Re: Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policies & Practices

This letter was sent on behalf of WILPF Canada on March 27 to Prime Minister Trudeau, Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality Maryam Monsef, Minister of National Defence Harjit Singh Sajjan, and MP Joyce Murray.

Re: Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policies & Practices

On behalf of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) Canada, we commend you on being the first government in Canada to establish a feminist international assistance and peace and security commitment. This has great potential for improving the lives of women all around the world. We write to offer our perspective on challenges in achieving the stated goals and to recommend steps towards realizing a world of women’s equality, peace and prosperity.

Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security

Canada recognizes that around the world, violent conflict, wars and long-term instability disproportionately impact women and children civilians in devastating and permanent ways. Canada recognizes that women are targeted as victims of conflict, war and terrorism as a deliberate strategic practice. And that gender- based violence is increasing with weak and fragmented efforts to combat it.  Canada recognizes that true peace and sustainable development cannot be achieved without addressing these brutal realities in a meaningful way. The Feminist International Assistance Policy and Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security reflect our commitment. This is a start. As the situation of women and children deteriorates in so many conflict settings, Canada can and must review, revise and improve its advocacy, resources and efforts. 

What is the proportion of our assistance targeting gender- based violence in relation to our military/defence budget? Do we have program assistance focussing on the abduction, use or rehabilitation of child combatants?

Women in Peace Negotiations

Canada’s National Action Planrecognizes that “when women are involved in peace and security efforts, solutions are more comprehensive. When women are included, peace processes are more likely to be successful and peace agreements are more likely to endure.” However, women continue to be sidelined in peace building processes, as noted in the UN 2015 Global Study on Women, Peace and Security. Today, peace negotiations are underway with the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is our understanding that while the United States initially encouraged the inclusion of women, this is no longer the case.  A strong reason for many Canadians’ support for the ouster of the Taliban from governing Afghanistan was their appalling treatment of women and girls. It is inconceivable that we would condone their legitimacy without assurances that a return to the oppression and subjugation of Afghan women would not occur under renewed Taliban influence in Afghanistan politics.

What is Canada doing to facilitate the meaningful inclusion of Afghan women in the peace negotiations? 

Another peace process that should be of concern to Canada is the war in Yemen.  Yemeni women are suffering terribly and being excluded from meaningful participation in the peace negotiations. We recommend for your consideration a 2018 WILPF Report – Changes Ahead: Yemeni Women Map the Road to Peace, released in advance of the UN Universal Periodic Review on Yemen in January 2019. 

What is Canada doing to assist in the inclusion of Yemeni women in the peace processes underway?

Feminist Peace Agenda and Arms Sales

A difficult circumstance for western industrial countries is marrying a feminist peace agenda with the legal sales of armed equipment and arms to non-peaceful countries. Sweden, a forerunner in employing feminist foreign policy, ran into serious diplomatic repercussions when it attempted to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Canada is now facing the uncomfortable challenge of criticizing the Saudi Arabian government’s  treatment of women and its role in the Yemen war while holding an armed equipment sales contract with that government. Notwithstanding the potential financial and diplomatic consequences, we urge the Canadian government to remain true to its professed feminist policy and cancel this sale. Everything the Saudi Arabian government is doing, its treatment of women, its imprisonment of women peaceful activists, its inordinate role in the war in Yemen, and likely role in the savage murder of a journalist, is offensive and antithetical to Canadians’ values of human rights, women’s equality, international law and peace. If financial considerations trump our values, then there is no point espousing values- they become meaningless and unpersuasive. Germany has recently proclaimed its cancellation of arms contracts with Saudi Arabia. The sale was a mistake of our previous government and now, with further dire events in Saudi Arabia and in the region this mistake must be corrected.

Will Canada make determined and exhaustive efforts to find a way to cancelling this Saudi Arabian contract? 

Canada’s Peacekeeping

Finally, the peace keeping mission to Mali: Canada has recognized the need for far greater numbers and roles for women in peacekeeping.

Were gender perspectives in the preparation and assessment of a peacekeeping mission to Mali incorporated? How is Canada planning to address the needs of women in Mali and how is Canada planning to expand the inclusion of Canadian and Malian women in our peacekeeping efforts?  If peace building processes are undertaken, how will Canada facilitate the inclusion of Malian women?

WILPF-Our Story

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is a non-governmental organization with a specific focus on issues concerning women, peace and security. WILPF was established by a Convention held at The Hague in 1915, in response to the First World War and its devastating impacts. Canada was a founding member. WILPF has national sections and branches on every continent. The Headquarters are located in Geneva and an office focussed on the United Nations is situated in New York. WILPF was one of the first organizations to gain Consultative Status (Category B) at the UN and is the only women’s anti-war organization so recognized. We promote peace using existing international legal and political frameworks to achieve fundamental change in the ways States conceptualize and address issues of gender, militarism, peace and security. WILPF is very active in working within international fora, such as the UN and its special and regional bodies, the European Union and the African Union. Simultaneously, WILPF supports and empowers grassroots and other women’s organizations, and collaborates initiatives to address local and national challenges for women and children in conflict areas, war zones and within peace processes, (emerging and existent).  WILPF Canada supports this work and our sisters in their struggles for peace worldwide.

Thank you for considering the comments and questions in this letter. We know that women’s equality, freedom from violence and the inclusion of women in peace building are goals that WILPF Canada shares with our government. We look forward to your responses to our letter and we commend to you the excellent and expert resources of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Yours in Peace,

Marlene LeGates, Ph D.
President, WILPF Canada