Trudeau urged to press G7 leaders for $1.3 billion for girls’ education

OTTAWA — A coalition of 30 non-governmental organizations has asked Justin Trudeau to persuade his fellow G7 leaders to commit $1.3 billion over three years to help send millions of the world’s poorest girls to school.

The group — which included the United Nations Children’s Fund, World Vision, Save The Children and Plan Canada — presented its plan to the prime minister and Liberal government officials three weeks ago.

They presented a detailed analysis that showed the spending commitment would help 3.7 million children in poor countries — the majority of them girls — get access to education.

Trudeau has said he would push for more funding for girls’ education when he hosts the G7 leaders in Quebec in June, but he has yet to make a financial commitment.

The heads of major aid agencies say Trudeau must have a plan with money attached because vague G7 declarations of intent simply won’t be enough to back his pro-feminist aspirations and rhetoric.

They remain hopeful because of a key sentence in a statement Trudeau released Thursday on his G7 gender equality agenda: “Investing in girls’ education, especially in crisis situations, is a vital part of making that a reality.”

Caroline Riseboro, the president of Plan Canada International, said that marked the first time she has heard Trudeau say “an international development issue is going to need more money to make progress.”

Something else she heard Trudeau say Thursday, away from the glare of the media at a private reception, has also given Riseboro a measure of confidence.

According to Riseboro, Trudeau told a roomful of invitees from organizations attending the W7 summit of 60 women from 20 countries: “I want you to keep pushing me on this hard stuff.”

Trudeau was speaking hours after the anti-poverty group, the One Campaign, co-founded by U2 singer Bono, lampooned him in a video for moving too slowly on his G7 gender promises. It presented Trudeau with its own five-year, US$ 6-billion plan late last year.

Stuart Hickox, One Canada’s director, said in an interview that the organization did not lightly take the decision to chide Trudeau with the video, but said “this is a moment of pushing” to persuade Trudeau to make a meaningful contribution before Canada’s G7 presidency ends.

Michael Messenger, the president of World Vision Canada, said “we’re on the same page” as One because “we don’t want declarations that don’t have impact.”

“To do good programming, whether it’s through multilaterals or non-governmental organizations or other groups, you need funding.”

But Messenger said he’s seeing a lot of work being done behind the scenes.

“We’re actually encouraged because the conversations we’re having with government departments actually are getting into specifics,” he said Friday.

“We’re confident we’re making good progress.”

David Morley, the president of UNICEF Canada, said Trudeau’s intentions are a good first step, but there needs to be more than just words in the final G7 leaders’ communique.

“We were asked this by people in the government: is a declaration enough?” Morley recalled Friday. “What would be a failure would be if there’s a declaration and that’s it.”

Morley said UNICEF’s Paris office is working closely with the French government to persuade it to take up the mantle on gender from Canada when it takes over the G7 presidency next year.

That’s part of an effort by UNICEF branches in all G7 capitals to get buy-in for their spending push, he said.

Bill Chambers, president of Save the Children Canada said it is using its international reach to lobby in the G7 capitals for more money.

“It’s our job to go and lobby and advocate in other markets,” he said.

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