I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Canada has a self-professed feminist prime minister.
Right out of the post-election gate, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced a gender-balanced Cabinet (“Because it’s 2015,” he explained. End of story.). Then there is his snapchat video on how men can be better feminists, his statements on gender parity at the World Economic Forum, his comments pushing for gender equality while in New York at the Commission on the Status of Women, and the list goes on…
“I’m going to keep saying loud and clearly that I am a feminist until it is met with a shrug,” he said recently in New York (to enthusiastic applause, I might add).
The prime minister is promoting himself globally as a defender and promoter of women’s rights. And, the (decidedly un-feminist) Saudi arms deal aside, there is hope that this perspective will shape Canada’s foreign policy in positive directions.
Indeed, there is already an energetic wind blowing through the women, peace, and security (WPS for short!) agenda.
On International Women’s Day, several ministers announced Canada’s “commitment to gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls” (a rhetorical shift, as “gender equality” previously had been scrubbed clean from programs and policies, replaced by a focus on “mothers and children”). This commitment included the renewal of Canada’s National Action Plan on UN Security Council Resolution 1325—a historic resolution calling for women’s meaningful and active participation in peacebuilding.
It’s an important agenda for any feminist prime minister.
As even a cursory glance at media headlines tells us, armed conflicts continue around the world. And while women and children are the minority of combatants, they are disproportionately impacted by war—targeted by armed actors, facing sexual violence and gender-based discrimination, and having fewer resources than men to protect themselves.
And yet they are regularly excluded from peace processes and post-conflict reconstruction efforts.
UNSCR 1325—unanimously adopted in 2000, and followed over the years by interconnected resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106, 2122, and 2242—recognized the important role women play in every stage of peacebuilding.
These resolutions highlight the need for the prevention of violence and the protection of women in peace operations, and the participation of women in peace negotiations, political decision-making, and institution-building in post-conflict societies.
They embody a monumental shift in how the international community grapples with the rights and security of women leading up to, during, and after conflict.
In 2004, the UN Secretary-General called on member states to give legs to these resolutions by developing national action plans that implement concrete initiatives, monitor progress, and strengthen policy coherence across government departments.
In 2010, Canada responded with its own five-year National Action Plan. And, since Ottawa loves its acronyms, we call it C-NAP for short.
Led by foreign affairs (and collaborating with defence, development, public safety, justice, and other departments), C-NAP made broad and ambitious commitments to the WPS agenda through 28 different actions and 24 indicators.
Women Peace and Security Network-Canada has done thorough analysis on C-NAP’s successes and shortcomings (check out their 2015 and 2014 reports), and there was an external review that offered 6 recommendations (the need for high-level champions, better monitoring/evaluation, stronger consultation with civil society, etc).
While C-NAP expired at the end of March, efforts to renew it are now underway. And the great news is, interest in the WPS agenda can be heard in other quarters as well.
On March 9th, the Liberal Senate Forum Open Caucus—a space for non-partisan exploration on issues of interest to parliamentarians, media, and the public—held an expert discussion on women, peace and security.
In the Lower Chamber, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development—at the urging of its sole female member (!), Hélène Laverdière—conducted a study on WPS. Alongside other civil society witnesses, MCC’s partner KAIROS testified before the committee, drawing on its grassroots partnerships in DR Congo to highlight the need for ambitious funding for women peacebuilders around the world. The Chief of Defence Staff also testified about a policy directive for integrating UNSCR 1325 and related resolutions into Canadian military planning and operations.
So, the wheels of government are turning. Global Affairs representatives, present a few weeks ago at a conference put on by Women Peace and Security Network-Canada, are also in active listening mode, looking for ways to make progress on a renewed agenda.
And there are ways to improve. As some conference participants aptly noted, we shouldn’t reduce the WPS agenda to sexual violence. We should also be actively considering the ways in which trade regimes, property laws, natural resource extraction, and so on, also impact women’s rights and lives in post-conflict situations.
And we need to find ways to bring the agenda from the margins to the center of policy conversations. As a (rather hefty) 2015 UN-commissioned Global Study illustrated, while there has been a normative shift on the global importance of the WPS agenda, implementation remains weak, and funding levels have been shameful.
In other words, while a rhetorical shift is welcome, we need to walk the talk.
As Canada makes its bid for a Security Council seat (Trudeau was busy recently doing as much), the prime minister could be a real champion for feminist foreign policy by putting women peacebuilders at the heart of the international security agenda.
It’s an obvious win. And an obvious extension of his values. As Prime Minister Trudeau said himself (rather cheekily) to the UN crowd, “It’s just really, really obvious. We should be standing up for women’s rights and trying to create more equal societies? Like duh.”
My thoughts exactly.
By Jenn Wiebe, MCC Ottawa Office Director