive information on sexuality and contraception services and supplies (including emergency contraception, post exposure prophylaxis, male and female condoms); pregnancy care (antenatal and post natal care, skilled birth attendance, referral systems, and emergency obstetric care); safe abortion services and post-abortion care; access to assisted reproductive technologies; prevention, prevention tools, treatment, and care of sexually transmitted infections and HIV.” W7 also explicitly called for “ending the criminalization or restrictive regulation of abortion.”

There was no mention of abortion or its code words “sexual or reproductive health” in the final G7 communique. Under the headline “Advancing Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment,” the G7 leaders agreed that “gender equality is fundamental for the fulfillment of human rights and is a social and economic imperative,” but limited its support to statements on the gender wage gap, supporting female entrepreneurs, recognizing the importance of equal access to quality education, and combating violence against women and girls.

Canada last hosted the G7 – then the G8 – in 2010. Then-prime minister Stephen Harper launched a maternal and child health program, labeled the Muskoka Initiative. The initiative, condemned by feminist groups for excluding abortion, was later praised by non-government organizations and international agencies for successfully reducing maternal and infant mortality.