The Canadian Council for International Co-operation regrets that Canada was unsuccessful in its bid to secure a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in a vote concluded on June 17. Canada was in competition with Ireland and Norway to win one of the two available seats in the Western European and Others Group of states (WEOG). Ireland and Norway were successful in winning the UNSC seats.
Regardless of this outcome, Canada’s campaign tagline that we are “stronger together” remains equally valid today and there is much more for Canada to do to stand in solidarity with international partners in a time of great uncertainty and challenge to global progress. Even without a UN Security Council seat, Canada can lead global momentum on the key priorities outlined in its campaign: sustaining peace; addressing climate change; advancing gender equality; promoting economic security; and strengthening multilateralism. This is in both Canada’s interest and the interest of all our global partners. To make contributions that match its ambitions, Canada will be required to deploy and expand the many foreign policy tools at its disposal to tackle ever growing international threats to human rights, democracy and inclusive economic growth. Such efforts will also need to be accompanied by ambitious global investments, including in international development assistance.
“We are disappointed by today’s results but are unshaken in the belief that Canada must play a leading role in the world,” said Nicolas Moyer, CEO of CCIC. “This is a moment to take stock and commit to our global partners that we will work with them in the long term. With increased ambitions and investments, Canada can play a critical role in the global efforts to recover better from the COVID pandemic.”
Often judged a key consideration in UN votes for the UNSC, Canada’s international development assistance as a share of our economy consistently lags the average commitment to development of OECD members (0.31% of GNI). Canada’s two competitor countries, Ireland and Norway, have both either surpassed or committed to reaching the globally agreed ODA target of 0.7% of GNI.
Particularly in the context of global crises and rapid global change, there is a need now more than ever, for Canada to play an active role in shaping an inclusive and successful global recovery from the COVID pandemic. Canada’s defeat is no reason for Canada to turn away from its role on the global stage. Quite the contrary, it is time for it to show the leadership – in words and deed – that our global partners need.
“Global needs have grown exponentially in the context of COVID-19, with the gendered impacts of the pandemic and the economic downturn it has caused, there is a need more than ever for Canada to invest in improving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable around the world,” said Moyer.
Through its Women of Courage: Women, Peace and Security program, KAIROS has been working very closely with partners to learn more about the impacts of COVID-19 on their work and their responses to these challenges. As women peacebuilders in protracted conflicts, these partners are no strangers to crises and, as such, have modeled resilient, creative and courageous approaches that serve as excellent examples for us all.
In addition to dealing with public health concerns and measures, partners are also responding to what has been termed the “shadow pandemic” or the “double pandemic,” terms that refer to the substantial increase in gender-based and domestic violence that has resulted from the pandemic and associated lockdowns. The pandemic is having this effect all over the world, including in Canada where gender-based violence and domestic abuse rates are increasing by an estimated 20 and 30 per cent in parts of the country. However, countries with militaristic responses to the crisis and autocratic and repressive governance styles have only exacerbated violence and the need for psychosocial and legal support for women in all parts of the world.
Despite the challenges posed by physical distancing requirements, KAIROS’ partners have responded to the crisis to support women experiencing violence in their communities. The Organización Femenina Popular (OFP) in Colombia, for example, has used social media to form online support groups for women. They are providing psychosocial services online and via phone to provide much-needed support to women who are facing gender-based violence or domestic abuse. Similarly, Wi’am: Palestinian Centre for Conflict Transformation in the West Bank is responding to the increase in gender-based violence with conflict mediation and transformation initiatives. The Centre also plans to hire two psychologists and has set up a 24-hour hotline to provide frontline support to women and others experiencing gender-based violence.
KAIROS’ partners have also been adapting workshops and training for women leaders to respond to COVID-19 in their communities. This training includes equipping leaders with tools and resources to respond to the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic and the increase in gender-based violence.
Gender-based violence and domestic violence were a global pandemic long before COVID-19. However, around the world, the protective measures put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 are putting women at an increased risk. KAIROS’ partners have been on the frontline of the response in their communities to ensure that while public health measures are followed, those who are the most at risk have the support they need as they seek to protect themselves and their families from the double pandemic.
Héritiers de la Justice in Democratic Republic of Congo is continuing with the production and hosting of the local weekly radio program “Tuitete Haki,” Swahili for rights, pivoting to address the COVID-19 pandemic public health directives and raise awareness about gender-based violence. The South Sudan Council of Churches’ radio talk shows discuss COVID-19, gender justice, trauma healing as well as peace messaging.
As COVID-19 completely transforms the world, we cannot lose sight of the world’s most vulnerable. Women peacebuilders are leading a feminist response that addresses the disproportionate impacts of this global crisis on women and girls and brings this pandemic of violence out of the shadows. We have much to learn from them. Their strong networks and relations with women community leaders and groups, as well as their experience in psychosocial support and trauma healing, allow them to reach marginalized women and ensure their voices and concerns are heard even in the context of the COVID-19 storm.
