Mrs. Betty Hinton (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, CPC)
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to our mission in Afghanistan. Our government believes that the Afghan mission is important. It is important to the people of that country and it is important to Canadians. It is especially important to the Canadian sons and daughters who are on the ground there, our military, our diplomats and the civilian aid workers who are all trying to rebuild the lives and livelihoods of the Afghan people.
Last week, Mr. Speaker, you introduced six women seated in that gallery. Those women were parliamentarians in the fledgling Afghan government. Seven short years ago those same women could not have left their homes without burkas or unaccompanied by a male relative. Seven years ago they could not walk to the corner by themselves or access medical care. Now they are free to travel halfway around the world to sit in the gallery of the Canadian Parliament with their faces bare.
As parliamentarians in Canada, we all face certain challenges but having our lives threatened constantly is not one of them. These female Afghan parliamentarians deal with this threat on a daily basis.
In this, our 39th Parliament, 21% of the members are women. In Afghanistan, women account for 25% of parliament. They have no budget for a constituency office and must perform their duties, one on one, over vast areas of terrain under dangerous conditions.
What makes these women leave the relative safety of their homes to take on this very dangerous task? According to them, it is quite simple. They have an inner knowledge that their daring stand for democracy will ultimately have a positive effect on their lives and the lives of their children.
Canadian parliamentarians stood and applauded the bravery of these women and their achievements. I, therefore, see no reason why any member would choose not to continue to stand for them as they continue to rebuild their country into a place that is governed by a democratically elected Parliament, the rule of law, human rights and freedom.
Their victory will not happen overnight, but we knew that going in, and our Canadian Forces on the ground knew that going in.
We in this Parliament have a clear choice. We can be part of the solution or we can be part of the problem. Ten reservists from my riding made their decision themselves when they left a short time ago for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. They are going to do their part. Five Rocky Mountain Rangers have already been there for a tour of duty and, thankfully, returned safety.
I have spoken to them and I have heard the stories of their many successes, which add up to progress being made for the Afghan people. They have no regrets. They are the creators of change.
In January of this year, an American aid worker and her driver were abducted in Kandahar. Cyd Mizell had worked in the area for six years on educational projects and women's development. To date, she and her driver have not been found. In a show of support, 500 Afghan women gathered to protest the kidnapping. They called on officials, elders and ordinary citizens to work for her release. These women could not have dared to rally seven years ago. Canadians made it possible.
Just last week, Afghans celebrated International Women's Day. Hundreds of women marched for peace in Kandahar, the hotbed of Taliban insurgents. In the north, women held public meetings in the provincial capitals on giving women voices, with the provincial governors, women's councils, local police, judges and religious leaders participating. These meetings would not have been allowed to take place seven years ago. Canadians made it possible.
None of this progress would have been made without the security of the NATO troops provided to the Afghan people.
There are members of the House who would have our troops pulled out of Afghanistan immediately. Those members undermine the positive work that is going on in Afghanistan. Their propaganda is an insult to today's military and to the men and women who have served in areas of conflict during the history of our nation.
Canadians have never cut and run when the going got tough. We have a tradition of coming to the aid of those in need, whether it is in a peacekeeping capacity or in a peace-making capacity, and we do it well.
As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Veterans Affairs, I have had many opportunities to attend special remembrance ceremonies, both here and abroad. I have also witnessed the increased awareness of our military history among the younger generation. There is an earned pride that comes with the awareness and an appreciation for the sacrifices made in the name of oppressed people around the world.
Today, one only has to see the overpasses on the Highway of Heroes jammed with saluting, flag-waving Canadians for a member of our military who has paid the ultimate price and has returned home for burial. It is truly remarkable.
Canadians are gaining a renewed pride in our military men and women who, for too long, were underfunded and ignored by the government. Members of the military are now getting the recognition they so richly deserve and, I must say, some are quite surprised by it.
When we walk up to any man or woman in uniform and thank them for all they do for us, their first reaction is a quizzical look, then a big smile and a bit of embarrassment. Our military do not serve for praise. They are proud to wear their uniform and serve their country.
I have not been to Afghanistan but I am aware of the many successes, such as the mortality rate for newborns declining 22% because the number of skilled childbirth workers has almost quadrupled since 2001. Access to basic medical services has increased to 83%, up from 9% in 2004.
I recognize that there are close to six million children, a full one-third girls, now enrolled in school compared to only 700,000 exclusively male children in 2001. I am aware of the wonderful opportunities, through the Canadian micro-finance plan, that allows women to run their own small businesses to support their families.
However, there is no more compelling evidence for me that the failing Afghan state is on the road to recovery than the sight of those six women sitting in the gallery. They are putting their lives on the line for their country and they deserve no less than our full support.
Our world will be a better place with a free and democratic Afghanistan.