My Hope for Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy

By Claire Wählen, WPSN-C member and coordinator of the FFP blog series / independent researcher and analyst. Follow her on Twitter at @Claire_Wahlen

Canada is long overdue for a modern, comprehensive overhaul of its foreign policy. Defence has one, such as it is, and a fully fleshed out foreign policy is no different and certainly no less important. There are some naysayers who do not see a Feminist Foreign Policy as the appropriate response to the gap. With the government committing to this strategic focus and civil society among the active partners helping to build and guide this policy review into something stronger than a simple government output, perhaps the naysayers could reserve their judgements until spring like the rest of us.

It is important to understand that this will very much work under the modus operandi of feminist policy work – inch by inch, set backs that become next steps, dedication and determination to grow together. Civil society is used to not getting everything they want the first time and pushing forward where there’s a hint of promise. That is why this must be an ongoing process.

With such an outlook, the government and its partners in this endeavor can develop shared foundations upon which progress is inevitable because there is buy-in, something Canada has not always had on the foreign policy front. It will be a learning process for government but if they are committed to this, to the give and take of policy development with partners outside their departments then this Feminist Foreign Policy absolutely has potential to be what Canada can proudly showcase to the world as its Foreign Policy, full stop.

It will not be perfect. There are obvious disconnects in foundational feminist policy and nuclear-policy-supporting, arms-selling Canadian ad-hoc approach to decision making. A cohesive foreign policy would cut down a lot of the surprise factor that disrupts feminist policy in civil society and beyond. A feminist lens will hopefully bring Canada back from the edge on policies they’ve committed to but have done poorly with (Yemen, I’m thinking of you ♥).

With this blog series, we were blessed to have Women, Peace and Security – Canada Network members with deep experiences across the board take time out of their busy schedules, submitting their papers for government consideration, to break down the crux of their proposals for us. They produced a series of insightful, passionate calls for action, with bits of wisdom spread throughout and a spoken and unspoken pledge to keep the government to account and to keep working on these essential topics to contribute to a stronger Canada and a safer world.

We have every reason to believe the drafting of the feminist foreign policy paper endeavor began with good intentions and that some of the brightest minds in government are committed to it fully, so the outlook is tentatively positive.

I am a generalist in the topic of feminist foreign policy: I love multi-party pursuits in policy development, usually aimed at multilateral treaties and affairs between States and international organizations, and from a policy standpoint my work has focused broadly on NATO and the transatlantic alliance and gender based violence in particular though legislation to expand a woman’s rights. I see this challenge as a philosophical one as much as a logistical one but I am optimistic that all participants, from government to academia to civil society and beyond, across the whole political spectrum are putting their best efforts into finding common ground and giving this feminist foreign policy a chance to be fully realized.

The feminist foreign policy paper cannot be ‘one and done.’ If it is, it will almost certainly be a ghost of what was promised and will be replaced with something much less ambitious whenever the next review is slated for drafting. That could come sooner rather than later if the political divide cannot be addressed in this colossal endeavor for compromise and compatibility.

We have to hope for more than the current government sitting down and doodling their goals for the country to hold them to account. That is what foreign policy reviews have been, one government overwriting what the previous one pursued but better to their tastes – that cannot be what a feminist foreign policy will be. Canadian politics needs to find a strong middle and build it outwards if we’re going to sustain a feminist foreign policy longterm – policy writers cannot be the only ones doing the work.

I sincerely hope the process going forward from the draft released in spring and beyond is fluid, an evolving framework that invites political opponents and outsider input to develop a truly Canadian Feminist Foreign Policy. It needs to satisfy enough to keep partners involved in the continued development, knowing that not everyone will get everything they want but that if we are to succeed that we must plan and act, review and reassess.

With the release of the policy sometime this coming spring, we can see where the winds are blowing – if the foundation is solid, where the gaps exist and how we can start again to find more compromise and develop a more sustainable foreign policy. Politicians can test the values laid out and find common ground and areas to work on, as long as they can commit to actually working on them. 

I sincerely hope to continue to contribute in whatever capacity I find myself in along the way, with the dear belief that this will be a process that can grow and improve for many years to become something we are truly proud of.