Canada's development minister sounds new call for a 'feminist' agenda

Marie-Claude Bibeau offered details on Canada's new feminist international development assistance policy during a conversation with Devex at the recent World Bank Annual Meetings.

WASHINGTON — Canadian International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau is calling on fellow donor nations to ensure that international development and humanitarian assistance prioritizes the needs of women, she told Devex.

Most donors are “seriously considering” evidence that demonstrates the importance of empowering women, Bibeau explained in an interview with Devex Editor-in-Chief Raj Kumar on the sidelines of the annual World Bank meetings in Washington, D.C.

“I am definitely here to push my feminist agenda because, as you know, we just launched a new feminist international assistance policy last June,” she said.  

“I think most of the donor countries and international associations are seriously considering this because we have evidence to show that we have to empower women. No country can leave behind half of its population. It is evidence based. But we need some of us to lead the way and to once again ‘walk the talk’ because we know it, but there is a step between knowing that it is important and going [forward].”

Canada launched its Feminist International Assistance Policy in the spring, aiming to increase the percentage of gender-specific targeted funding from 2.4 percent in 2015 to 15 percent by 2021-2022. The policy will also provide 150 million Canadian dollars over five years to small and medium-sized civil society groups in about 30 countries through its Women’s Voice and Leadership Program.

The scope of possible work and collaboration under the policy is broad, Bibeau explained.

“The idea is to work with grassroots organizations. These women know their priorities, their needs, and the best way to advance women’s rights. So, depending on the countries in the region, it could be working on sexual and reproductive rights. But it could be also access to justice, it could be access to property, own[ing] a business, female genital mutilation, early and child marriage,” she said. “We want to support these local organizations to build their capacity, to advocate and to contribute to the change in some cultural norms.”

The policy — which centers on gender equality, human dignity, growth that works for all, environment and climate action, inclusive governance, and peace and security — was developed following almost a year and a half of consultations. An estimated 15,000 people in 65 countries participated in the process, according to Bibeau.

Civil society groups have felt “listened to” following the consultations, she said.

“I was in Jordan or Iraq and one of our partners in the humanitarian context said, ‘Thank you for obliging us to add this women component.’ And I said, ‘Come on, guys, you are the ones who told me to do that.’ We all know, but we have to walk the talk,” she said.

Putting women and girls at the heart of every aspect of Canada’s new policy is a “must” in the fight to end poverty.

“No matter what areas of expertise or project we are talking about — it could be energy, agriculture, governance, even peace and security and humanitarian assistance — all of our projects, all our partners must make sure they involve women, that they consult women in the beginning, that women are part of the decision-making and, obviously, during the implementation of any project, that they are empowered,” Bibeau said.

Bibeau also told Devex that it remains a challenge to find the right balance of humanitarian support amid the increasing number of emergencies brought about by natural disasters and protracted conflicts. There is an increasing need to think of innovative financing sources, she said, with these issues in mind.

It is still a challenge to figure out how we can best use our money. How can we use Canada’s brand and Canada’s financial contribution to bring new partners around the table, to bring new investors? It could be countries that are not usual donors, but also private sector [and philanthropic] donors as well,” she said. “We know if we only rely on ODA, it will never be enough to reach the SDG objectives, so we definitely have to find new friends.”

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.