In 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). The plan announced that Canada is back to take a lead in the international development arena. Canada is one of the few countries around the world that commits to a foreign feminist approach in international assistance policy, which opens up the space for international leadership.
The recent victory of United States President-elect Joe Biden means that the future of Canada-US bilateral relations will likely be more prosperous than under Donald Trump’s administration. Canada and the US will have the opportunity to manage mutual strategic interests and this will be reflected on the international level, such as curbing the spread of COVID-19. Fortunately, Canada’s FIAP will stand to benefit from a Joe Biden presidency as global tensions of the political climate will likely begin to alleviate, enabling a Canadian feminist leadership internationally, but this time with a more cooperative partner.
Canada is still catching up after the decade under PM Stephen Harper when development cooperation “was the victim of budget cuts and stalled decision-making.” By contrast, the Liberal government has expanded investments in gender issues, including its support to reproductive health and rights for women and girls and positioning it at the heart of Canada’s international agenda. The FIAP not only demonstrates the Liberal government’s divergence from that of the former Conservative government, but also touches on the core thematic areas of the 2030 SDGs Agenda.
Adopting a feminist approach is not only about securing a position of international leadership, but also about achieving tangible changes on the ground. Amid the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a study was conducted to examine how gender mainstreaming is deployed in humanitarian action by way of an operational model. The results were shocking! After three years of advocating for an international gender equality agenda, Canada was the only country that “had female participation of greater than 50%.” In other words, Canada was the only country to respond with gender equality at the level of national decision-making. Now comes the real challenge – how do we increase women’s voices at the international decision-making table? Is Canada ready to challenge the status quo of power relations? There has already been substantial progress through the FIAP impacting and increasing feminist approaches within the international development assistance community. However, critics believe that actions matter more than intentions to change Canada’s image.
How will Canada address its foreign policy strategy under the impact of COVID-19? How should the liberal government balance Canada’s international commitments under the FIAP with the domestic impact of the global pandemic? Though this requires adjusting the FIAP implementation process to align with the current situation, this should not alter the central priorities. The global pandemic provides a great chance to examine whether gender equality is treated as a priority or as complementary to other issues. Canada has the opportunity to prove its international feminist leadership by assisting a global gender equality response to COVID-19.
Global crises are quickly evolving. From existing intractable conflicts, natural disasters, and food insecurity to the current COVID-19 situation, women and girls remain the most vulnerable during these crises. We must strive for a sustainable gender perspective to respond to the needs of the most vulnerable in societies.
Given the size of current global humanitarian crises, there is much-needed work to be done “to help ensure women’s safety during humanitarian crises.” Canada’s international reputation could stand to gain from taking leadership with regards to this issue. However, introducing a feminist international policy approach into the spotlight is not a new strategic move in the political world. Margot Wallstrom’s introduction of a “feminist foreign policy,” by placing gender equality at the heart of Sweden’s international relations is one such example. This makes me wonder if Canada is doing what is needed to be an exceptional leader of the global feminist approach. Perhaps Canada ought to expand its developmental scope to include adopting the Agenda for Humanity. Canada has an open opportunity to initiate its leadership to a gender equality approach in accordance with the Agenda for Humanity.
Endorsing the Agenda for Humanity is a possible commitment to attain, because it aligns with the aspirations of Canada’s current FIAP. Given the significant challenges that the Agenda for Humanity is currently facing, such as state-participants non-compliance and the funding gap in the humanitarian assistance, Canada has a golden opportunity it could seize. It is also worth mentioning that the resources required to handle this crucial leadership must not be underestimated! So far Canada has proved it is capable of making a change in this chaotic world by carrying out the SDG objectives as well as the FIAP objectives through its robust policy action plan. Currently Canada devotes 95% of its bilateral international development assistance towards initiatives or programming that “target or integrate gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.” Given these results, I think it won’t be that difficult for Canada to expand its feminist leadership globally.
In ten years from now, just imagine what Canada’s international position could be if it made more effort to develop a global feminist approach in the sphere of international development. A feminist foreign policy exclusively made in Canada!
Nora Tail is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in International Affairs at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. She is passionate about initiatives to improve human rights around the world. Her research interests include state fragility and Canadian foreign policy. Nora can be contacted via twitter @NorahTail.
Banner image by Lindsey LaMont, courtesy of Unsplash.