From June 3-6, Vancouver became the planet’s feminist capital. Over 8,000 champions of women’s rights came from around the world to the Women Deliver Conference, drawn in no small part by the feminist leadership of the Canadian government. They came with high expectations, and they will leave impressed.
The federal government rose to the occasion and delivered in two big ways for women’s and girls’ rights in Canada and internationally.
Already, since 2017, when Canada adopted its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canadian aid has been squarely focused on promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls. While several other donor countries are also working on gender equality, Canada is the first to make it the centre of its international assistance.
On Sunday, June 2, Canada launched a first-of-its-kind initiative to mobilize new philanthropy, the private sector, and other investment vehicles, and leverage their funds in support of women’s movements and organizations in developing countries and in Canada. Seeded with $300 million from the federal government, the Gender Equality Partnership offers the potential to mobilize unprecedented levels of resources and create a sustainable and predictable source of funding for this crucial work.
For anyone who may fear that funding for women’s groups could lose political favour one day, it is reassuring that this fund is set up independently of government and designed to operate sustainably.
Two days later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced continued and increased investment in the health of women and girls. By 2023, Canada will ramp-up its investment in global health to $1.4 billion annually, with an emphasis on maternal, newborn and child health, and sexual and reproductive health rights.
These two announcements will undoubtedly boost Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. But their merit extends beyond this government’s own policy commitments.
Canada’s annual investment will include $700 million for the most underfunded areas of sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR) – a commitment that will empower 18 million women and girls. With a ten-year timeframe, government and partners will be able to apply effective longer-term approaches and make measurable progress in tackling some of the world’s most intractable health challenges.
Faced with threats today to hard–won gains for gender equality, in forms as varied as attacks on a woman’s right to choose south of the border, the roll back of sexual education in Ontario and online hate against gender equality champions, feminists present in Vancouver were looking for leaders to push back. Canada stepped up.
There is overwhelming evidence that gender equality is critical to sustainable development. Investments in gender equality yield substantial returns both economically and socially – and investments in neglected areas of SRHR bring some of the highest of all.
Data aside, it’s intuitive that we cannot achieve the best possible world without first securing equal rights and opportunity for half the population.
Both of these announcements followed sustained initiatives by civil society to build a case for strong Canadian leadership for gender equality. The success of these efforts is testimony to the better world that is within our reach when government and civil society collaborate to create positive and lasting change.
The government can and must be applauded for reinforcing its commitment to supporting effective development cooperation and advancing gender equality.
And yet even effective and impactful programming will not be enough to meet global development challenges. Canadian aid has declined as a percentage of the economy over the last decade – through both Liberal and Conservative governments. It now sits near a record low, at about $0.27 for every $100 of Gross National Income.
The government’s ten-year commitment ends in 2030, the same year the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals come due. This government has spoken repeatedly of its ambition for Canadian leadership on the global stage. As we celebrate this progress and look to the future of Canadian aid, the fact is that it can still do more to fulfill that ambition.
Nicolas Moyer is President and CEO of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), the national association of Canadian international development and humanitarian organizations.