Canada is developing its feminist international assistance policy
Jasmin Lilian Diab
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Interesting enough, Canada has shocked the international community once more, viewing its development interests and its very notion and understanding of “development” from an entirely new angle.
“Focusing Canada’s international assistance on the full empowerment of women and girls is the most effective way for our international assistance to make a difference in the world. Sustainable development, peace and growth that works for everyone are not possible unless women and girls are valued and empowered,” said Canadian Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau once the country finally launched its long-anticipated International Assistance Policy earlier this year. The strategy calls itself “feminist” in nature, a word we all hope it uses carefully, as it lays the foundation for pivotal shifts in the country’s vision for the future of international development as well as its impact over some of the world’s most vulnerable and ostracized populations.
Minister Bibeau reinforced her statement whilst announcing that between now and the year 2023, fifteen percent of Canadian aid will be directed toward gender equality initiatives, a major contract and improvement when compared to the two percent dedicated to the aforementioned between 2015 and 2016.
Canada’s new and improved policy targets five main aspects of women’s empowerment: Gender equality, human dignity, inclusive growth, the environment, inclusive governance, as well as peace and security. It encompasses multiple new standards of conduct, primacies and funding opportunities which are anticipated to considerably amend Canada-supported programs both inside and outside of Canada. All projects supported by the Canadian government, irrespective of sectors, will have to integrate a gender and women’s empowerment component. Subsequently, implementing partners need to include women in the executive and conceptualization processes when launching new programs if they want Canada’s support.
The Canadian government further announced the establishment of the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program, a 111.4 million dollar fund which will be spread across five years in order to support women’s grassroots organizations which work in the areas of improving all aspects of gender equality. Other declarations also encompass an ongoing assessment of Canada’s priority countries in need of this type of assistance, currently placing more weight on sub-Saharan Africa and on other “fragile” states with a focus on women and youth-related concerns, issues and marginalization.
Canada’s strategy also aims for multi-year funding for humanitarian aid, especially as Canada expands its commitment to the Syria response. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made clear on multiple occasions that Canada is “[…] not looking to be present in Syria,” namely due to the fact that Canada is already heavily involved in the plight against the Islamic State in northern Iraq, as well as in operations in Mali and Latvia, he did stress that Canada continues to focus on the safety of those affected by the Syrian Crisis through “[…] providing humanitarian aid,” and “working diplomatically and politically to try to find solutions.”
The new policy was generally well-received by Canadian aid organizations, as it is a direct reflection of the recommendations uttered during a lengthy national consultation process which took place in 2016, whereby over 15,000 non-governmental organizations, major donors, government institutions as well as individuals were requested to share their expert opinions on the orientation of the new policy.