Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in Senegal Tuesday night for an official visit that will test his commitment to gender equality with one of Canada’s closest francophone partners in Africa.
Trudeau’s visit includes a meeting with President Macky Sall and a moment of reflection at Goree Island, which was once a final African stop for some of the slaves being taken to the Americas.
Dalhousie University political science chair David Black, who studies Canada’s role in sub-Saharan Africa, says Senegal and Canada have long-standing links, mostly through their shared French language, that Trudeau can build upon.
Black notes Senegal is not without some significant human rights challenges – homosexuality is illegal and punishable by up to five years in prison for example – but it’s considered one of the most stable democracies on the continent.
Trudeau has committed to women’s empowerment and human rights as he looks to gain support from Sall for Canada’s bid for a temporary seat on the United Nations Security Council.
“African countries are increasingly speaking with a single voice on global issues, notably through the African Union (AU). AU countries exercise influence within international institutions, including the UN, La Francophonie, the World Trade Organization and the Commonwealth,” says the briefing prepared for the prime minister, which was obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
During a three-day visit to Ethiopia over the weekend Trudeau appeared reluctant to publicly raise the issue of human rights and democratic violations with African leaders he met.
Gender-based violence is a significant problem in Senegal, which made rape a criminal offence only last month. The international anti-poverty ONE Campaign wants Trudeau to raise the issue of gender-based violence with Sall.
Trudeau’s briefing book makes clear that women and girls face significant barriers in sub-Saharan Africa.
“Women’s political participation and girls’ enrolment in primary education has improved, yet African women and girls still face discriminatory legal barriers, unequal access to resources, and sexual and gender-based violence,” says the memo to Trudeau.
“Canada supports efforts to promote inclusive governance and respect for human rights in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly for women, girls and other marginalized groups.”
Jacqueline O’Neill, Canada’s first ambassador for women, peace and security, is accompanying the prime minister in Africa. Her job was created to advance the Liberal government’s feminist foreign policy.
O’Neill has helped craft policies on gender and security in NATO, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the United Nations. She also co-founded the Romeo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, which tries to end the use of children in armed conflict.
Trudeau completed a whirlwind visit to Kuwait earlier Tuesday with a meeting with the country’s head of state, Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.
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