Liberals launch feminist-focused foreign aid policy

The Liberal government is launching an international assistance policy that will invest $150 million over five years to help local organizations in developing countries working to promote women's rights.

Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says plan will position Canada as gender equality leader

Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau launched Canada's new Feminist International Assistance Policy in Ottawa today. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

The Liberal government is launching an international assistance policy that aims to position Canada as a gender equality leader on the world stage.

The plan, called the Feminist International Assistance Policy, will invest $150 million over five years to help local organizations in developing countries that are working to promote women's rights. The money is part of the existing budget.

By 2021-22, at least 80 per cent of Canada's international assistance will target the advancement of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.

Bibeau said the government's vision is to reduce global poverty through the lens of measures that empower women and girls.

"We will not break the back of poverty if we leave half of humanity at the sidelines," she said during a news conference in Ottawa. "We will not break the vicious cycle of poverty and violence without stepping up efforts to give women and girls a voice, and the opportunities to choose their own future and fully contribute to their community."

The plan will promote better education and training, social inclusion, access to financing, inclusive governance, improved nutrition, and access to contraception and safe abortion for women and girls.

Bibeau said that right now, too many countries have laws and cultural practices that discriminate against women.

The policy was first announced by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Tuesday during her foreign policy speech in the House of Commons.

Welcome news for aid agencies

It comes after a review that included 300 consultations in 65 countries.

The government's aid plan will direct at least 50 per cent of bilateral assistance to sub-Saharan African countries.

Friday's announcement was welcomed by several development organizations.

In a statement, Michael Messenger, President and CEO of World Vision Canada called it an "ambitious new agenda."

"It will help make the world a better place to live for everyone, everywhere," he said. "Empowering women and girls is in Canada's best interest, and ensuring equal opportunity is much more than a bold commitment to feminism. It's about basic human rights and basic common sense."

The MATCH International Women's Fund and Nobel Women's Initiative said the investment in women's organizations makes Canada a global leader in empowering women.

"This is a game changer," Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee said in a news release. "From Syria and Yemen to Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, it is the grassroots women's groups that are doing the heavy lifting to help communities respond to crisis, build peace and bring about gender equality."

Bono's organization disappointed

But ONE Campaign, the international organization co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono, expressed disappointment the policy shift did not come with more money attached.

Stuart Hickox, ONE's Canada director, praised the commitment to gender equality but said the policy moves money around without increasing the overall spending envelope.

"The juxtaposition of a recommended 70-per-cent increase to [Canada's] defence budget with a recommended 0 per cent increase to the development budget is simply stunning," Hickox said in a statement.