When Canada starts its two-year term on the United Nations Security Council on January 21, 2021, gender equality must be at the core of its work, say advocates. Earlier today, UN member states elected Canada to this position, the first time Canada has had a seat on the council in 20 years.
Canada must work to implement its Security Council campaign pledge to ‘make gender inequality history.’ This will involve significant new investments in supporting women peacebuilders and human rights defenders, strengthening women’s participation in peace negotiations and addressing sexual violence in conflict. “The security of women and girls is a key indicator of state security,” said Beth Woroniuk of the Equality Fund. “In its campaign, Canada made promises to advance the rights of women and girls. Carrying through on these promises will involve investments and courage to challenge international voices opposed to women’s rights.”
The UN Security Council’s work too often centres around an outdated definition of security that focuses on military interventions. But as the world grapples with multiple crises—COVID-19, climate change, extreme inequality, and systemic racism—it is clear that militarized solutions are not the way to address these challenges. It is more important than ever to update the definition of security. The UN must reassess what makes us secure, and Canada, with its commitment to gender equality and its Feminist Foreign Policy, is well positioned to champion the redefining of security within the Security Council. “We cannot have peace and security without equality. We need solutions that are adapted to the crises we are collectively facing,” said Jackie Hansen of Amnesty International Canada. “It is time to move beyond simplistic notions of military security to broader concepts of human security centred on human rights and gender equality.”
To be a leader in the Security Council, Canada must model domestically what it wants to see adopted internationally. This means urgently acting to end violence against Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people in Canada, and more broadly, addressing systemic racism within our borders. It also means applying Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy consistently in all aspects of Canada’s international engagement including diplomacy, trade, defense, and international development assistance. “In the past, Canada has come under fire for its contradictory stance of continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia despite its commitments under the Arms Trade Treaty, and has failed to put in place effective measures to hold Canadian-based mining companies accountable for respecting and upholding human rights in their operations,” said Diana Sarosi of Oxfam Canada. “A feminist approach to foreign policy requires the application of feminist and human rights principles at all times.”
The rights of women and LGBTI people are under threat around the world, with a number of countries further criminalizing abortion and LGBTI rights, and growing attacks on women and LGBTI human rights defenders. “We expect Canada to use its position on the Security Council to give voice and visibility to those who have been marginalized in traditional security spaces,” said Hansen. “People from the Global South, women, LGBTI people, and human rights defenders must be front and center. Discussions about how to create a more equal, secure, and sustainable world cannot solely be the domain of white men.”
Canada also needs to increase its international assistance funding, which has been lagging far behind its competitors for the Security Council seat. Norway commits 1% of GNI annually and Ireland pledged to reach 0.7% of GNI, but Canada merely commits 0.28% of GNI. “Feminist commitments require the backing of resources,” said Woroniuk. “There are concerns that the few global resources dedicated to advancing gender equality will be diverted to other post-COVID recovery initiatives. Canada’s leadership is required to ensure that this does not happen.”
Canada has outlined its feminist foreign policy goals in four policies: the Feminist International Assistance Policy; the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security; the Strong, Secure and Engaged Defense Policy; and the Inclusive Trade Agenda. In February 2020, Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne announced the government will commence consultations with civil society organizations to develop a white paper before the end of 2020 outlining Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy. “Canada needs a comprehensive Feminist Foreign Policy to guide all our international efforts and enable the government to measure its effectiveness and success, including on the Security Council. A clear policy statement also supports civil society efforts to hold the government accountable to its commitments,” said Sarosi.