Is Harper’s religion hurting Afghanistan?

Former head of aid program says PM’s religious beliefs are interfering with aid efforts


Nipa Bannerjee, the former head of the Canadian International Development Agency in Afghanistan, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is a born-again Christian, is harming relief efforts in the country because of his religious beliefs. Speaking to the Georgia Straight, she criticized the government for intentionally leaving reproductive health out of CIDA’s programs, despite the fact that one in eight women die during childbirth in Afghanistan. “It is important to make contraception available, whereas our government’s policy is not to include reproductive health in any kind of maternal-health program,” she said. “That I consider to be a major drawback.” Other aid workers on the ground have also levied similar complaints. “The leading cause of death in Afghanistan is not bombs; it’s not bullets—it is pregnancy,” says Kieran Green, a spokesperson for CARE Canada, an aid organization that provides condoms and oral contraceptives to Afghans.

Georgia Straight

Filed under:

Is Harper’s religion hurting Afghanistan?

  1. Nipa, after you got a fat public servant salary and most likely a pension, your left bend comes out to bite the hand that fed you.
    For social politics issues please pay out of your own moneys not out of my taxes as you haven't consulted with me through running for office or otherwise

    • I missed the referendum on aid and its uses. I'll bet 10 bucks you'd lose.

      • You missed the vote where Liberals imploded on their own motion after demanding we use taxpayers dollars to fund abortions in the Congo?

        Why do you think so many voters have left the party? Why do you think Catholics are blamed for handing Dion the historic loss in 2008?

        Why do you think Liberals run to the CBC to apologize every time they screw up?

        [youtube jw7jT938pi0&feature=player_embedded youtube]

        • For those pin heads who like to blame "Christians" and invoke a culture war here is the report.

          Social Background Characteristics: The Shrinking Liberal Core
          The Liberals were able to coast to victory in 2000 with the support of two key groups:
          visible minorities and Catholics. By 2008, the Liberals could no longer count on their loyalty. The visible minority vote dropped 14 points between 2000 and 2004 (see Figure 2).3 The main beneficiary was the NDP. The Liberals did not lose any further ground in 2006, but in 2008, they lost a massive 19 points. And now it was the Conservatives who benefited. In fact, minority voters were almost as likely to vote Conservative in 2008 as they were to vote Liberal.

          The Catholic vote tells a similar story (see Figure 3). Catholic support has dropped a massive 24 points since 2000. In 2006, Catholics were as likely to vote Conservative as Liberal.
          In 2008, they clearly actually preferred the Conservatives to the Liberals. Controlling for other social background characteristics reveals that the drop in Liberal support among Catholics is even more dramatic than the loss of visible minority votes. According to our estimations, in 2000 the probability of voting Liberal was 15 points higher among Catholics than among non-Catholics; by 2008, it was only five points higher.

 of a Liberal…

  2. And she arrives at the conclusion that contraception was left out because of the PM's religious beliefs how exactly? She's engaging in knee-jerk speculation and nothing else. It's one of those "Well, it makes sense, doesn't it?" conclusions people are drawn to when they have absolutely no evidence to support their assertion. It makes perfect sense in her progressive little mind, so it becomes fact.

    • Care to speculate why contraception was left out? She is a little closer to the sharp end of the action than you or i; I do agree that a good follow up from a competent journalist might have been: " Why do you think that"?

      • Just shows her ignorance on born-again Christians as they have no doctrine against contraceptives. The pope and his followers are the "every sperm is sacred" die-hards.

        • Depends which brand of born-again you are. One example is Quiverfull

          Quiverfull is a movement among conservative evangelical Christian couples chiefly in the United States, but with some adherents in Canada,[1] Australia, New Zealand, England and elsewhere.[2] It promotes procreation, and sees children as a blessing from God,[2][3][4] eschewing all forms of birth control, including natural family planning and sterilization

          • Well the article even manages to mention that Harper belongs to the East Gate Alliance Church, My neighbours are b.a. and long time members of the Alliance Church – they have no anti-contraception agenda. In fact as evangelicals, several of their members do recue work with teenage prostitutes in Bangkok. One of their biggest purchases is condoms.

          • Hey…it was Harper's initiative, not mine. Talk to him about it.

            Lots of evanjellyrolls in cabinet.

          • If the info CanadianSense listed above is true, maybe Harper is consciously courting the Catholic vote (wafer-hiding behaviours excepted – LOL).

