Protected and Powerful: Putting Resources and Decision Making Power in the Hands of Women in Conflict

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70 civil wars. 68.5 million people displaced. 730 million in extreme poverty. One person driven from their home every two seconds. For too many people around the world, life is characterized by unimaginable hardship, vulnerability and insecurity. Humanitarian crises are hard for everyone, though particularly difficult for women and girls. They face increased risk of violence, exhausting workloads to ensure their families survive and lack full control over decisions that affect the trajectories of their lives.

Evidence shows a strong link between gender equality and peace. Countries where women are empowered are vastly more secure. Helping women realize their rights in fragile countries helps prevent conflict and increases the likelihood of sustainable peace.

This paper examines the challenges women and girls face in conflict settings and recommends concrete actions that the Canadian government can take to empower women in conflict. Canada, with its feminist agenda—including its Feminist International Assistance Policy—has made a bold commitment to gender equality. Canada is well-positioned to make a strong contribution to world peace by continuing to tackle gender inequality before, during and after conflicts. To do this, the government must continue to transform the way it delivers humanitarian assistance—and adopt a coherent feminist foreign policy.

Humanitarian responses often fail to address women’s specific needs and challenges. Since women are not adequately involved in discussions on how aid is delivered, their needs aren’t prioritized and the complex drivers of conflict, which include gender inequality, go unaddressed.

To change such results, Canada must continue to invest boldly in gender-transformative humanitarian action that aims to change gender power relations and address the unique needs and challenges of women, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights and protection from gender-based violence. It must also drastically increase its support to local women’s rights actors. Women’s organizations and movements are best placed to deliver assistance that works for women and transform the gender power relations that fuel conflict in the first place.

While these changes hold tremendous potential, progress would be undermined if Canada’s other foreign policy decisions are not guided by the same feminist goals. Canada needs policy coherence across all foreign policy actions—in aid, diplomacy, trade and defence. Diplomatic interests, such as economic priorities, should never override women’s irreversible human rights. This means that Canada must take action to stop fuelling wars and genderbased violence through arms sales, step up its diplomatic support to women human rights defenders around the world, and mobilize resources and political will to implement its commitments to women, peace and security.

Gender equality is the issue of our time—the issue by which future generations will judge us. Canada is in a position to make a real difference. The time is now. Millions of women and girls affected by conflict and violence around the world are counting on it.