Canada to urge G7 partners to rethink foreign aid at meeting focused on gender equality

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says girls, women should be 'agents of change'

Posted: May 31, 2018

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau will host a two-day meeting with her G7 partners in Whistler, B.C. beginning today. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Canada will prod its G7 partners to rethink how foreign aid is delivered by challenging the system's "global architecture" and treating women and girls as agents of change instead of as beneficiaries.

International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau will join her counterparts from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. today in Whistler, B.C. for a two-day meeting that will focus on adolescent girls. Some of the ministers' meetings will be held jointly with Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his G7 counterparts, who are also gathering in advance of the G7 leaders' summit in Charlevoix, Que.

Canada holds the G7 presidency in 2018 and promoting gender equality and women's empowerment is one of the central themes of its term.


Bibeau said the traditional approach to humanitarian assistance has been to focus on individual sectors, such as health or education. Canada will urge its international development partners to take a more integrated "big picture" approach that considers the entire life experiences of girls in developing countries.

"How can we transform what we call the global architecture of humanitarian assistance and development? How can we bring our major partners such as the UN, NGOs and the local countries to undertake projects in a way that is gender transformative?" Bibeau told CBC News. "How can we make our system more efficient, more impactful?"

Bibeau said she also wants to transform the way in which partnering countries view girls and women in developing countries and refugee camps — by including them in the decision-making process as "agents of change" to help shape development assistance programs.

Health, nutrition are key

"If we can offer safe education but the girls don't get there because they're pregnant or because it's dangerous to get to school, we don't reach our objectives," she said.

Bibeau and the other international development officials in Whistler will hear from six young women from Canada, Benin, Jamaica, South Africa, Mali and Lebanon, who will share their personal experiences.


Last year, Canada launched a new Feminist International Assistance Policy, which aimed to position Canada as a world leader on gender equality in aid programming.

Kate Higgins, Oxfam Canada's director of policy and campaigns, applauded that focus and new funding for promoting equality, but said Canada must step up aid to avoid falling further behind its peers.

She said funding also must be delivered in a way that tackles underlying structural barriers such as income inequality, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the power dynamics that prevent women from participating in the political process.

"If we look at the global economy, we know that it's rigged against women, who dominate low paid and precarious jobs," she said. "So that's a structural issue, and when we're thinking about what we do with aid, we're pushing the government here and around the world to really think about how aid can really be used in a smart and transformative way to tackle some of these issues."  

Improving health outcomes

Helen Scott, executive director of the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children's Health, said Canada has been a global champion for adolescents' and girls' health and nutrition, which play a vital role in other outcomes such as education and economic empowerment.

She said she hopes the ministers will work to close the persistent gaps that remain, especially in fragile and hard-to-reach groups.


"Adolescent girls are too often the most marginalized and hardest to reach, with significant unmet needs in the areas of sexual and reproductive health and rights and nutrition," she said in a statement to CBC. "The ability to fully participate in society, including attaining an education and economic empowerment, hinges on key health and nutrition interventions."

According to the organization, improving the health of adolescents aged 10-19 years at a cost of less than $5 per person a year could yield 10 times the economic benefits, save 12.5 million lives, prevent more than 30 million unwanted pregnancies and prevent disabilities.