On November 23rd 2018, Global Focus hosted a breakfast meeting with focus on Canada’s feminist approach to protecting civic space. Simeon McKay from the Embassy of Canada to Denmark and Jo Rodrigues who the Toronto Focal Point for the Women, Peace and Security Network, were invited to give their perspective on the feminist approach to supporting civic space. The event was moderated by Sara Brandt, Civil Society Advisor at Global Focus. 

Canada’s feminist foreign policy 

Billede1CanadaFirst, Simeon McKay gave his take on the key points of supporting international civil society through a feminist approach, which is a major focus for the Canadian government. He said that, despite the fact that the population around the world is getting increasingly richer there is still a great gender gap regarding who benefits the most from economic growth. The Canadian government believes that the continuous fight for greater equality between genders will have a positive spill-over effect making it possible to get to the root cause of poverty. Additionally, McKay presented several policies and mechanisms of the Canadian government that support civic space globally such as their guide on how embassies best can support human rights defenders at risk. This guide is currently being updated to encompass the developments and today’s realities regarding the increasing crackdown on civil society globally.  

Women, Peace, Security

Jo Rodrigues has been part of the steering committee of the Women Peace and Security Network – Canada (WPSN-C) and therefore directly involved with examining the Canadian government’s policies and advocating for positive policy processes on the agenda. According to Rodrigues, the WPSN-C has been an important contributor to the consolidating of the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security from 2017-2022, which has prioritized empowering civil society, with a focus on women and women’s groups. This implies acknowledging civil society and arranging more activities, workshops etc. to educate and inform the population about the issue. The committee has successfully organised channels of communication such as social media, briefs and notes to promote their work and address the government policies publicly through critical perspectives. 

 

Despite the positive work, the committee is still in need of funding and Rodriguez notes: “The government has privileges and resources that the CSOs are not capable of. CSOs need to critically examine government policies and suggest ways to improve reporting mechanisms to bring substantial social and policy change. It is a way to balance power.”

The Saudi Arabia Case

Billede2CanadaIn the summer of 2018 the Canadian government publically criticised the imprisonment of two women human rights defenders from Saudi Arabia who had advocated for lifting the driving ban. Even though the driving ban was lifted during the summer of 2018, the women human rights defenders were imprisoned, which the Canadian government voiced public concern over. The reaction from the Saudi government was drastic and it sparked a diplomatic crisis between the two countries. Consequently, trade deals were suspended and Saudi students in Canada were withdrawn. Rodrigues mentioned how this action by the Canadian government showcased policy coherence between Canadian national and foreign policy and was supported by Canadian civil society. She went on to mention, that the need for policy coherence, both at home and abroad, is important to avoid policies that undermine sanctions against human rights violators.

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