Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy: New WPSN-C Blog Series

by Beth Woroniuk, Chair of the WPSN-C and Policy Lead at the Equality Fund

Follow her on twitter at @bethottawa

In February 2020 Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne announced that the Government would develop a ‘white paper’ on Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy. 

Canada is proud to have a feminist foreign policy, not because it looks good, but because it produces tangible and measurable results. I witnessed it first hand during my recent visit to Mali and across Africa. It is not a question of strengthening the power of women, they are already strong; it is a question of removing the obstacles to their full emancipation, to their leadership.

Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne

Our agenda on women, peace and security is a central element of our policy.

In fact, during this mandate, I will strengthen the foundations of this policy by working with civil society to launch a white paper on Canada’s feminist foreign policy.

Both Minister Champagne and his predecessor Chrystia Freeland had made reference to Canada’s feminist foreign policy, but there was no official document outlining what this included, no page on the Global Affairs Canada (GAC) website, nothing to trace back to.  Officials made reference to several core documents:  the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, the Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada’s Trade Diversification Strategy, and the 2017 Defence Policy, “Strong, Secure, Engaged.”

At the end of October, Global Affairs Canada announced the long awaited consultation process.  They invited organizations and individuals to make written submissions. A ‘Scene Setter’ document provided background and outlined issues that the Government was interested in hearing discussion and input. Inputs were due at the end of November.

What is a Feminist Foreign Policy?

Since Sweden announced that it has a feminist foreign policy in 2014, there has been debate and discussion by activists, government officials and academics around this topic.  Is it actually possible? Is it desirable?  Is it just ‘values signalling’?  Is it urgently needed?  Is it a digression from the serious discussion that is needed around Canada’s foreign policy in a changing world?

Despite this lack of consensus, there does seem to be growing momentum around this concept.  France, Luxembourg and Mexico have followed Sweden and Canada’s example. Activists are pushing the incoming US administration to adopt a feminist foreign policy.

Although there are many different definitions of what a feminist foreign policy means, Lyric Thompson and Rachel Clements from the International Center for Research on Women have proposed the following definition:

Feminist Foreign Policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states and movements in a manner that prioritizes gender equality and enshrines the human rights of women and other traditionally marginalized groups, allocates significant resources to achieve that vision and seeks through its implementation to disrupt patriarchal and male-dominated power structures across all of its levers of influence (aid, trade, defense and diplomacy), informed by the voices of feminist activists, groups and movements. 

A Feminist Foreign Policy for Canada

A group of organizations came together to form the Working Group on Feminist Foreign Policy to support public discussions in the short consultation period.* The group organized several webinars and virtual roundtables and will soon issue a ‘what we heard’ document based on those webinars. They set up a website and encouraged organizations to send in their submissions, both written and recorded video, so that they could be viewed by others.

Canadian missions, embassies and high commissions have carried out consultations in different parts of the world.  Staff across the department have also been encouraged to submit reflections and recommendations. Canada’s Women, Peace and Security Ambassador, Jacqueline O’Neill, hosted a discussion with other gender equality, women’s rights ambassadors and envoys from around the world.

The current indications from GAC is that the feminist foreign policy statement or paper will be released in the first quarter of 2021.

Inputs from WPSN-C members

Even though the window for official submissions to Global Affairs Canada has closed, WPSN-C members think that the discussion should continue.  For the next few weeks, we’ll feature analysis and recommendations from members who want to share their thoughts. They’ll draw on their expertise and experience and outline what they think Canada’s feminist foreign policy should include.  

Your thoughts are welcome too.  Join in the discussion on social media with #CanFFP.

* These include Above Ground, Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, Amnesty International Canada, the Equality Fund, Equitas, Inter Pares, the Joint Chair in Women’s Studies at Carleton University and Ottawa University, Mines Action Canada, Oxfam Canada, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and the Department of Political Science at Carleton University.

Please note that the views in these blog posts are those of the authors and may not represent the views of all members of the WPSN-C.

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