          • So explain this from above: "…whereas our government's policy is not to include reproductive health in any kind of maternal-health program…"

          • Holly you don't get it. We will be going to countries where it against THEIR laws to provide contreception or abortion.

          • No, we're not.

            In fact we've been providing such things for years.

          • CIDA president Margaret Biggs:
            "Canada never directly funded abortions in developing countries, Ms. Biggs told a parliamentary committee earlier this month.
            Instead, the country's aid funds were handed directly to NGOs and foreign governments that used their discretion in distributing the money."

            There is a much better one but find it. World Abortion Law Map

          • Yes, so abortions were funded all along.

          • And the NGOs will continue to use their discretion. From the above article: "Kieran Green, a spokesperson for CARE Canada, wrote that his development organization's programs include providing oral contraceptives and condoms".

          • Except they've been told not to fund contraceptives or abortion or give money to any group that might do so.

  3. Here we go again…..can't find a scandal so lets raise the religious boogey man. The Straight = Dippers Delight Daily. Shame on you Macleans for mis-quoting the actual article as well.

    Hillary Clinton can put a cork in it – the U.S. are to busy flip-flopping with their "don't ask, don't tell" to be pointing fingers.

  4. Are we going to have to embed 'separation of church and state' in the constitution so people get the idea?

    • I don't think that you know what "separation of church and state" means, or at least you are misusing it in this sentence. Not that I agree with Harper & Co., to be clear.

        • From your link: "…legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."

          They are not passing a law or policy that violates this principal, which is the fundamental idea of the separation of church and state.

          By your logic, no religious people should be aloud to be in government. As much as some may enjoy that, it's a dumb way to run a country. Everyone is going to make decisions based on whatever their moral foundation is, whether that comes from a religious tradition, a philosophical one, etc. You're free to disagree with their opinions (as I indicated, I disagree with most of what the CPC do), but arguing that the problem is a matter of separation of church and state when it clearly isn't weakens your argument.

          • That's the American version….this isn't the US.

            We have a govt full of religious people….always have….but they can't be allowed to impose their personal religious beliefs on everybody else through the machinery of the state.

          • "That's the American version….this isn't the US." You provided the link genius. The obvious conclusion is that your integrity is as spurious as your thinking?

          • And as you pointed out, we don't officially have separation of church and state.

            See, separation of church and state means that the government isn't able (at least ideally) to do things like legislate that every adhere to a particular faith. We're all free to pursue whatever (within reason) religious pursuits we like, without government interference. That's, simply put, what the separation means.

            It does not mean that people are forbidden to make decisions of conscience based on their religious beliefs into national policy. That would essentially exclude anyone with any sort of religious leanings from running for office, which would be dumb. Not funding abortions, whether right or wrong, does not violate the separation of church and state, because they're not forcing anyone to do anything. If they were outlawing abortion on religious grounds, then you'd have a much better basis for making an argument for a breach of separation. But that's not what's happening here.

            Why not just stick to a more plausible line of reasoning? There are good arguments to be made to support funding abortions, this just isn't one of them.

          • This is funnier then you know JoeC, as I've had a long "debate" with Emily on the nature of the first amendment, and she was arguing strongly that it DIDN'T separate chuch and state.

            You can check it out for a giggle or two (accompanied by many facepalms) here:

            Here's a representative sample of Emily's thoughts:

            "Ahhh the minute you lose, you attack me.

            This is what the first amendment actually says:

            "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

            Not a peep about 'separating church and state'.

            And yes, for the most part the US is a militant theocracy. "

            See, back then she didn't even believe the U.S separated church and state, but somehow England and Canada did. Now all of a sudden she's Jefferson's biggest fan, and trying to apply it in the wrong way you mentioned. As well as using it in Canada (where it obviously does not apply). Contradiction thy name is Emily.

          • Emily you are 100% wrong on this one. A) All beliefs are personal B) Adhearing to the (most) of the teachings of religion is not a crime (yet) C) The non-religious have been pretty active in imposing their beliefs upon everone else, so it would be rank hypocracy (and a brazen political calculation) to negate the political actions of some people because of their membership in a religious organization. D) There are a good number of the secular that raised hue and cry over the supposed impositions upon their will by the social mores rooted in religion-centred culture, only to now prosecute their vaguely individualistic moral code, rooted in secular-centred culture, with a double dose of vigor.

