By Laura Moldoveanu
Canada has had a nearly six-year commitment to feminist foreign policy, with the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FAIP) announced on June 9th, 2017 as a means of rendering Canada into a global leader in women’s empowerment. Though it is a somewhat overlooked and forgotten development, the FAIP substantiates the importance of women’s rights in the international system, thus warranting this article’s assessment of the policy’s context, intent, implementation, success, and issues.
In Canadian society, women face unique adversities to equality, including forced marriage, gender-based violence, fewer education opportunities, legal barriers to work, more familial responsibilities than men, and limited control over reproductive health (Global Affairs Canada, 2021). Essential to Canada’s FAIP is the belief that, by promoting gender equality, the nation may effectively decrease poverty rates. In theory, allowing women greater participation in the economy would increase economic growth in the targeted nation(s), thus concerning Canada as such an investment in assistance would enhance national prosperity. The FAIP was announced after a year of consultation with over fifteen thousand people in sixty-five countries, including several women’s rights groups (Lamensch, 2020). Furthermore, the policy referenced a 2015 plan to reduce poverty and build peace, entitled the “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
Six key areas of the policy include gender equality, human dignity, inclusive governance, climate action, peace and security, and “growth that works for everyone” (Global Affairs Canada, 2021). Gender equality involves a sexual violence initiative and engages with differing levels of government to deliver programs supporting women’s rights; human dignity pertains to health and education; governance stresses the importance of political participation; climate action covers loss of resources, such as clean drinking water and renewable energy; peace and security involves women in post-conflict nation-building and peace negotiations; lastly, growth engages with economic and ownership rights. Overall, it is clear that the policy covers a huge range of issues. In one sense, this is beneficial because the policy is not limited, however, it also indicates that the policy lacks a cohesive vision.
Implementation involves investment, innovation, and partnerships. Canada vowed to put fifteen percent of its bilateral international development assistance investments towards gender equality. The policy abandons Canada’s previous “countries-of-focus” approach that concentrated assistance on a small list of countries and, instead, involves a broader range of countries, with a focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. Involvement with multilateral groups such as the UN, G7, and G20—as well as the private sector, for financial assistance—is also a key part of the policy. Finally, civil society organizations such as women’s rights groups are expected to receive one hundred and fifty million dollars to develop programs to help promote gender equality (Global Affairs Canada, 2021).
Turning to real-world results, the official policy website boasts a list of success stories under the subheading “our policy in action.” From setting up community centres in Iraq refugee camps to clearing landmines out of Colombia, the policy seems to live up to its many goals in terms of both mission diversity and cross-global span.
With that being said, however, the policy must also be looked at through a more critical lens. There are contradictions and issues associated with Canadian foreign policy, and feminist foreign policy in particular. Scholars and policy analysts argue that the policy does not include definitions of gender or feminism, leaving out marginalized groups such as intersex or transgender persons (Tiessen, 2019), while also lacking inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals who may face added discrimination beyond gender. Furthermore, the efficacy of the policy is inhibited by other Canadian foreign policy objectives; for example, while the FAIP promotes the empowerment of female peacekeepers, the Canadian government nonetheless continues in concurrently selling weapons to Saudi Arabia (Bouka, 2021). As for more technical problems, the policy has no clear measures of success or ways to monitor long-term impact.
So, is the policy just performative activism? Canada has made it clear that the government views women’s empowerment as an important area to focus on, with a long-term goal of reducing poverty around the world. With that being said, the current impact and efficacy of the FAIP is a mixed bag. In the coming years, perhaps a revaluation will be needed to judge whether the policy is making any substantial long-term impact on gender equality.
Bouka, Yolande, et al. “Is Canada’s Foreign Policy Really Feminist?” Network for Strategic Analysis , Network for Strategic Analysis , 7 Oct. 2021, https://ras-nsa.ca/publication/is-canadas-foreign-policy-really-feminist-analysis-and-recommend ations/.
“Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.” Global Affairs Canada. Government of Canada, August 24, 2021. https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/priorit ies-priorites/policy-politique.aspx?lang=eng.
Lamensch, Marie. “Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy.” The Canadian Encyclopedia. Historica Canada, July 31, 2020. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canada-s-feminist-foreign-policy.
Tiessen, Rebecca. “What’s New About Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy.” Canadian Global Affairs Institute, Canadian Global Affairs Institute , Dec. 2019, https://www.cgai.ca/whats_new_about_canadas_feminist_international_assistance_policy_the_ problem_and_possibilities_of_more_of_the_same.