Gender, climate the future focus of relations with Canada: High Commissioner

Climate change and gender issues put the Pacific Islands on the map last decade but also be the centre of its future relationship with Canada, the country's outgoing High Commissioner for Samoa says.

Mario Bot, Canada's High Commissioner to New Zealand and a non-resident representative in Samoa, this week attended the launch of Catalysing Women’s Entreprenuership, a five-year regional program by the United Nations to boost female participation in the economy. Canada is funding the initiative to the tune of US$10 million.

Mr. Bot said the region's geopolitical spotlight can be partly attributed to “brilliant orators” putting their countries issues on the world stage nearly a decade ago.

“I look back seven or eight years [when] various Pacific leaders were brilliant orators at the United Nations and put climate change on the map,” Mr. Bot said.

“They said: 'You have never heard of this region, but we are sinking’. 

And, with that, I think we have had a corresponding interest from everywhere in the world in this area.”

The Pacific is experiencing unprecedented international attention, with New Zealand, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom all producing foreign policy strategies focused on the region. 

The Pacific Reset (New Zealand), the Pacific Step Up (Australia) and the Pacific Uplift (UK) are all less than three years old.

Mr. Bot said Canada’s hope is to be a “good friend” to the Pacific small island developing states:

“We want to be a better friend to all parts of the developing world and in particular the islands that are facing climate change issues.”

Canada is focusing on the shared challenges not just of climate change but also gender-based violence and discrimination, following the launch last month of its new Feminist International Assistance Policy.

“The fact that Canada is melting means your sea levels are rising,” he said.

“We all have gender issues at home, we all have high rates of violence against women at home and the Pacific has even higher rates. 

"We all have to learn from each other on that one.”

Climate action and the environment are among six ‘action areas’ nominated in the new feminist policy.

Mr. Bot said: “the scarcity of resources in the wake of these challenges—in particular, the lack of clean drinking water—coupled with a gender-based imbalance in household responsibilities, means that climate change has a disproportionate impact on women and girls at the household level.

“It is especially important—as individuals with a vested interest in mitigating the effects of climate change—that women and girls be given an active role in designing and developing strategic responses to climate change.”

Mr. Bot said though Canada has the funds to support regional gender development initiatives like Catalysing Women’s Entrepreneurship launched this week, it has not ‘solved’ the issues at home yet.

“Everything you heard today about banking being risk averse and not wanting to do business with women, that was the case in Canada,” he said.

“All of a sudden the banks have discovered there is this whole market of innovative, creative people and they have created products just for women and I think that is what is going to happen in Samoa.

“But it’s the same issues, we have just been working at it longer, we are a richer country, we have more resources but the challenges are the same.”

When asked about leaving the region, Mr. Bot was reluctant to leave but said the role of a diplomat is to move on at the right time.

“Just when you get to know a place, you have to leave,” he said.

Mr. Bot began his term in June 2015. 

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