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International Development Minister Karina Gould, seen here on Dec. 10, 2019, said the funding would have been announced regardless of the Security Council campaign, as Canada is concerned about the pandemic’s impact on developing countries.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada is pledging $16.5-million in new foreign-aid funding to support women’s rights and food security in Africa as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens decades’ worth of hard-won development gains on the continent.

The money will support the work of humanitarian and health organizations in a number of African countries, including Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Kenya, Ghana and Mozambique, as they respond to the impact of the pandemic.

Speaking to The Globe and Mail Wednesday, International Development Minister Karina Gould said the funding will help address development challenges exacerbated by the coronavirus, including concerns about food insecurity and sanitation, and will increase COVID-19 testing in Africa.

“In parts of Africa right now, they’re facing compounding issues. They already have challenges with poverty, with food security and with the desert locusts," said Ms. Gould. "Now we have COVID-19 on top of that.”

The funding comes as Canada enters the final week of its bid for one of 10 rotating non-permanent seats in 2021-22 on the United Nations Security Council – a cornerstone of the Trudeau government’s foreign-policy agenda. UN member states will cast their ballots on June 17. African member states account for 54 of the 193 members – or 28 per cent – at the UN, making the continent one of the largest voting blocs in the race for a spot on the UN’s most powerful branch.

Ms. Gould said the funding would have been announced regardless of the Security Council campaign, as Canada is concerned about the pandemic’s impact on developing countries.

The largest portion of taxpayer dollars – $6-million – will go to the International Fund for Agricultural Development to help address COVID-related disruptions to the food system by providing support to smallholder farmers and small-scale producers, particularly women, among other activities.

Ms. Gould said development groups have shared concerns with her about increased gender-based violence amid quarantine measures. She said she is also worried about a potential increase in unplanned pregnancies and forced marriages among girls, which would prevent them from returning to school.

Plan International Canada will also receive $1-million to help local women’s organizations advocate for and analyze the impact of the pandemic on women in Ethiopia and Ghana.

“It means that we’re directly supporting girls and women who are at risk, or who are victims of rights violations, including gender-based violence, exploitation, child marriage and dropping out of school," said Saadya Hamdani, Plan International Canada’s director of gender equality.

NDP international development critic, Heather McPherson, said $16.5-million is not a lot of money in the grand scheme of the government’s total budget. She urged Ottawa to set out a plan to reach the UN target of contributing 0.7 per cent of gross national income to development assistance. Canada only contributed 0.27 per cent in 2019.

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