Address by the Honourable Chrystia Freeland, Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the launch of Canada’s Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security


November 1, 2017 – Ottawa, Ontario

Check against delivery. This speech has been translated in accordance with the Government of Canada’s official languages policy and edited for posting and distribution in accordance with its communications policy.

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional, unceded Algonquin territory.

I grew up in a very pioneering feminist household.

I want to start by also paying special tribute to our foremothers, to the older generation of feminists who are here. If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants. 

My mother was a very early Canadian feminist.  She was a feminist in northern Alberta.  I grew up in Peace River near Edmonton. There were only seven women in her law school class at the University of Alberta.

We had a consciousness-raising circle in our house in Peace River in the 70s, so let me tell you, a very different environment from the one we have now. 

I know that a lot of women in this room were part of that movement then. I am so grateful to all of you for the work you have done. I want you to know that I very much appreciate the foundations you have laid, and that we are very consciously building on those. 

Canada’s feminist foreign policy is founded on a simple objective: we seek to enable women and men, girls and boys around the world to have an equal voice and equal rights; to benefit from equal opportunities; and to live in equal safety and security.

Inequality—whether it be social, economic or political—exacerbates instability and undermines prosperity.

We cannot allow this.

Today, we are launching Canada’s second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325 in 2000, in part urging all member states to enable the full participation of women in the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. A number of subsequent resolutions have supported this appeal and called on all countries to develop their own action plans to implement the resolutions.

Canada’s previous plan expired in 2016. We know that it was not ambitious enough, and with our partners in civil society, we determined that the new one would set the bar much higher. We have developed bold objectives and today commit to make the involvement of women a priority in all of Canada’s activities in fragile states. As such, I asked for the support and help of my colleagues. Many departments have joined the new plan: ministers Monsef [the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Status of Women], Sajjan [the Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan, Minister of National Defence] and Bibeau [the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie], who are in this room, are partners in this plan. Ministers Goodale [the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness], Hussen [the Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship] and Wilson-Raybould [the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada] are also integral partners. All have developed their own plans on how they will support our feminist foreign policy, whether it be in conflict prevention, peacemaking, humanitarian assistance or post-conflict recovery and state-building. This means that from diplomatic meetings to the deployment of RCMP officers on UN missions to peace operations and international advocacy gender equality will never be an afterthought.

We decided to develop this new plan together with Canadian civil society, which has a wide and rich network of feminist experts and activists able to guide us in this process. We are especially grateful to the Women, Peace and Security Network-Canada, which has been a driving force in this new plan.

This plan builds on a number of initiatives that our government has already announced. Specifically, I would like to emphasize and applaud the work of Marie-Claude Bibeau who launched her ambitious Feminist International Assistance Policy earlier this year. She has guided us, and she stepped in decisively to fill a void. When family planning and reproductive health services—including safe and legal abortion—were at risk of being interrupted, she announced a $650-million commitment from Canada.

Reproductive choice is a woman’s right, and women’s rights are human rights. We know that most societies around the world—and that includes ours—are patriarchal. We have deep and entrenched barriers to the full participation of women. This is why we need an activist feminist agenda. We must take courageous action for gender equality, especially where women are most vulnerable.

Taking a feminist approach to peace and security is not politically correct talk or “virtue signalling.” It is a smart, practical solution to hard security needs. We must deal with the serious problems of abuse and rape by security personnel and peacekeepers, as well as rampant forced marriage and violence against women. Addressing these problems has direct benefits for women, including those who are courageous survivors of abuse—but it also clearly contributes to the stability and security of communities. And a more secure world is of direct benefit to Canadians.

While we will be ambitious in this new feminist approach in all our peace and security efforts, we must also recognize that here in Canada, Indigenous women and girls, in particular, face ongoing intersecting discrimination and violence based on gender, race, socio-economic status and other identity factors. These are in addition to historical causes that most notably include the legacy of colonialism and the devastation caused by the residential school system.

Our commitment to reconciliation is about acknowledging and being truthful about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, addressing current issues and concerns and working together to ensure that all individuals—in Canada and around the world—are treated with the dignity and the respect that are the birthrights of every human being.

