The New Era of Canadian Feminist Foreign Policy

Will the new National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security hold up to scrutiny?

by Dec 18, 2017

Increasing the number of women peacekeepers is only the most visible piece of what should be a broader feminist solution to peace and security issues. UN Photo/Marco Dormino

The announcement of Canada’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (the C-NAP) on November 1 came with much excitement and fanfare, with several federal ministers there in support, along with a room bursting with diplomats, civil society representatives, and rows of videographers, reporters, and photographers documenting the event. The announcement was also livestreamed online, capturing more than just the large audience in the room. With this announcement, the new C-NAP has been placed squarely within a new feminist foreign policy movement in Canada, but how well does it hold up to feminist scrutiny?

In Canada, it seems that to be a feminist and to enact policy based in feminist theory and research is becoming increasingly more visible at the highest levels of government. In addition to the C-NAP launch, this year Canada announced its Feminist International Assistance Policy on June 9, and on November 15, the Prime Minister announced the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations. This is not to forget the earlier references to feminism from Canada on the world stage, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declaring himself a feminist early in his tenure, and creating gender parity and recognizing diversity in the Cabinet.

The history of the C-NAP extends back to the first United Nations Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security on October 31, 2000. Resolution 1325 affirmed the important role of women in peacekeeping, conflict resolution, peace negotiation and post-conflict reconstruction, and with a call to action by the UN in 2004, has since been integral to member nations increasing the participation of women and incorporating gender perspectives into their peace and security operations. Seven more Security Council Resolutions have bolstered 1325 and have become what is known as the WPS Agenda, recognizing sexual violence as a weapon of war, encouraging collaborative approaches to peacebuilding with civil society, and supporting training for peace operatives on issues of gender and women’s empowerment.

Canada quietly released its first C-NAP in 2010, with few supporting documents, six years after the UN called on member states to act. This first C-NAP expired in 2016, and following this the Canadian government conducted a two-day consultation this past April to build a new, more comprehensive and better-informed document. The second iteration of the C-NAP utilizes gender inclusive terminology, cites informative academic research, and outlines its whole-of-government usefulness for the broadened list of implicated government departments through implementation plans and a published theory of change. These efforts distinguish the second C-NAP from the first, but do they indicate a real willingness by the Canadian government to take a feminist stance on issues of global peace and security?

“Will we see the same feminist analysis applied to international peace and security issues?”

For all its feminist-informed improvements, the new C-NAP cannot escape scrutiny. It is important to ask how truly feminist this new plan is, as Rachel Vincent of the Nobel Women’s Initiative has recently done, and to maintain a critical feminist skepticism of the document and implementation tools going forward. This more feminist government is willing to use feminist language in the C-NAP, which is certainly a positive improvement, but will we see the same feminist analysis applied to international peace and security issues?

Increasing the number of women peacekeepers and ending the use of rape and sexual violence as tools of war are only the most visible pieces of what should be a broader feminist solution to peace and security issues. A feminist solution should include demilitarization and conflict prevention work, financial investment in grassroots women’s organizations, and gender training that disrupts traditional lines of gendered thinking. Ultimately, it should divest us from enacting military solutions to conflict alone. For example, will we see Canada’s diplomatic efforts regarding the Korean Peninsula include support for women peacebuilders? Will we see a feminist lens brought to the Arms Trade Treaty, nuclear disarmament, and other typically militarized issues?

“A feminist solution…should divest us from enacting military solutions to conflict alone.”

This new look for the C-NAP has taken shape due in no small part to the active role of civil society in consulting with and informing the Canadian government on the significant importance of women in peace processes. There has been much activity in academic circles around the significance of understanding the connection between gender inequality and conflict, non-governmental organizations such as KAIROS have taken a strong stance on the importance of women’s grassroots organizations as leaders in peacebuilding, and volunteer groups like the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada (WPSN-C) have become integral partners with the Canadian government in providing accountability measures for the actions of the C-NAP.

This is where the benefit lies between this new C-NAP and the old: in its increased whole-of-government and collaborative approach with civil society at the centre. It has explicitly stated that it will enact an Action Plan Advisory Group comprised of civil society experts and government officials, and will be co-chaired by a Peace and Stabilization Operations Program (PSOPs) official and a representative of civil society. This piece of the C-NAP may be one of its most feminist changes yet, as it proclaims continuous accountability and dialogue from a position of equality between government officials and civil society experts. The question remains whether this will turn from rhetoric to reality: will grassroots women’s voices be more readily heard, will rigorous academic research be more easily accessed, and will consistent monitoring and evaluation of implementation practices ensure the C-NAP is responsive and adaptable to changing global needs? As of today, the C-NAP appears ready to implement real feminist change in international peace and security issues, but it remains to be seen how this implementation will unfold.

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Sarah Tuckey
Sarah Tuckey is a PhD Candidate in Public Administration at the University of Ottawa, where she is completing her dissertation on the gender dimensions of Canada’s whole-of-government approach within the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. Additionally, as a member of the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada (WPSN-C) and an independent consultant, Sarah provides expertise on feminist foreign policy, the role of gender in conflict and post-conflict reconstruction, the WPS Agenda, and the Canadian National Action Plan on WPS.