What’s New about Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: the Problem and Possibilities of ‘More of the Same.'


Tiessen, Rebecca. 2019. “What’s New about Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: the Problem and Possibilities of ‘More of the Same.’” The School of Public Policy Publications 12 (44).

Author: Rebecca Tiessen


Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) will succeed only if it leaves behind its instrumentalist feminist approach and takes on a transformative one. Instrumentalist approaches have been the status quo for such policies in the past, but they are limited in their reach because they confine themselves to relatively easy measurements of progress. These measurements include counting how many women and girls are involved in, or affected by, policy interventions that have broader societal and other goals. A transformative approach, however, goes deeper by working to permanently change the structures and institutions that perpetuate inequality. 
Unfortunately, the FIAP falls short of the transformative mark on a number of fronts. It does not define feminism, an omission which sets the policy up for built-in vagaries and ambiguity. And with its explicit focus on women and girls, its perspective is limited to a binary one, neglecting a broader gender equality which should include LGBTQ, trans and other non-binary individuals. 
The FIAP was released in 2017 with much rhetoric about its newness and innovativeness, but critics say it offers little more than what similar policies did in the past. That is a double-edged sword. The similarities are good because they reflect Canada’s longstanding commitment to gender equality, but they can also foster the continuation of weak programming. The FIAP must move beyond previous policies if it is truly going to make a difference in the lives of those individuals abroad who suffer discrimination and oppression based on gender and/or sexual orientation. 
A fully gender-inclusive policy must address such variables as cultural norms, discrimination, political processes and institutionalized gender inequality, and examine how and where they intersect. Policy implementation must include input and advice from local organizations that are aware of marginalization, as well as from individuals who have lived the experience of inequality and understand its local context. A review of best practices in gender equality programs over the last three decades of Canadian foreign assistance is vital for creating sustained commitments and long-lasting leadership. However, that review must also include close scrutiny of the ways in which previous strategies were limited, in order to design new policies. 
Not only does the FIAP need to define its own transformative feminist approach, but it must also have a timeline for specific outcomes. To be successful in changing the lives of marginalized people abroad, the policy must carefully avoid instrumentalist and mainstream feminist approaches that pose stumbling blocks to changing the structures and institutions where inequality dwells. Until these very necessary changes are made, the FIAP’s powers will be limited. Success will come when the FIAP’s content is put into practice so that, together with local organizations and individuals, it promotes social justice, gender equality and the tearing down of systemic barriers that create and sustain inequality on so many fronts.

Topics: Feminist Foreign Policy, Gendered Power Relations, Gender Equality/Inequality, LGBTQ Regions: Americas, North America Countries: Canada

Year: 2019

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