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Ending global poverty begins with women’s rights

Oxfam Canada Statement on Canada’s first Feminist International Assistance Policy

Oxfam Canada Statement on Canada’s first Feminist International Assistance Policy

August 2, 2017

On June 9, 2017, Minister of International Cooperation Marie-Claude Bibeau launched Canada’s first Feminist International Assistance Policy – the result of an internal review and consultations with more than 15,000 people in 65 countries that began in the spring of 2016.

The new policy is ambitious, putting women’s rights and gender equality squarely at the heart of Canada’s aid agenda. Very much in line with the bold commitments made by Minister Bibeau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the policy is a big step towards turning feminist words into concrete actions. In a time of global backlash against women’s rights, and with few donors supporting a transformative women’s rights agenda, this commitment is an important and essential step forward.  

Having actively engaged in the consultations throughout the year-long review process, Oxfam Canada was pleased to see that the vast majority of recommendations put forward in our official submission to the process were incorporated in the policy’s six areas of focus.

For example:

  • Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is not only a standalone pillar but is effectively incorporated across all thematic pillars, incorporating many of Oxfam Canada’s specific recommendations on how to best do so.
  • There is stated commitment to allocate 15% of all bilateral development investments to initiatives that specifically target gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls by 2021 – a much needed increase given current spending levels are at less than 2%.
  • The policy explicitly and repeatedly references the crucial role of women’s rights organizations, and a commitment to allocate $150 million over five years to support these organizations and movements in developing countries; and
  • The policy recognizes the importance of advocacy work for challenging gender inequality and transforming social norms and power relations, and Global Affairs Canada will now require all of its partners to consult and significantly involve local women’s organizations.

While the policy overall is poised to move the needle forward on many important issues, certain elements could have been stronger to avoid leaving the door open to maintaining the status-quo.

For example, while the policy emphasizes the benefits that women’s empowerment can have on family health, social stability and economic growth, it focuses less on ways in which Canadian aid can help tackle the structural inequality and deep-rooted discrimination that keep women from benefiting from the gains to which they contribute. The policy also lacks detail on how Canadian aid will contribute to shifting power relations through transformative women’s rights work – a key aspect of a feminist approach. The policy would also benefit from a stronger intersectional analysis and strategies to address multiple systems of oppression – beyond gender inequality – in tandem.

The policy also leaves a few questions unanswered. It does not offer a road map for implementation by Global Affairs Canada, nor does it address the crucial issue of policy coherence across aid, trade and diplomacy, and ideally defence.

Oxfam Canada looks forward to working with the government to move towards implementation of the policy and collaborate with Global Affairs Canada and women’s rights partners at home and abroad to ensure that Canada’s global agenda is truly transformational.

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