Canada is being praised in some quarters for taking a strong stance on supporting women’s empowerment as host of the G7 leaders’ summit earlier this month, but the praise is somewhat misplaced.

There was a $400 million investment in women and girls’ education; a commitment to raise $3 billion to support women’s economic participation in developing economies (the “2X Challenge”); and an initiative to bring together G7 private sector investment for international development.

Still, at best, the Charlevoix summit was a missed opportunity for the government to substantially support its own feminist international assistance policy on the world stage. At worst, it’s yet another example in which Canada’s rhetoric on international development is not matched by serious, targeted financial commitment.

Muskoka and Charlevoix: Increases in spending versus more announcements

In 2010, the last time Canada hosted the G7 (then the G8, before the expulsion of Russia), the signature achievement was the Muskoka Initiative on Maternal, Newborn and Child Health. While the initiative received its share of criticism, it is crucial to remember how much money the Stephen Harper government mobilized, and how much new Canadian funding was announced.  In Muskoka, the G8 countries committed $5 billion of additional funding over five years in the belief that the initiative would result in more than $10 billion from other donors.  The Conservative government committed additional funding of $1.1 billion over those five years, over and above its baseline funding of $1.75 billion.

Following that 2010 announcement, however, the government went on to freeze and then cut the international assistance budget. But even though these actions were dramatic, they did not in fact prevent the government from meeting its goals; rather, the Harper government ended up exceeding its total $2.85 billion dollar promise made in Muskoka.

The signature announcement for international development from Charlevoix was the $3.8 billion investment in women and girls’ education by Canada, Germany, Japan, the UK, the European Union and the World Bank.  Of this $3.8 billion, the Trudeau government is committing $400 million over the next three years. It has not been confirmed whether the $400 million is additional international development spending or money that’s already been allocated in the 2018 budget, which included an increase of $200 million to this year’s international assistance efforts. But even if it is new spending, it’s still less than half the Harper government’s financial commitment.

This lack of new spending is indicative of the shift in international development away from traditional official development assistance, known as ODA, to blended finance arrangements, initiatives that seek to use international assistance dollars to attract private investment.  For example, FinDev Canada and the newly announced Equality Fund were created to fulfil this mandate.

However, even with FinDev Canada’s and International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau saying Canada would be willing to contribute up to $300 million to the Equality Fund, these financial commitments, along with the $400 million announced in Charlevoix (even if it’s new spending), aren’t terribly impressive. They’ll likely add up to fewer disbursements on a yearly basis than what the Harper government put forward eight years ago.

Timid response to Gender Equality Advisory Council recommendations

The G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council’s Make Gender Equality History initiative calls upon the member countries to ensure that girls and women are supported with the resources and opportunities they need to be agents of change in their own lives and for a better world.  To accomplish the goal, the GEAC recommended that all G7 leaders commit to spending 0.7 percent of their respective gross national incomes (GNI) on official development assistance, and that 20 percent of all aid investments have women’s empowerment and gender equality as their principal focus.

For most G7 countries, the first recommendation may not be as difficult as some may expect.  According to OECD statistics and our calculations, if each G7 country grew their respective aid spending at the same rate that it’s been growing since 2001, and if their GNI grows at the same pace over that same period, Germany and the UK would meet the 0.7 per cent mark this year and France and Italy would hit it by 2026 and 2028, respectively.

More importantly, even if G7 countries simply capped their ODA spending at 0.7 per cent once meeting the threshold, these donors would contribute three times more international assistance than they did in 2016 by the year 2030.

Although this won’t fill the estimated $2.5 trillion annual   funding gap, it would be a step in the right direction, and would provide continued funding for recipient countries. In the meantime, donors could garner a better understanding of the actual appetite for private financiers to participate in development projects.

The second GEAC recommendation – that 20 per cent of all aid investments have women’s empowerment and gender equality as their principal focus – may prove more difficult.  From an OECD report on 2016 aid commitments and gender equality allocations, only the United States allocated more than 11 per cent of its bilateral aid to projects and programs in which gender equality was the principal focus.  On average, G7 countries committed 4.7 per cent of aid to such projects, with Canada only allocating 3.3 per cent.

Based on these 2016 numbers, the G7 countries would need to increase their combined principally focused gender equality funding by 480 per cent to meet the 20 per cent threshold, while Canada would need to increase it by 759 per cent, or US$751 million. And so, $400 million to women and girl’s education over three years is simply not enough.

Was the G7 presidency a win for Canada’s international development agenda?

When comparing Canada’s Charlevoix announcements to its 2010 G8 presidency, and the recommendations made by the G7’s Gender Equality Advisory Council, Canada’s ability to focus the development discussion on women and girls seems to be the only “win.” The financial commitments made by Canada and its G7 partners to development projects funded by traditional ODA are far less impressive than when Canada hosted the G8.

Charlevoix marked a shift from seeing gender equality as an outcome of traditional development assistance to gender equality being pursued and supported by the work of development finance institutions and their private partners.

Whether these partnerships will work to bring gender equality for all women and girls to all corners of the world remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the Trudeau government had an opportunity to live up to the promise of feminist leadership, and largely failed to do so. Praiseworthy rhetoric must be matched by relevant, innovative and increasing financial commitments to gender equality.  By this criteria, Charlevoix wasn’t enough.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

This article was originally published on Policy Options

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