Women peacebuilders provide us with a glimmer of hope – a way forward when the world emerges from this crisis, one that is based on the wellbeing, health, safely and peace for all.
To read more about KAIROS’ partners’ response you can read their blog here.
Photo: South Sudan Council of Churches meets with women and youth to raise awareness about gender-based violence, domestic violence and teen pregnancies during COVID-19 lockdown.
While water and soap are considered basic household items in Canada, for many around the world it is normal to live without them. Data shows that 40% of households worldwide do not have handwashing facilities. As a result, handwashing is not a widespread practice, which heightens the risk of spreading illnesses, including COVID-19. Although recent figures show that the pandemic has not yet affected low and middle-income countries to the extent that it has affected high-income countries, concern is growing about the effects of the pandemic in countries that have fewer resources to tackle the crisis. Low and middle-income countries often have restricted access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, and many healthcare facilities are ill-equipped to deal with the scale of COVID-19. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 in these countries, and preventing its devastating impacts, has never been as urgent.
To support the urgent need for WASH, CCIC member WaterAid Canada has channelled its expertise and knowledge to scale up efforts to promote hygiene, improve WASH facilities and inspire lasting behaviour changes to fight the pandemic.
“WASH, a no regrets intervention”
WaterAid Canada in the time of COVID-19
WaterAid Canada has always promoted good handwashing practices as part of its ongoing WASH programming. While COVID-19 has not changed the organization’s priorities, its impact objectives have expanded significantly. WaterAid Canada’s work is centered around four main objectives to reflect the urgency of the pandemic:
- Access to water for basic handwashing and cleanliness – providing essentials like soap, hand sanitizer and disinfectant to the most vulnerable people;
- Support for service providers – ensuring service maintenance with minimal disruptions;
- Reduction of COVID-19 transmission at communal water facilities – installation of handwashing stations in healthcare facilities, densely populated public areas and in rural locations; and
- Advocacy – campaigning to governments and authorities for continued, sustained and inclusive delivery of water and hygiene services, during and after the pandemic.
With its 37 years of experience and as a global leader in hygiene promotion, WaterAid Canada is working to support national governments and local civil society organizations to promote hygiene behaviours that will prevent the spread of the virus. WaterAid Canada teams are observing restrictions and assisting partners to ensure that their work does not endanger anyone or contribute to the spread of the virus. In many cases, the organization connects with other WASH agencies to coordinate joint efforts aligned with World Health Organization WASH recommendations. Currently, work is underway in urban and peri-urban areas, with the goal of reaching rural areas soon. The organization is also assisting in the design of hygiene promotion materials that will be disseminated through large media campaigns and amplified in areas that are more at risk than others. Materials intend to familiarize at-risk populations with WHO recommended practices that will prevent the spread of COVID-19.
WaterAid Canada understands tackling an invisible enemy, like COVID-19, is not an overnight endeavour. In an effort to scale-up its day-to-day operations to respond to the threat, it has developed a two-phase response that includes curbing the spread of the virus through hygiene promotion, and support for governments and key decision-makers followed by a reassessment and long-term planning. Limiting the spread of COVID-19 is not an endeavour WaterAid Canada can confront alone – a pandemic of this sort requires prevention, protection and curative interventions from all WASH sector agencies. As such, WaterAid has put together a comprehensive list of 11 contributions the WASH sector can make in responding to the pandemic, in addition to response dos and don’ts for the sector.
A well-equipped sector is a sustainable sector
It has become apparent that the impacts of COVID-19 will be long and profound, and the reality that awaits us, and more importantly, the most marginalized, is unknown. Safe access to clean water, appropriate sanitation, good hygiene and basic healthcare during a pandemic is crucial. WaterAid Canada has harnessed its expertise, shifted operations, and widened its reach to take on this crisis.
The need for proper WASH practice and facilities in this crisis is vital but the sector also requires long term solutions. WaterAid Canada is committed to protecting the most marginalized from the immediate crisis, while also equipping the WASH sector with human rights-based solutions that will have long-term impacts. Having the resources to prevent future outbreaks and support basic human dignity should be normal, for everyone, everywhere.
*By Arianna Abdelnaiem, Research Assistant at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC).
* This blog is the fourth in a new series by CCIC that showcases leadership and innovation in Canada’s international development and humanitarian sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. CCIC will continue to showcase the stories of solidarity, resilience and innovation from our sector in the coming weeks. We may be physically distant, but our members are more connected than ever in their efforts to combat the impacts of our shared global challenge with strength, humility and grace.
