A Summary of 2015 Research Paper: The Marginalization of Canadian Civil Society Organizations and the Challenges of Promoting Gender Equality under the Harper Conservatives (2006-2015)

The full research paper is available at: http://www.ruor.uottawa.ca/handle/10393/34143

By Sara Walde, former intern at WPSN-C and Nobel Women’s Initiative and MA in International Development and Global Studies (with a specialization of feminist and gender studies)

The 2006-2015 Harper Conservative reign was a challenging era for gender equality within Canadian foreign policy and those advocating for transformational change. During this time, discourse changes and policy shifts effectively erased and dismantled gender equality as a focus in foreign policy. Canadian civil society organizations faced funding threats and were removed from decision-making tables.

After researching discourse and foreign policy and program changes, and hearing anecdotal accounts of frustration from civil society organizations, my academic supervisor (WPSN-C member Dr. Rebecca Tiessen) and I chose to bring these aspects together in my Master’s capstone paper.

Completed in December 2015, this paper uniquely brings together voices of 11 Canadian civil society organizations pushing for gender equality internationally. Interviews were completed to determine if and how governmental approaches to gender equality between 2006 and 2015 affected the work of these organizations.

These conversations revealed that civil society experts perceived themselves to be working within a rigid, prescribed context where space for constructive dissent had decreased significantly. Many individuals were concerned with the lack of a rights-based approach to gender equality and saw the Harper government moving towards an archaic, charity-style approach to development, women’s rights, and gender equality.

Within this difficult political context, organizations found strength in numbers. Networks and alliances were emphasized, with solidarity and learning being key to their success. These coalitions may continue to serve these organizations well as they forge ahead with their commitments to gender equality.

This paper provides a crucial snapshot of a challenging era for gender equality and feminist civil society organizations. The change in government in October 2015 offers a new way to reflect on the Harper Conservative reign as a particular moment in Canadian history.

While political rhetoric has positively changed and civil society organizations are being welcomed back to the discussion table, we must remain vigilant to ensure these gestures turn into political and practical action. Will programs and policies shift from viewing women as victims to supporting and enhancing the role of women as change agents? Will this government answer the calls of civil society to increase funding to grassroots women’s organizations? Will gender mainstreaming be implemented in a transformative way? Indeed, the push for gender equality within Canadian foreign policy continues.

Thank you to the organizations and individuals who participated in the research. Your candour, expertise, and generosity are greatly appreciated.

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