Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as he arrives in Monrovia, Liberia Thursday November 24, 2016.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau walks with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as he arrives in Monrovia, Liberia Thursday November 24, 2016.
Photo Credit: PC / Adrian Wyld

Trudeau concludes visit to Liberia, next stop Madagascar

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concluded today his one-day visit to Liberia where he pushed his message of empowering women and girls, promoting human rights and re-engaging with Africa.

But Trudeau had to tone down some of his gay rights rhetoric in the deeply conservative West African country, where homosexuality is criminalized as “a first-degree misdemeanour,” an offence punishable by up to one year in prison.

Most African countries criminalize homosexuality in one way or the other. And of 49 African states only South Africa recognizes gay marriage.

“The fact is different countries have different paces of evolution in terms of recognizing and enshrining those rights, but we can see that there has been tremendous progress over the years in many different areas,” Trudeau said Thursday morning in the capital Monrovia.

Standing beside Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Trudeau instead stressed another issue of human rights that affects the region: female genital mutilation.

Trudeau praised Sirlieaf, the first female elected head of state in Africa, for her leadership in fighting the deeply rooted cultural practice.

“I understand that culture can be a challenge in pushing that, but doing the right thing is something that people shouldn’t shy away from,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau said her leadership on gender equality and the advancement of girls and women is the main reason he wanted to make Liberia the first stop on his first visit to Africa as prime minister.

“The role that women played in bringing an end to the civil war and helping Liberia rebuild is an inspiration to the rest of the world,” Trudeau said during the news conference.

New funding initiative

Trudeau backed up that message with some $12.5 million in funding announcements “aimed at supporting democracy, peace and security, inclusion, and gender equality in Africa.”

In 2014-2015, Canada provided more than $24 million in development assistance to Liberia, in the areas of health, education, food security, and the environment.

Trudeau, who before launching into politics was trained as a teacher, also spent some time with Liberian school children.

Next stop Madagascar

On Friday, Trudeau will fly across the African continent to Antananarivo, Madagascar, for the summit of la Francophonie, an international organization of French-speaking nations, which is now headed by Canada’s former governor general Michaëlle Jean.

Trudeau will deliver a speech focused on the empowerment of women and girls, as well as gay and transgender rights.

Canada is also putting the final touches on a joint resolution with the nation of Benin to put an end to forced and child marriages, an issue that was also championed by the previous Conservative government.

With files from The Canadian Press

Categories: International
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