            I know you are tenatious in defending your opinions, but your reasoning is way off base on this one.

        • Could you point out the part of that article where it talks about the vital role Queen Elizabeth I had, in the separation of church and state? You do remember saying that was the case… right?

          If not, I've provided a link below, so that you can take a stroll down memory lane.

    • Absolutely !

  5. Why not channel limited money intended for food, water, education, and health care to the most important thing in life – abortion? who knows, by doing this, Afghanistan will develop faster – a thousand fold??? What is going on with this feminist twits? They are so out of reality, they can't recognize their head from their butts. Do they really think money grows on trees, and they have the temitry to blame it on the guy's religion. Propaganda anyone? I bet you this twit will be running in the next election for either NDP, Liberal, or Green.

    • '…despite the fact that one in eight women die during childbirth in Afghanistan.'

      Oh i don't know, maybe that's why?

      • So lets try to get the mothers better medical care then.

        • Then we need to get Harper out of the way.

          • Guess I should have added:

            …so that they can give birth safely.

          • But they can't, that's the problem.

          • Harper wants to increase funding so that (among other things) more expectant mothers will survive childbirth. I don't see how anyone can say this is not a good cause. But instead, many are upset because he doesn't want the money to also go to fund abortions.

            Imagine if I decided to provide free Christmas dinner to dozens of homeless people. That makes me a heckuva guy, right? But I don't like cranberry sauce, so my FREE dinner will offer everything (turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc.) EXCEPT cranberry sauce. Now suddenly I'm a fascist?

          • Many women die in childbirth because they did not have access to contraception nor to a safe abortion. Some of them are too young and/or too malnourished to survive a pregnancy. Others are worn out by having too many pregnancies too close together. When they die, often their older children who have become orphans will also die as a result.

            Contraception and safe abortions are an essential part of maternal health care. This has to be explained over and over again to stupid young rightwing men who think mummy found them in a cabbage patch.

    • I couldn''t find any reference to any claim of a "thousand fold" faster development in either the posting or the link. Where did you get that?

      In any event, I suspect this person, based on her experience in the field, is far more qualified to comment on the socioeconomic needs of Afghanistan than you are. What are your credentials for so arrogantly dismissing her assessment?

      • You expect me to take everyone's word as gospel? Just because one is a member of an NGO or special interest group who has her own agenda? If people who prophess to know everything even the mindset and thoughts of other people, are suppose to be the only one entitled to their own opinions, we will all be sheep right now – Baah, baah, baah! If you are so concerned with contraceptives (which I am a believer of, by the way) and abortion (I too, believe in personal choice) donate your own money to Afghanistan through WHO or Red Cross and specify what they are intended for, no one is stopping you, her, me, and anyone else to do this. The issue here is financial priorities and respecting religious sensitivities of the Afghans and their communities. We are not there to impose and force our abortion values on them. Grow up!

        • Thanks. You didn't answer either of my questions. Judging from your presumptuous rant, it appears you share the common neo-con contempt for expertise on a given issue, if that authoritative opinion happens to differ from your mindset.

          Since you haven't declared your own credentials to comment on the socioeconomic needs of Afghanistan, I'll assume your uninformed opinion on the matter is unworthy of serious consideration…carry on.

          • Have you or those people you worship ever thought of what happen to aid workers that push this contraceptive to these people whose religion and tradition prohibit such use? How many aid workers will be victims of abuse, harm and killings? And how many women will be further victimized by their so religious and mysoginist husbands, relatives, imams and religious police/clerics when they are caught with these in their person? Ah, but then your dripping self righteousness is more important than the lives of those who are working on the field and those whom we are suppose to help. If you want answers to your questions, start thinking, I refuse to do the thinking for you. If you choose to let that lady think for you, you are free to do so , that is what freedom is all about. Having said that, spare me from such sheepish way of thinking.

          • My, my, you manage to make so many inferences about my opinions and beliefs from my two simple questions.

            In any event, your opinion is evidently no more valid nor informed than mine so we needn't bother carrying on this thread. I'll defer to the views of someone who presumably has actual experience and credible information on the issue…like the former CIDA executive whose viewpoint you so cavalierly dismissed at the beginning of this exchange.

          • Ariadne is a fantasist. She knows nothing about the beliefs of people in Afghanistan.

