Earlier today, Canada lost its bid to be elected to a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council. Despite this loss, Canada can and must still advance its global goals through its Feminist Foreign Policy.
Canada must play a constructive global role through continuing to support efforts to advance gender equality and the rights of women, girls and gender-diverse people across all areas of its foreign policy.
Canada must work to implement its Security Council campaign pledge to ‘make gender inequality history.’ This will involve significant new investments in supporting women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, strengthening women’s participation in peace negotiations and addressing sexual violence in conflict. “The security of women and girls is a key indicator of state security,” said Beth Woroniuk of the Equality Fund. “In its campaign, Canada made promises to advance the rights of women and girls. Carrying through on these promises will involve investments and courage to challenge international voices opposed to women’s rights.”
The UN Security Council’s work too often centres around an outdated definition of security that focuses on military interventions. But as the world grapples with multiple crises—COVID-19, climate change, extreme inequality, and systemic racism—it is clear that militarized solutions are not the way to address these challenges, making it more important than ever to update the definition of security within and outside of the Security Council. The UN must reassess what makes us secure, and Canada, with its commitment to gender equality and its Feminist Foreign Policy, is well positioned to champion the redefining of security within the broader UN system. “We cannot have peace and security without equality. We need solutions that are adapted to the crises we are collectively facing,” said Jackie Hansen of Amnesty International Canada. “It is time to move beyond simplistic notions of military security to broader concepts of human security centred on human rights and gender equality, and Canada didn’t need a seat on the Security Council to champion this work.”
To be a credible voice on the international stage, Canada must model domestically what it wants to see adopted internationally. This means urgently acting to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in Canada, and more broadly, addressing systemic racism in Canada. It also means applying Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy consistently in all aspects of Canada’s international engagement including diplomacy, trade, defense, and international development assistance. “In the past, Canada has come under fire for its contradictory stance of continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia despite its commitments under the Arms Trade Treaty, and for supporting Canadian-based mining companies, many of which are implicated in gross human rights violations,” said Diana Sarosi of Oxfam Canada. “A feminist approach to foreign policy requires the application of feminist and human rights principles at all times.”
The rights of women and LGBTI people are under threat around the world, with a number of countries further criminalizing abortion and LGBTI rights, and growing attacks on women and LGBTI human rights defenders. “We need Canada to give voice and visibility to those who have been marginalized in traditional security spaces, and Canada can do this without being on the Security Council,” said Hansen. “Canada can use its role in multilateral fora to ensure that people from the Global South, women, LGBTI people, and human rights defenders are front and center. Discussions about how to create a more equal, secure, and sustainable world cannot solely be the domain of white men.”
Canada also needs to increase its international assistance funding, which has been lagging far behind its competitors for the Security Council seat. Norway commits 1% of GNI annually and Ireland pledged to reach 0.7% of GNI, but Canada merely commits 0.28% of GNI. “Feminist commitments require the backing of resources,” said Woroniuk. “There are concerns that the few global resources dedicated to advancing gender equality will be diverted to other post-COVID recovery initiatives. Canada’s leadership is required to ensure that this does not happen.”
Canada has outlined its feminist foreign policy goals in four policies: the Feminist International Assistance Policy; the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; the Strong, Secure and Engaged Defense Policy; and the Inclusive Trade Agenda. In February 2020, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced the government will commence consultations with civil society organizations to develop a white paper before the end of 2020 outlining Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy. “Canada needs a comprehensive Feminist Foreign Policy to enable the government to measure its effectiveness and success, and for civil society to hold the government accountable to its commitments,” said Sarosi.