An American Perspective on FIAP

by Eleanor Partington

As I am winding down my summer internship as a climate advocate for both the Center for Sustainable Climate Solutions and the Peace & Justice Office of MCC Canada, I am struck by how much I have learned over the past three months. In the beginning, I came in with knowledge from my classes in US climate policy, the science of climate change, and governmental knowledge on the federal, state, and local levels in the US. Obviously, though, this summer I have been working with Canadian climate and foreign aid policy at the federal level of Canada!

Although I never expected to become so familiar with Canadian politics, I now follow several Twitter accounts, news sources, and YouTube channels that discuss current events and politics in Canada. It’s been truly fascinating, and my newsfeed will forevermore include a more international perspective. As I have learned about Canadian climate and foreign aid policy, I was surprised to find an agenda for foreign aid called the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).

Young women and girls form a significant portion of the membership of MoTiLaM (Children’s Movement for a Better Life, by its initials in the Kreyol language) environmental clubs in Degrave, Haiti. An MCC environmental education team oversees the clubs that teach children about sustainable agriculture, nutrition and hygiene. (MCC photo/Annalee Giesbrecht, 2018)

Most people in Canada likely aren’t following the daily ins and outs of Canada’s foreign policy and FIAP probably isn’t a common dinnertime conversation. However, I do hope that those who are aware of FIAP appreciate just how important it is for their country to have a policy like this. Canada is special because in 2017 it became the second country in the world – after Sweden – to adopt a feminist foreign assistance policy, and since then, only a handful of other countries have followed suit. These countries have adopted feminist foreign policies operating under the simplest definition of feminism: that men and women are equal and should be treated as equals. Given that women are not equally empowered in all countries, feminist foreign policies are very valuable. While the FIAP is still not a fully comprehensive policy that covers all of Canada’s foreign affairs, it sets an important precedent for the development of a more comprehensive policy. You can read MCC Canada’s recommendations around a fuller feminist foreign policy here.

Feminism | Noun

Belief in and advocacy of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes expressed especially through organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.

Dictionary entry from merriam Webster

Canada’s FIAP and other similar feminist foreign policies are so important because they explicitly prioritize women in a world that so often does not. Human rights issues across the globe cannot be addressed without acknowledging the inequality that women and girls face and how this exacerbates already difficult situations like conflict, food insecurity, and poverty. However, Canada must do a better job of carrying out its promises. The commitment to women and girls is certainly a good thing, but words are meaningless without action.

Canada’s FIAP has 6 overarching goals:

  • empowering women + girls, human dignity (e.g. health and nutrition, education and humanitarian action);
  • growth that works for everyone (target areas such as sustainable agriculture, green technologies and renewable energy);
  • environment and climate action (focus on adaptation and mitigation),
  • water management;
  • inclusive governance (e.g. democracy, human rights and the rule of law);
  • and peace and security (inclusive peace processes and combating gender-based violence).

Understanding the overall goals of FIAP, it is surprising that only a handful of countries have similar policies. In fact, many other countries – like the US where I am from – generally agree with these goals and the ways in which they align with the OECD Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement; however, they do not have a comprehensive policy agenda to group them together in the name of gender equality.

Essambié Nako (R), Jacqueline Kando (C), and Sabine Badiel (L), farmers in Didyr, Burkina Faso, participate in a program supported by MCC to help women farmers adapt to climate change through conservation agriculture practices, seed production and off-season vegetable production. The women are pictured next to moringa, a highly nutritional and drought-resistant crop. (MCC Photo/James Souder, 2015)

Let’s look at the United States. The US follows a UN foreign policy agenda known as the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda (WPS) which was established in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution 1325 in 2000. However, it has taken the US until 2019 to release a National Strategy on WPS. However, politicians in the US are not completely ignoring the concept of feminist foreign policy. There have been several bills proposed, but not yet passed – such as one that calls for the support of women in climate change foreign policy (The Women and Climate Change Act of 2021), and a proposed resolution from the co-chairs of the Democratic Women’s Caucus calling for a US feminist foreign policy. Additionally, the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy has a favourable view of President Biden, and have praised him for his actions in his first 100 days in office, such as establishing a White House Gender Policy Council. Since there is currently interest in feminist foreign policy in US politics, my curiosity has been piqued as to whether a US feminist foreign policy could ever be a reality.

When asking myself whether or not the US could ever have its own FIAP, my immediate thought is absolutely not, simply because of the word “feminist.” In the US, we have become so accustomed to reactionary politics that it can be very discouraging to think about the objections to progressive policies (or policies that are interpreted as progressive, regardless of whether or not that’s the reality) from politicians, pundits, and citizens. However, I do believe that the US would be open to a comprehensive foreign assistance policy agenda with the same goals as Canada’s FIAP, but without the word “feminist” in the title.

In 2010, women from multiple villages in Cuisnahuat, El Salvador gather to discuss food security and climate change concerns they want to bring to their mayor. MCC partner Asociacin Nuevo Amanecer de El Salvador (ANADES; New Dawn Association of El Salvador) has supported and trained more than 300 female political advocates in the municipality of Cuisnahuat. (Photo courtesy of ANADES)

In fact, I’m relatively optimistic about the prospects of a US feminist foreign policy as I see no reason that our politicians would object to the foreign policy goals as outlined under FIAP. I’m only pessimistic about whether or not it will get done, considering the myriad of issues that the US is currently facing. Meanwhile, Canada’s FIAP inspires hope only under the condition that the Canadian government holds up its promises of governmental action instead of only empty words and signatures.

Over this summer, I have learned that being an engaged citizen can be challenging not just in the US. As I watch multiple crises unfold around me, human rights issues weigh heavily on my heart. Despite its shortcomings and lacking political will for implementation, I have developed an admiration for Canada’s FIAP throughout my internship. It has been fascinating to learn about the mechanisms of foreign policy and how a country, like Canada, can come together to agree upon helping the less fortunate and lifting up the disadvantaged around the globe.

Eleanor Partington was the 2021 MCC Peace & Justice Office summer intern and currently studies at Emory University

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Notes: “Representative/Politician” = MP, “Congress” = Parliament

Banner image caption: Faith leaders and immigrant rights advocates rallied for #Not1More deportation outside the White House on July 31, 2014. (MCC Photo/Agnes Chen)

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