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Politics Trudeau says gender equality will be top priority at G7 summit despite concern about Trump’s distractions

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

LARS HAGBERG/Getty Images

The Trudeau government says gender equality will be a top priority as a reachable goal at the G7 leaders’ summit in Quebec this week, despite concerns Canada’s agenda could be overshadowed by tensions between U.S. President Donald Trump and other leaders over trade and tariffs.

Senior Canadian government officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Group of Seven leaders will specifically discuss a new commitment to girls’ education when they meet in Charlevoix, Que., on Friday and Saturday. Women’s rights advocates are urging G7 countries to invest US$1.3-billion to close the education gap between boys and girls around the world.

Regardless of disagreements between G7 countries on trade issues, Canadian officials said all of the G7 governments have expressed support for Canada’s overarching theme of gender equality and women’s empowerment. Leaders of the G7 countries – Canada, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Japan – will attend a breakfast meeting with the G7 gender equality advisory council, created by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a part of Canada’s G7 presidency, on Saturday morning in Charlevoix.

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The advisory council, a group of high-profile feminist leaders, recently submitted a report to the G7 calling on member states to promote the rights of women and girls by taking concrete action to ensure pay equity, the expansion of access to reproductive health services and improved access to education for girls.

The Malala Fund, founded by gender advisory council member and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, is asking leaders to commit at least US$1.3-billion in education-focused development aid over three years.

“This is the most sound investment that can be made for people right across the board,” Malala Fund chief executive Farah Mohamed said in an interview.

“Investing in girls and women is the single best solution for every single one of those G7 leaders.”

Canadian development organizations say Canada can show leadership by contributing C$500-million toward the global ask of US$1.3-billion.

“This is an opportunity for Canada because if we want to turn feminist talk into feminist walk, now is the time,” UNICEF Canada president David Morley said.

Asked about the distraction Mr. Trump may pose at the G7 summit, World Vision Canada president Michael Messenger said it would be unfortunate if “discussion gridlock led to the poorest and most vulnerable once again being left behind.”

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John Kirton, a University of Toronto expert on the G7, said the focus on girls’ education is a strategic one, as the Americans may “reach for their red pens” on other aspects of the gender-equality discussion, such as abortion. Mr. Trump reinstated a prohibition in January, 2017, on U.S. funding to international organizations that fail to disavow abortion.

Canada will also prioritize climate change and the protection of oceans at the Charlevoix meeting. Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said the Liberal government is playing a leadership role internationally to reduce plastics waste in the oceans and will push for concerted action at the G7 leaders’ summit.

“We are filling our oceans with plastic – it’s disgusting,” Ms. McKenna said on Tuesday. At the current rate of dumping, there will be more tonnage of plastics in the oceans than fish within 25 years, she said.

More than 40 environmental groups are urging the G7 to sign an anti-plastics charter, which would set international targets to cut down on the use of plastics. They are also calling on the Trudeau government to set an example at home by releasing a national plastics plan.

Ms. McKenna said the federal government has to work with provincial and territorial government, as well as industry, to forge a national plan for reducing waste. Only 11 per cent of plastics tossed out in Canada is currently recycled, she said.

With a report from Shawn McCarthy

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