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Realizing Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy

by the CIDP Team

Published: June 7, 2017

In light of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s address on Canada’s foreign policy priorities and the expected release of Canada’s new international assistance policy, we offer the following excerpt on “Realizing Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.”

This excerpt comes from our recent publication, Responding to the Changing Global Development Context: How Can Canada Deliver?, which continues the strategic conversation on advancing Canada’s contribution to global development.

This excerpt summarizes a panel discussion moderated by Nancy Smyth (Director General, Social Development, Global Affairs Canada) with presentations from Barbara MacLaren (Gender Specialist, The Conference Board of Canada), Lauren Ravon (Director of Policy and Campaigns, Oxfam Canada), Dr. Valerie Percival (Assistant Professor of International Affairs, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs), and Robert Greenhill (Executive Chairman, Global Canada).

For more information about our past conference, please visit www.cidpnsi.ca/how-can-canada-deliver.

Will Canada’s ‘feminist international assistance policy’ push the envelope?

Gender equitable societies are shaped by both institutional ‘bricks’ and normative ‘mortar’: formal laws and institutions can support gender equality, but deeply held social and cultural beliefs either hold the structure together or tear it apart.

Canada’s approach must go beyond technocratic solutions to address harmful and often deeply-held gender norms that act as barriers to change.

Empowerment of women and girls is a prerequisite for gender equality, but empowerment and equality are not synonymous. Although more girls are attending school, their learning scores remain low. Early marriages, young pregnancies, sexual and gender-based violence remain high in many countries.

Canada’s feminist approach to international assistance should link support for women’s issues in Canada with global leadership on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls.

Canada is well-placed to champion sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), end violence against women, improve women’s access to the workforce and representation in government and politics.

Factors that will make or break Canada’s approach to feminist international assistance

  • Approach to risk: A feminist approach to international assistance entails risk. For example, social movements advocating for gender equality in developing countries may be the most important group to work with to address the gender equality ‘mortar,’ but these are not the groups Canada may typically work with because they are deemed too risky. Anticipating and accounting for risk, to the extent possible in advance, is an important marker that will signal how serious the new approach is.
  • Not just semantics and not just about us: To date, discussions about the new feminist approach have been primarily about us, i.e. Canada as a donor, and not enough about how the approach will be qualitatively different in terms of working with new partners and champions in partner countries. The feminist approach may be semantically new to Canada, but is certainly not new. The first major United Nations (UN) conference on the status of women took place in 1975 (Mexico City) and the landmark Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was adopted in 1995. Development partners, such as the Nordic countries, have applied a feminist lens, and Sweden has an explicitly ‘feminist foreign policy’ that has entailed hard diplomatic choices. Canada need not reinvent the wheel, but neither can its approach to feminist international assistance be limited to semantics.
  • Pragmatism about resources, time frames and results: A policy framework that guides programming and projects that are 3 to 5 years in duration is almost contradictory. Applying a feminist lens requires a long-term strategy, over decades. New and additional financial commitments—not merely re-framing existing resources—will be necessary to realize stated ambitions. Providing a sense of what success looks like in applying a feminist lens in development policy and programming is a prerequisite to drive a shared understanding of the objectives of Canada’s feminist approach.

The Canadian International Development Platform (CIDP) leverages open data and big data from a development perspective, focusing on Canada’s engagement in development issues. 

The full brief, “Responding to the Changing Global Development Context How Can Canada Deliver?” is available for download here.

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