Canada: Part 2
Updated: Jul 11
By Vaishnavi Pallapothu
Canada’s Support for the WPS agenda
Since the adoption of Resolution 1325 in 2000, Canada has played an instrumental role in sustaining the momentum of this historical resolution and has continued to work alongside UN members in the Friends of Women, Peace and Security grouping (Franklin, n.d.).
One among 85 other countries, Canada has launched two National Action Plans on Women, Peace and Security so far: one for the 2011-2016 period and a subsequent one for 2017-2022. The latest NAP, on paper, looks robust and promising. In addition to extending support for women’s participation in peace and security, Canada also reaffirms its commitment prevent and address impunity for sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict around the world. A positive takeaway from this plan is the allocation of $150 million dollars of funding to local women’s organizations that work in reconciliation and conflict prevention (Sinclair, 2020). This bottom-up emphasis on grassroots and civil society organizations is an affirmation of the crucial role that community-led transformative action can play in stabilizing conflict.
Cognizant of the slow progress being made around the world with regards to established targets of the UN Security Council’s Resolution 2242, to double the rate of women’s participation as military and police peacekeepers, Canada launched the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations. By pledging to increase the meaningful participation of women and not sticking to a stir-and-add approach, this initiative will design and implement tailored training and technical assistance for peacekeepers. Additionally, Canada has pledged $15 million for a global fund to support deployment (UN Women, 2020).
On another encouraging note, under Justin Trudeau’s government, Canada’s first ever Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, Jacqueline O’Neill, was appointed. Her broad mandate includes advising the Canadian government and ministers on domestic and foreign policies pertaining to the WPS as well as working in close association with stakeholders from around the world to advance women’s participation in peacebuilding.
In an interview with Council for Foreign Relations (CFR, 2020)11, Jacqueline explains why the reconciliation of both domestic and international spheres in terms of implementing the WPS agenda is important to signal Canada’s commitment to the same. She said “Contributing to reconciliation domestically is also key to our credibility globally. Why would governments and partners around the world view us as genuine partners if we’re not willing to undertake the same self-reflection that we’re asking of them?” Indeed, all of these are powerful ways to operationalize the pioneering Resolution 1325, which is itself an indispensable instrument of Canada’s feminist foreign policy. Nonetheless, the implantation has been wonting and hypocritical as Canada fails to address disarmament as a tool for promoting the WPS Agenda and continues to support and partake in arms deals as a member of both G7 and NATO.
When it comes to Canada’s track record on indigenous rights, to say it has been abysmal would be accurate. Indigenous women and girls, in particular, face discrimination and violence based on a number of intersecting factors not limited to gender, race, socioeconomic status and the legacy of colonialism. According to a UN Expert Committee from 2015 (Bailey and Brunn, 2015), Canada had violated a number of articles of the CEDAW convention as “aboriginal women and their families have experienced serious acts of violence that have significantly affected the right to life and personal security”. After plenty of public outcry from activists, international organizations and women’s groups, Canada launched an enquiry into Missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls (MMIWG).
The outcome of this commission has been inadequate at best. Several indigenous groups argued that it was neither transparent not inclusive (Brant 2017). Trudeau himself hesitantly accepted the National Inquiry’s conclusion that Canada was complicit in the genocide of its indigenous peoples, although this itself is widely debated in the country (Hebert 2019).
Indeed, as Canada backed The Gambia’s genocide lawsuit against Myanmar for the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims, there was public backlash, domestically, for the contradictory position “of leading a very active foreign policy based on prevention of genocide abroad, and at home, not responding to fully for the calls for justice made by the [National Inquiry]” (Blanchfield, 2020). While Canada’s feminist foreign policy and responsibility as an influential middle player means that it has a responsibility to support Gambia in this case, it remains that Canada’s domestic and foreign policy with respect to genocide is incoherent.
Ultimately, the issues with respect to Indigenous women and girls in the country must be understood in the context of settler colonialism. Unless Canada pays heed to the National Inquiry and earlier Truth and Reconciliation report, justice and accountability seem far away. One way for Canada to make amends and progress in terms of Indigenous women’s rights and dignity is to actively engage them in their WPS NAP as their participation can go a long way in reconciliation and security, while also bolstering the nation’s credibility in terms of support for the WPS agenda.