          • Holly did you post this while wearing your Al Gore David Suzuki T shirt?

          • You should read more, and you will see that Harper did not say no to contraceptives and abortion he just did not have specific budget targeted for these alone. In fact NGOS can still use part of the budget to procure those. But there are people out there who just can't help but want to score political points as they have agendas to drive themselves. In some places where culture, tradition, and religious sensitivities have to be considered, one has to choose which is more important. If you think I am a fantasist, go there yourself and try to preach abortion and see how long you live freely.

        • You are totally confused about this.

          We are there to impose a whole variety of things on Afghans. We are occuping their country.

          Afghans are Muslims and have no prohibitions on contraception and abortion btw.

    • I don't care if he is really a fundamentalist or just pretending to be one to cater to his fundmentalist followers; the dastard Harper is killing women with his fundamentalist policies.

  6. It occurs to me and perhaps you might ask yourself if there is a reason that women in Afghanistan are not given condoms – perhaps their husbands would not wear them. Perhaps in their culture reproductive decisions are not made by women. I understand that one of the problems that the Bill Gates Foundation has found insurmountable in Africa is that women have little control over reproduction. We cannot always presume to know what is culturally acceptable in other countries. Neither should we make other people's choices regarding reproduction for them.

    • None of which has anything to do with Harper's religious beliefs affecting our foreign policy.

      • Emily, my point is only that it easy to blame Stephen Harper and his so-called religious views for the reason women in other cultures aren't ammenable to using birth control. Maybe they just don't want to do it so it is a waste of money to provide it. On the other hand, we can help them reach their goals by helping them achieve safer births and healthier pregnancies.

    • Neither should we make other people's choices regarding reproduction for them.


      I agree. I am glad we are not doing so – although we could do more to make sure people have a wider range of choices.

      And the topics you bring up may be issues between individuals, they aren't reasons to not provide condoms generally.

      • I am just stating that these individual is blaming Stephen Harper's religion as the reason condoms are not provided. If the condoms would not be used, then it would be a waste of resources to purchase them and hand them out. You have to come up with other strategies to improve the outcomes for pregnant women – especially if they actually want to have more babies.

    • "… We cannot always presume to know what is culturally acceptable in other countries…"

      Why don't you do some research and try to find out instead of speculating without any knowledge of the actual situation?

      • No need to chastise me Holly for my lack of diligence. You seem to have done all of the research, so tell me do men in Afghanistan generally let their wives make the decisions regarding reproductive choices and are they ammenable to wearing condoms to prevent pregnancies?

        • Oh, I did some of my own research…I just googled "Do men from Afghanistan wear condoms?" and up came an arcticle from April/2010, stating that when religious leaders "Mullahs" promoted spacing children through use of contraception (condoms or prolonged breast feeding to age 2) there was a 10 percent increase in use of birth control; when couples had a one to one consultation with a health professional regarding prolonging time between pregnancies plus support from religious leaders, use of contraception went up 27 percent in one area. The Mullahs actually provided the contraceptive devices during evening prayer. The condoms were donated by an American couple named Hewitt. There was some question of whether or not the program was sustainable in the long term.

          • The article also stated that some women want many children because they tend to lose many children to disease and so it is important to have a large family. Thus, they are reluctant to practice birth control.

  7. Well there is some hope for common sense after all. Looks like most of the people who have commented on the article in the Straight recognize cheesy journalism when they read it.

    • Which has nothing to do with the problem.

  8. Muslim women are beasts of burden, not even our feminists have a problem with that. Nothing can be done.

  9. It's my understanding that Islam is against abortion.

  10. Harper and his born again creationist cabinet have nothing positive to contribute to anything . Everything they touch turns to poop.

    • So, which one touched you?

  11. I would expect that all of our Federal Party leaders claim to be Christian so what's the problem. The fact is Afghanistan is a Muslin nation where abortions would not be allowed. We can kill the Taliban but not the babies. Nipa if you want to kill babies you will have to do it here. Perhaps Henry can provide a job for you.

  12. The PM's religion is not the real subject here. Has nothing to do with the situation. Mrs Bannerjee's motives are probably more connected to partisan politics than anything else.

  13. Is Harper's religion hurting Afghanistan? The question should be Is Harper's religion hurting Canada ? When you have a born again running the show bad things happen. Just look at what George W Bush did to the U.S. Their limited world view and manichean bias infect their decisions which we pay for.