Now is the time for Canada’s feminist foreign policy

When Ukrainian and Russian representatives meet to attempt to negotiate a way out of the crisis, the absence of women from those tables is glaring. Yet research shows that peace accords are more likely to last when there is meaningful engagement by women.

This is exactly the moment a strong feminist foreign policy is needed most.

A feminist foreign policy outlines key principles about who needs to be at the negotiating table, like women peacebuilders who have deep community connections and a vested interest in building peace that is durable. And it would ensure our international actions are grounded in commitments to human rights, equality and human security.

Canada lags in its promises to increase feminist foreign policy say Beth Woroniuk. | Photo courtesy of QUOI Media

In Canada, we still face a severe gap between promises and clear policy. For many years, we have heard that Canada has a feminist foreign policy. Four Foreign Affairs ministers have framed Canada’s foreign policy in this way. Yet we have no guiding document or policy paper that outlines what this means and why this is important in a global crisis like the one we are facing right now.

Where is Canada’s feminist foreign policy?

Budget 2022 provoked more questions with $8 billion dollars in new defence spending alongside silence on the promised feminist foreign policy.

New research shows us how much is at stake if we don’t bridge the gender gap. Gender inequality correlates with instability and armed conflict. Autonomous feminist movements are key drivers of democracy. Understanding gender roles, relations and inequalities ensures a fuller picture of violent extremism.

Clearly a particular definition of masculinity informs Putin’s self-image and his vision of the world.

This is all strong evidence that bringing feminist analysis into the heart of our understanding of global affairs is not merely ‘value signalling’ or woke-speak. It can make the difference between life and death.

In February 2020, the then Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs, François-Philippe Champagne, committed to the development of a paper outlining Canada’s feminist foreign policy commitments. Since then, there have been discussions but no paper.

With a lack of clarity comes a lack of action.

There are many definitions of feminist foreign policy. Sweden, the pioneer in this area, centres its policy around representation, resources and rights. Analysts push for a nuanced analysis that goes beyond just focusing on “women and girls,” arguing that a “gender analysis” must including include men, boys and non-binary understandings of gender. Many activists put demilitarization front and centre.

With these differences, it is clear why the federal government needs to step up and outline what it sees as the priorities of Canada’s feminist foreign policy, the actions it is committed to and the resources it will invest.

The world’s response to the invasion in Ukraine is only the latest example that “old school” approaches to conflict resolution are not working.

It is time to bring anti-racist and decolonial analysis to international relations. It is time to bring more diverse perspectives to the table. It is time to ask questions about whose voices matter. This includes going beyond the warriors and including people who have a vested interest in stopping the guns for good, including women building peace at local, national and international levels.

The benefits would be felt abroad and right here at home.

Advocates are quick to point out that a feminist policy encompasses more than armed conflict. It is about exploring “what makes us safe” in an increasingly fragile and interconnected world. It is about understanding the threats of climate change, pandemics and global inequality – and the many ways these threats intersect.

It is about asking what values we stand for as Canadians.

It is about re-examining power and structures in the global system. It is about ensuring that we do not talk principles and peace at the United Nations and then support arms sales and companies guilty of environmental destruction.

A feminist foreign policy is not a luxury that Canada turns to when times are good. It is precisely in this moment of crisis that a clear statement of guiding principles is needed. We have evidence of the relevance and potential impact. We have calls from activists. Now is the time for a clear roadmap with concrete steps for implementation.

Beth Woroniuk is Policy Lead at the Equality Fund.