Feminist Foreign Assistance
In June 2017, Canada announced its Feminist International Assistance Policy which states that Canada guarantees 15% of all bilateral international development assistance will go towards gender equality and empowerment. By 2022, the country aims to increase this to 95% of all foreign assistance (Government of Canada, n.d.). With an overall focus on five overarching pillars of gender equality, human dignity, inclusive growth, inclusive governance and environment and climate action, Canada will fund programs aimed at eradicating child marriage, encouraging girls’ education, and eliminating gender-based violence. Under the FIAP, Canada will create a $150 million fund for the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program, which is a much-needed fund in the women’s grassroots space which hardly receive international financial aid. After consulting with on-ground civil society actors in 65 different countries, the FIAP will take into consideration the concerns of local women and will use a bottom-up approach to include them in decision-making processes (Halais, 2017).
While it was widely heralded as a progressive feminist foreign policy initiative, FIAP has also drawn some criticism. First, The FIAP repeatedly alludes to “women and girls,” sticking to the liberal feminist ‘add women and stir’ approach (D. Lee, n.d.). Without moving beyond the essentialist view of gender and taking into consideration intersectionality and non-Western perspectives that consider the impact of capitalism, colonialism, and gender-power relations, the FIAP’s outcome will not challenge or undo structural barriers to development. Furthermore, there are few signs of the intent for transformative policy implementation (Tiessen, 2019). For example, although it is reiterated that it is important to engage boys and men to tackle the patriarchal institutions, the policy report remains vague as to how to go about doing this. Critics have also argued that the financial resources allocated to the FIAP are inadequate and do not match the policy’s ambitions.
Canada’s commitment to feminist international aid cannot limit itself to just pour money into the gaps. It must represent and push forward an intersectional feminist approach and include all stakeholders such as LGBTQIA+ individuals, trans people and non-binary people. Not just women and girls. A feminist international assistance plan that does not give meaningful support to legal and political advocacy to advance women’s rights, empowerment and development is just not feminist enough.
Canada’s feminist foreign policy is certainly multi-faceted, comprehensive, and trailblazing in many aspects. However, without a commitment to disarmament, indigenous rights or intersectional approaches to its decision-making, these policies risk becoming palliative and not transformative enough. It is high time Canada moves beyond instrumentalist and status-quo policies of bringing more women to the table, facilitating dialogue and jingoistic statements and stopping there. A broader and nuanced transformative feminist foreign policy agenda is needed to challenge and eventually dismantle the structural inequalities. Canada has been at the forefront of feminist leadership for many decades now. The current vision for its feminist foreign policy is not enough. It must and can do better.
Addendum in May 2023:
Canada adopted its Feminist International Assistance Policy in June 2017. The policy focused exclusively on development assistance, and did not include diplomacy, defence, and trade. In 2021, the Canadian government, in a dedicated segment on its website, noted: “Feminist foreign policy, which applies a feminist lens to all aspects of Canada’s international engagement, including the Feminist International Assistance Policy; the Canadian National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; Canada’s inclusive approach to trade; and the new defence strategy. Feminist foreign policy calls for policy, advocacy and program efforts to focus on addressing fundamental structural barriers that prevent gender equality, taking into account the needs of those most affected by multiple forms of discrimination.” (Government of Canada, 2021).
It addresses six priority areas: 1) Gender equality and women’s and girls’ empowerment; 2) “human dignity,” which is an umbrella term that includes access to health care, education, nutrition, and the timely delivery of humanitarian assistance; 3) “growth that works for everyone,” focusing on women’s economic empowerment, entrepreneurship, farmers, and smallholders; 4) climate action; 5) inclusive governance; and 6) women, peace and security. The policy developed key performance indicators for each of the six areas, requiring Global Affairs Canada to collect and publish data reflecting performance on an annual basis.
The Canadian Feminist Foreign Policy started with a commitment to rights and backed it with a financial commitment through its ODA. It committed to dedicate 95% of its foreign assistance to programming involving gender equality as a principal or significant goal (based on OECD-DAC data), marking a major hike from its commitment of 2.4% in 2015-2016 and 6.5% in 2016-2017, on the gender principal marker, and 68 and 75% on gender as a significant marker for the same financial years. OECD data from 2018-2019 suggest that Canada committed 24% to gender as a principal marker and 68% to gender as a significant marker. Canada overtook Sweden in the OECD rankings after allocating 92% of aid as gender-focused (OECD, 2021). Canada also launched the Equality Fund to resource women’s rights organizations and feminist movements, and the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program to support local women’s organizations.
