Freeland unveils government's 5-year women, peace and security plan

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland reveals the Liberal government's five-year women, peace and security initiative in Ottawa.

Includes funding for UN gender-based violence investigations and gender-diversity in policing

The United Nations wants all countries, including Canada, to ensure women comprise 15 per cent of all staff officers and observers on peacekeeping missions for the agency. (Hussein Malla/Associated Press)

The Liberal government has set aside $17.1 million over the next five years for a series of international programs meant to protect women and seek justice for sexual assault victims in conflict zones.

The money will also be used to fund initiatives that support women's empowerment and inclusion in peace and security efforts.

The announcement Wednesday by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland largely represents a renewal of a framework established by the former Conservative government. 

It addresses some concerns and funding shortfalls at the United Nations, but does not speak to some of the more immediate demands for women to take a greater role in both military and police peacekeeping missions.

The package of initiatives includes more than $2 million in funding to increase the UN's capacity to investigate and prosecute incidents of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict areas. 

The government is also giving more than $1 million to the United Nations police force and committing to train as many as 200 female police officers.

"Inequality whether its social, economic or political exacerbates instability and undermines prosperity. We can't tolerate that," Freeland said.

"Addressing these problems, of course, has direct benefits for women. It also contributes to the stability and security of communities around the world. And a more secure world is a direct benefit to Canadians."

Today's announcement comes ahead of the upcoming UN defence ministers in Vancouver on Nov. 14-15.

The UN wants countries, including Canada, to deliver a "demonstrated commitment to meet or exceed" the target of having women comprise 15 per cent of all staff officers and observers on UN military missions, according to latest statement of UN requirements in August.

At the moment, they only make-up 7.4 per cent. 

Nations are also being asked to pledge female "engagement teams," comprising 30 women, roughly 15 per cent, in each infantry battalion. 

"A suggested model would be for pledges of infantry battalions to include at least one platoon of women within each unit to enable mixed patrolling," the UN statement said. 

There is also the expectation that each country with military academies will open up more seats to women.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Canadian military has been working in increasing the representation of women, but it not something that can be done in isolation.

"So, if we want more women in peacekeeping; not just Canadians, but all the nations armed forces that are involved have to do this," he said.

The UN would like to see police peacekeeping missions made up of 20 per cent women, but is far from that goal according to the latest data filed in New York on Oct. 17.

Sexual exploitation 

Last Friday, a senior Canadian official said gender issues are of the utmost importance at the upcoming conference.

Michael Grant, the deputy permanent representative at the UN, challenged other nations to suggest "innovative solutions" to the under-representation of women and to incorporate gender perspectives into peace operations.

"We are working to increase the proportion of Canadian women police officers deployed to peace operations and have been at the forefront of a UN training initiative aimed at increasing the number of women police officers deployed to UN peace operations," said Grant.

Separately, Canada has been looking to develop best practices for the prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.

Today's action plan will focus on preventing "acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and other international personnel, including humanitarian and development staff," said Freeland.

"There can be no impunity for these crimes — not for soldiers, not for civilians and not for those sent to keep the peace or provide assistance," said Freeland.

In 2016, there were 145 allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers reported to the UN.

Two-thirds of the allegations involved two missions — the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

'Much more needs to be done'

"Of those, 57 per cent involved sexual abuse in the form of non-consensual sexual activities with an adult or any form of sexual activity with minors," said the UN secretary general's latest assessment, released last month.

The UN received 103 allegations of sex abuse in 2015.

"Of the allegations reported in peace operations, 38 (55 per cent) involved the most egregious forms of sexual violence and abuse, including sexual activities with minors and rape," the assessment said.

There were paternity claims associated with 15 of those cases.

"The increase in the number of allegations, their unspeakable brutality and the weakness of the measures to assist victims reveal that much more needs to be done," said the secretary general's 2016 assessment of the crisis.

A special UN co-ordinator and a dedicated trust fund for victims has been established.

The co-ordinator promised "swifter investigations and disclosure of the nationality of alleged perpetrators."


Murray Brewster

Senior reporter, defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.