Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy at 5: Part 3
Earlier this year we launched a discussion on Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) now that it is five years old. Policies like the FIAP matter because – ideally – they shape how international aid is shifting power and advancing gender equality, democracy, and peace. Are resources, for example, reaching the feminist activists whose work advances gender equality? Are processes and procedures changing to be more consistent with feminist principles? Is policy implementation offering a positive example to influence other countries?
In previous posts, we provided analysis and asked others working on this policy for their reflections. In Part 3 of this discussion, we go directly to feminist activists from the Global South for their views. It is their perspectives, after all, that serve as the most powerful arbiter of the impact of these policies and what’s needed moving forward. Below, in their own words, are their thoughts of the successes, gaps, and what they would like to see in the next five years.
What’s your perspective? The discussion is open. Join the conversation on social media with #FIAPat5
Wazhma Frogh, Founder of Women & Peace Studies Organization (Afghanistan)
As a woman working with women and communities in different parts of Afghanistan, whenever I participated in an international event and heard the word “Feminist International Assistance Policy” or “Feminist Foreign Policy” I used to wonder what exactly they meant. Especially since I witnessed the lack of gender lens in many of the international aid programs implemented in Afghanistan.
When I came across Canada’s FIAP, It was a relief that the challenges many grassroots women groups are facing in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and conflicts were actually being heard. I participated in a number of consultations and shared our perspectives on practical ways to integrate the voices of women’s groups and local communities in international aid programs. While we have a long way to get there, the policy itself is an important first step.
I hope Canada’s international engagement and its position at the UN system will be further utilized to advocate for greater engagement by women in the way international aid is provided to countries at risk and in need of assistance. We need practical and measurable accounts of how aid reaches women and girls in the farthest and most remote regions. Aid should support their mobilization and help them stand on their own feet rather than continuously being dependent on international aid to improve their living conditions.
Today, Afghanistan remains one of the worst humanitarian crises. With a population of over 24 million people, with women and girls making up at least half, I hope Canada will use the FIAP and leverage its position to ensure that the women and girls have a fair share of the aid that is provided to Afghanistan.
Judith Wedderburn, WMWJAMAICA
What are the FIAP’s biggest achievements?
FIAP provided a foundation for supporting women’s rights organizations (WROs), using a human-rights based approach in which issues of equity and redistribution are central to addressing the root causes of poverty in the neo-liberal framework of the current global political economy. It provided some spaces through programmes which require feminist analyses that expose and challenge the unequal relations of power, and relations driven by the discrimination, racism, sexual, and physical abuse experienced by women and girls, and members of LGBTI and Indigenous communities. Funding made available as a result of FIAP, using this human-rights based approach, is particularly important for small-island developing states (SIDS) and other Caribbean countries. This process has helped to shift the momentum to focus more on gender equality as a fundamental right, enabling women and girls to claim their right to live their lives free from fear and violence, to build and strengthen their leadership at all levels, enabling them to confidently contribute to strategies and solutions, and to increase the income-earning capacity, for themselves and families. Funding which supports this process sets an example of what is possible!
What are some of the gaps?
Gaps include lack of a consistent approach to building women’s leadership, at all levels, while providing adequate resources for implementation of their project activities, using a concept of leadership that is transformative for WROs as well as feminist movements and networks. A consistent focus on gender equality as a right is required, as well as a gender-responsive approach which highlights how intersectionalities affect the lives and livelihoods of women and girls, and men and boys.
Toxic masculinities need to be consistently addressed, bringing men into conversations which demonstrate how the patriarchal way of “being and doing” shapes their understanding of what it is to be a “man.” Men do have a role to play in reducing and preventing gender-based violence of all kinds. This conversation is also required for men to understand the shifts in gender relations of power that take place as women and girls are better educated and empowered, and that their families as well as whole societies benefit from women’s empowerment and transformative leadership.
What would I like to see in the next 5 years?
