Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

3rd Session, 40th Parliament,
Volume 147, Issue 22

Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin, Acting Speaker

Maternal Health and the Right to Choose

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, yesterday during Question Period in this chamber, we debated exactly what kind of maternal help women in the developing world would obtain from Canada. The debate was whether this help would be comprehensive or piecemeal during childbirth.

A child’s birth is a joyous time for most of us. It is a time of celebration for the arrival of a new life into our world.

Honourable senators know that there are some women for whom childbirth is not so joyous. This could be because the woman has health issues, has been raped or faces other hardships. Therefore, the woman has to make some hard choices.

The right to choose is never easy for any mother in this world. Each of us in this chamber knows that this is probably the hardest choice for any woman to make. In Canada, we give women the dignity to make that choice. It is the woman’s choice. Why would we have a double standard and not extend that same right to women in the developing world?

I met Hasina when I first went to Darfur, Sudan. Hasina was being brought into the camp in a wheelbarrow by her tearful father. She had been violently gang-raped by eight militia men. She was covered in blood and her eyes were almost swollen shut.

Over a number of days while I was there, Hasina began her recovery. I had many conversations with her. Hasina was a young woman with many aspirations. She told me she wanted to become a teacher.

I asked her why she went to collect firewood and why she or her family did not send her brother. She looked me in the eye and said:

I chose to collect firewood. If I went, there was a possibility that I would be raped, but if my brother went to collect the firewood, I knew he would be killed by the militia.

Hasina chose to help her family, and she was violently assaulted.

The next time I returned to the camp, I saw Hasina teaching students in a makeshift classroom. We hugged and the first thing she said to me was:

Please thank Canadians. From the assault, I became pregnant and with the help of Canadians I was able to choose.

When I found out I was pregnant, my world collapsed around me, as not only were we destitute and living in a refugee camp, but now I would have to carry a child from that assault.

I chose not to have this child as I did not want my child to be looked upon as a child of the militia by my community. Your country, Canada, supported me, and now I can carry on my life with dignity.

Honourable senators, the Canadian way is to treat all women equally. We cannot have two standards, one for Canadian women who, for many reasons, have to make tough choices when they become pregnant and another policy for women in the developing world.

All women should have a right to choose. Maternal health is about providing comprehensive help to women. The right to choose and the ability to have access to the resources needed to make that choice is the right of every woman.