In 2020, Canada’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, announced a collaboration with civil society to launch the white paper. An internal version of the white paper was completed in 2021. However, it has not been released to the public, following the snap election in mid-August 2021. Canadian officials were noted to have informed the ICRW in its run up to a 2021 paper on Feminist Foreign Policy, that the government was building elements of a larger feminist approach to foreign policy, including through a series of sectoral policies such as a Trade Diversification Strategy that prioritized an “inclusive approach to trade,” a Second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, the appointment of the world’s first dedicated Ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, and a new Defence Policy that was to be “Strong, Secure, Engaged,” as well as an internal guidance on implementing feminist foreign policy (this was issued to embassies and other government departments in early 2019), and, finally, a ministerial commitment to feminist foreign policy articulated in a 2021 mandate letter (Government of Canada, 2021).
A major limitation of this policy was that it did not translate its impact measurement from commitment to practice. In 2023, an independent auditor’s report noted that Global Affairs Canada was unable to show how the approximately $3.5 billion in bilateral development assistance it provides each year to low- and middle-income countries improved outcomes for women and girls. Further, 24 of the 26 indicators the department had created to monitor progress against policy goals did not measure outcomes. It was also found that money was reallocated to address the needs that emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Second, the policy did not seek to question the patriarchy and its manifestation through systemic and structural violence. Saudi Arabia remained the top export destination for Canadian arms after the US, in 2021. Further, Canada’s treatment of indigenous women has been called out on several occasions – the most recent of which includes the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) calling on Canada to fully address the long-standing gender-based discrimination in the country’s Indian Act, which continues to affect tens of thousands of descendants of indigenous women to date.
Addendum References  https://reliefweb.int/report/world/international-assistance-support-gender-equality-global-affairs-canada-independent-auditors-report-2023  https://www.theglobeandmail.com/politics/article-saudi-arabia-top-export-destination-for-canadian-arms-after-united/
1. U Franklin, Executive Summary, The Standing Committee on Human Rights, Senate of Canada, https://sencanada.ca/Content/SEN/Committee/403/huma/press/18nov10e-e.htm
2. A Sinclair, (2020, March 9), How Canada’s Ambassador For Women, Peace, and Security Can Use Her Global Experience to Make a Local Impact, Strategy Corp, https://strategycorp.com/2020/03/how-canadas-ambassador-for-women-peace-and-security-can-use-her-global-experience-to-make-a-local-impact/
3. UN Women, (2020, March 29), The Elsie Initiative Fund launched to increase uniformed women in UN peacekeeping, UN Women, https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/3/news-the-elsie-initiative-fund-launched-to-increase-uniformed-women-in-un-peacekeeping
4. CFR, (2020, April 21), Five Questions on Gender Equality in Foreign Policy: Jacqueline O’Neill, Council for Foreign Relations, https://www.cfr.org/blog/five-questions-gender-equality-foreign-policy-jacqueline-oneill
5. Bailey and Brunn, (2015, March 6), Canada’s failure to effectively address murder and disappearance of Aboriginal women ‘grave rights violation’ – UN experts, UN OHCHR, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15656
6. J. Brant (2017, March 22), Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada, The Canadian Encyclopedia, https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-and-girls-in-canada
7. C. Hebert, (2019, June 10), Trudeau sows confusion with his mixed messaging on Indigenous genocide, The Star, https://www.thestar.com/politics/political-opinion/2019/06/10/trudeau-sows-confusion-with-his-mixed-messaging-on-indigenous-genocide.html
8. M. Blanchfield, (2020, September 6), Indigenous genocide finding hangs over Canada’s Myanmar court intervention, CBC, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-myanmar-court-intervention-1.5714246
9. Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, Government of Canada, https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/priorities-priorites/policy-politique.aspx?lang=eng
10. F. Halais (2017, June 12), Canada’s new foreign aid policy puts focus on women, rights, Devex,
11. D. Lee, Thesis: What is Feminist Foreign Policy? Analysis of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, University of Ottawa, https://ruor.uottawa.ca/bitstream/10393/37379/1/Lee_Danielle_2018_thesis.pdf
12. R. Tiessen, (2019, December), What’s New About Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: The Problem and Possibilities of More of the Same, Canadian Global Affairs Institute, https://www.cgai.ca/whats_new_about_canadas_feminist_international_assistance_policy_the_problem_and_possibilities_of_more_of_the_same