Restrictions on ODA-eligible countries affect WROs in these countries. These are often the groups most in need. I would like to see Canada, through the FIAP, challenge restriction and be able to focus more on countries in which funding for WROs and feminist networks has been severely restricted or non-existent I would also like to see increased spending for WROs and feminist networks especially for Indigenous groups, most vulnerable women and girls, including the LGBTI communities in SIDS [Small Island Developing States] and the wider Caribbean.
For building women’s leadership, I stress the importance of maintaining an inclusive and participatory approach, for sharing information and addressing concerns, while continuing to build and enhance the collective ownership of the process and outcomes by both younger, less experienced small women’s organizations and more experienced established ones. Intergenerational work which acknowledges and honours anecdotal/personal narratives is critical in this process.
Rasha Jarhum, Co-founder and Director of Peace Track Initiative (Yemen)
In Yemen, a devastating war has been raging for the last eight years. The country is one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. COVID-19 and natural disasters have had a dramatic impact on the already fragile infrastructure and lifeline services. Human rights violations and abuses have also reached a level that have not been witnessed in Yemen’s history, including the use of sexual and gender-based violence as a tool of war. One of the major new concerns threatening food security in Yemen is increased pollution of the sea along the coast due to spills and sinking oil ships in Aden, Hadhramout and increased risk of a spill by the Safer oil tanker in Hodaida.
The FIAP included commitments to peace and security focusing on fragile countries, as well as committing to protecting the environment and addressing climate change. There are also commitments to supporting women’s participation in peace processes.
Canada has supported Yemen through humanitarian assistance, support for international accountability mechanisms, and diplomatic support to women human rights defenders and women peacebuilders including the Peace Track Initiative. Since 2015, Canada has committed funds for humanitarian assistance for Yemen, pledging a total of 300 million dollars, with more than 42 million dollars pledged this year. Canada also recently committed 2.5 million dollars for Safer oil tanker to mitigate an environmental crisis. Additionally, since 2018 Canada has contributed 22 million dollars to support the peace and security process through the UN Special Envoy Office. Canada also supported the establishment of the Group of Eminent Experts by the Human Rights Council which was responsible for documenting alleged human rights violations in Yemen that operated between 2017-2021. More importantly, Canada recently pledged to resettle 250 human rights defenders annually from around the world.
Specifically, when I moved to Canada in 2018, I was able to stand on solid grounds and immediately registered the Peace Track Initiative as a non-profit incorporation. I received unconditional support from Ottawa University and the WPS Network-Canada and I was invited to high-level meetings with the Canadian government to shape and influence its policies. Global Affairs Canada supported through providing a diplomatic platform to attend high level meetings and providing interventions including facilitating my brief to the UN Security Council in 2018 and providing an intervention during the WPS Focal Point Network High Level Troika meeting in October 2020. Additionally, the Canadian missions in Geneva, Riyadh, and Amman facilitated for us along with Yemeni women leaders joint diplomatic meetings including with other states to discuss the peace process in Yemen. Ambassador Jacqueline O’Neill delivered opening remarks during our launch of the Feminist Peace Roadmap in Yemen a guiding framework for mediators and negotiators that was developed by Yemeni women leaders, and serves as a live example of how to advance the women, peace and security agenda in fragile context.
While current efforts for Yemen by Canada are highly appreciated, they fall short in terms of funding allocations, especially compared to commitments to other fragile countries in conflict such as Ukraine, Syria, or Afghanistan. The number of Yemeni refugees resettled in Canada is still very low. Canada also continues to transfer arms to the region while this supports meets Canada’s robust risk assessment against the Arms Trade Treaty and domestic law criteria, Canada ignores the fact that there is a risk that these arms will fall in the hands of militia and armed groups in similar circumstances that of Afghanistan.
Moving forwards, Canada can do more to help Yemen and support Yemeni women human rights defenders and peacebuilders. This can be done by allocating more funds to Yemen. These resources should not just flow to multilateral agencies and international NGOs, but should be channeled to Yemeni women-led organisations. Canada can also establish a specific quota for Yemeni refugees and partner with Canadian-Yemeni based organisations to make this happen. Canada can also expand its women’s leadership programs implemented in other countries to include Yemen.