Sweden and Canada: Feminist trailblazers but are they really promoting security for all?

Photo - WPS Panel
From left to right: Heather Grant, Ambassador of Canada to Sweden; Diana Sarosi, WPSN-C member; Annika Schabbauer, Director of Operation 1325 and Annika Söder, State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Sweden.

By Diana Sarosi, Manager of Policy at Oxfam Canada and WPSN-C Steering Committee member

In Stockholm, the Canadian Embassy in Sweden is well known for its November event on Women, Peace and Security. Organized in collaboration with Operation 1325, a Swedish civil society organization that monitors the implementation of the Swedish National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), the event brings together government officials and Swedish civil society to discuss the progress Sweden has made in implementing its NAP. This year, the event was slightly different. For the first time the Canadian embassy invited a Canadian civil society organization – the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada – to present its analysis of Canada’s progress internationally over the past year. And Canada has a lot to be proud of.

In June 2017, Minister of International Cooperation, Marie-Claude Bibeau, launched the groundbreaking feminist international assistance policy. The policy puts women’s rights and gender equality at the heart of Canada’s aid and prioritizes support to local women’s rights organizations. Then in November 2017, Canada released its long-awaited second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (CNAP). Instead of focusing solely on Sweden’s achievements and challenges in implementing the NAP and its broader feminist foreign policy, this event provided a platform for Sweden and Canada to exchange valuable lessons and approaches on their path of being global champions of feminist policy.

Discussions quickly brought to light the differences and similarities between Sweden and Canada. The Swedish government first launched its Feminist Foreign Policy in 2014. It has moved much further in its implementation than the Canadian government, which is just starting out. But both have recognized the critical link between gender equality and security and are focusing on the advancement of gender equality as a means as well as an end in itself to more peaceful and stable societies. In both countries, it is the ministers themselves who have taken leadership and shown incredible commitment to this agenda.

In terms of differences, Canada has set up a better mechanism for civil society to support the implementation of the CNAP. Formalized within the CNAP, the WPSN-C plays a role as an advisory group to provide input on implementation. Sweden, on the other hand, has put in place an Ambassador of Gender Equality to ensure coherence and consistency within the Department of Foreign Affairs. With the help of a high level champion, the department was quickly able to mainstream its agenda throughout. One stark difference is also that Sweden’s foreign aid meets the international benchmark of 0.7% of GNI, whereas Canada trails far behind the OECD average.

However, Canada and Sweden also have something else in common: a lack of coherence between aid, trade and diplomacy. Both countries are significant producers of arms. In per capita measures, Sweden is the largest producer of arms and the industry contributes significantly to the economy. Canada has also increased arms sales over the past year and to Saudi Arabia specifically by 47%. Saudi Arabia’s war against the Houthi has unleashed one of the worst humanitarian disasters in Yemen. Millions of people are trapped inside at risk of starvation as humanitarian agency’s access is highly controlled. Women and children wear the brunt of a war with no end in sight. It is no wonder then that some are pointing out the hypocrisy.

There is no doubt that at a time of serious political backlash against women’s rights around the world, Canada and Sweden are trailblazers. They are boldly advancing their feminist agenda in the corridors of power, including the Security Council. However, in order to truly call themselves feminist, disarmament and the peaceful resolution of conflict, which are key principles of the Women, Peace and Security agenda, must be pursued with as much determination as the goal of advancing gender equality. Women do not have a chance to advance or sustain rights when their countries are run by warlords and their lives are shattered by the destruction of the indiscriminate use of weapons against civilians. The advancement of security requires both – gender equality and disarmament – or else we are once again wasting billions of aid dollars that are not achieving the desired results.

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