Featured photo: Sashi, a Chikankari worker is pictured washing her hands before she cooks meals for her family in Sadamau, on the outskirts of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India on 20 December 2019. (WaterAid/ Anindito Mukherjee)
Debt relief has been a long-standing sustainable development challenge. Calls from civil society organizations to “drop the debt” and efforts by governments to do so are not new – such as through the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative. Nevertheless, the impacts of COVID-19 on countries across the developing world have breathed new life into calls for debt relief. Debt servicing crowds out funds for healthcare, education, infrastructure and other essential government investments in people’s welfare. According to the One Campaign, 64 countries globally, 30 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, spend more on debt servicing than in public health.
Prior to the COVID crisis, existing debt burdens were a cause for concern. The United Nations Task Force on Financing for Sustainable Development highlighted unsustainable debt as a key risk in 2020, noting that “44 percent of least developed and other low-income developing countries are currently at high risk or in debt distress.” As one analysis of the situation in Africa shows government debt as a share of GDP grew from just under 32 percent between 2010 and 2015 to over 50% in 2020. Countries such as Cape Verde and Mozambique are recording debt levels over 100%.
In response to this reality, civil society organizations, notably through efforts spear-headed by the UK-based Jubilee Debt Campaign, called for the immediate cancellation of 69 poor countries debt payments for 2020, including to private creditors. African scholars and governments have also called for relief. Experts at the US-based think tank, The Brookings Institute, agree, arguing that there should be a “two-year standstill on all external debt repayments, both interest and principal,” including with relief for middle-income countries. Further, they note that the IMF and World Bank should be empowered during this time to undertake comprehensive debt sustainability assessments for impacted countries to inform further debt restructuring.
In response to this reality, on April 15 members of the G20 agreed to debt relief for least developed countries and other low-income countries for the remainder of 2020, which is expected to free up $US 20 billion for developing countries. What this means is that countries will not be required to make debt service payments in 2020 though their interest will continue to grow and payments will be required later – in other words, the initiative does not amount to debt cancellation. Moreover, the G20 is considering how a new issuance of Special Drawing Rights (think international reserves) by the International Monetary Fund could be made available to help countries deal with short-term liquidity constraints though no agreement was made on this front.
China has stated that it, too, supports the suspension of debt repayments but has not committed to forgiveness in the current crisis. China is a major player when it comes to borrowing in Africa. It is estimated that 20% of African government debt is owed to China. Rather than cancelling debt, China is more likely to postpone loan payments, offer debt restructuring or a debt/equity swap. For China, like other major debtors, debt cancellation or forgiveness could mean funding more debts, as it would improve African government’s debt ratio, creating opportunities for governments’ to borrow more from commercial or other creditors.
So, where does this all leave Canada? Here are three recommendations for the Government of Canada to consider.
Ensure Canada’s COVID-19 response does not create additional debt burdens
As noted by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and others, there is a need to ensure that COVID-19 related investments do not create further debt for countries tackling the crisis. Canada’s first phase of global COVID-19 response funding includes $30 million to address requests for assistance from Canada’s development partner countries. As Canada faces requests for financial and in-kind support, funds should be provided as grants rather than loans to minimize impacts on future debt burdens.
Champion debt relief beyond governments and other initiatives to provide countries with further liquidity
Canada’s track record on debt relief bodes well for championing debt relief as a critical part of the COVID-19 response. At the same time, Canada is not the largest player and the composition of developing country debt holders includes governments, multilateral financial institutions and, increasingly, commercial creditors, complicating debt relief measures. The International Monetary Fund has provided debt relief to its 25 poorest members. There is room for other multilateral institutions to follow suit. Canada can use its position across multilateral institutions to support similar debt relief initiatives. There is also an opportunity for Canada to join European counterparts calling for the allocation of Special Drawing Rights for low-income countries. Moreover, Canada could champion one proposed solution which is to transfer Special Drawing Rights from wealthier countries to low-income countries.
In addition, the World Bank has called on commercial lenders to participate in debt relief alongside bilateral donors arguing that they cannot “free ride” on the debt relief provided by others. Canada can play a role in supporting efforts to deny legal standing to cases suing Southern countries for debt repayment and supporting the World Bank’s call on commercial lenders to participate in debt relief alongside bilateral donors.
Make longer term debt restructuring a priority beyond the current crisis
The need for longer-term debt restructuring cannot be forgotten once the immediate crisis passes. As noted above, countries were already struggling under unsustainable debt burdens before the global pandemic exacerbated already fragile economic and social welfare systems. Canada has been a willing player in past debt relief initiatives as a founding member of the Paris Club (informal group of creditor countries) and participant in the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative and Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative. In 1999, Canada established the Canadian Debt Initiative to further forgive the debts of countries to Canada that completed the Heavily Indebted Poor Country initiative process. Beyond the immediate crisis, Canada can play a global leadership role in championing the ongoing need to support debt sustainability for developing country partners.
Shannon Kindornay is the Director of Research, Policy and Practice and Erika Richter is the ODA Campaign Coordinator at the Canadian Council for International Co-operation.