So I want to thank the many Indigenous groups, particularly those led by Indigenous women, that are here today. We hope we will continue throughout the life of this plan to better integrate Indigenous perspectives into our foreign policy.

The new Action Plan is also transparent. All actions to implement it and drive progress are described in implementation annexes, publicly available on our website, which will be evaluated and updated each year.

To those asking why including women and girls matters, I say this:

It matters because where women and girls are included in peace processes, peace is more enduring.

It matters because where women are included in the economy, economic growth is greater.

It matters because where women are included in governance, states are more stable.

It matters because where women, in all their diversity, are included in our collective security, everyone is safer.

And it matters because no society can possibly reach its full potential when half its population is held back.

As Professor Valerie M. Hudson of Texas A&M University noted in summarizing her academic research: “the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated.”

This week, Colombia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning president [Juan Manuel Santos], together with his foreign minister, my friend, María Ángela Holguín, have been visiting Canada.

Let’s consider their experience.

The formal cessation of hostilities with FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] in 2016 was historic because it marked the end of a 52-year war that caused more than 220,000 deaths, 50,000 disappearances and the displacement of 7 million Colombians.

But the peace process is also historic because of how it has evolved, setting an international precedent for the inclusion of groups that have been traditionally marginalized in previous peace attempts—among them, women, Indigenous peoples, youth and LGBTQ2 [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and two-spirit] communities.

For the first time, a gender sub-commission, established by negotiators from both the government and FARC, focused on how every issue on the main negotiating agenda might differently affect men, women, boys and girls.

And while the hardest work of building lasting peace will come in the months and years ahead, including the voices of diverse women and girls in the peace process has been a great step forward for the women, peace and security movement—and for Colombia itself.

And Canada is there to help Colombians succeed.

We have deployed police as part of the UN-led disarmament and demobilization effort in Colombia. And we are supporting work with women in 10 Indigenous communities around Colombia to make sure they can be agents of change in their communities and at the national level.

Globally, we know that an inclusive peace is a stronger peace. But let’s remember: the inclusion of women and girls is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for success.

Simply seating more women around the table isn’t enough.

We need to include them, listen to them and follow their lead.

Canada’s Action Plan will support initiatives that increase the meaningful participation of women, girls and women’s organizations and networks in conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict state-building.

Our work in South Sudan, the world’s youngest and most fragile country, is another good example.

The violence there is vicious.

Communities often raid each other’s cattle and homesteads, kidnap children and sexually assault women and girls, perpetuating cycles of revenge and retaliation that fuel the violence, food insecurity and extreme poverty.

Canada wants to help break that cycle.

With our help, civilians are invited to gatherings where they speak directly to each other about the issues that disrupt community life. Through discussion, they find solutions and hold each other accountable.

These efforts have helped empower women and girls by giving them a meaningful role in inter-communal dialogue and mediation that aims to reduce and prevent violence, particularly sexual and gender-based violence.

In conflict settings, rape and sexual slavery are used as methods of war. And rarely do those who commit such heinous crimes face justice.

Today’s Action Plan will focus on preventing and responding to these acts and to acts of sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers and other international personnel, including humanitarian and development staff.

There can be no impunity for these crimes. Not for soldiers. Not for civilians. Not for those sent to keep the peace or provide assistance.

The Action Plan will also consider the specific needs of women and girls in humanitarian settings, including their sexual and reproductive rights and access to sexual and reproductive health services.

It will seek to advance gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls and the protection of their human rights in fragile, conflict and post-conflict settings.

And it will strengthen the capacity of peace operations to advance the women, peace and security agenda, including by deploying more women and fully embedding gender perspectives in Canadian Armed Forces operations and police deployments.

Among the 2 billion people living in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence, women and girls suffer disproportionately. Sometimes they are also perpetrators of this violence. And although they are crucial to international peacebuilding, stabilization and humanitarian efforts, they remain almost entirely excluded from processes that build peace.

That is why we need a feminist foreign policy.

We are faced today with a resurgent populism around the world, with angry reactionary movements that often scapegoat women, LGBTQ2 groups and ethnic and religious minorities.

That is why Canada’s voice is so important in the world today and why we are proud to say, here and everywhere, women’s rights are human rights and Canada speaks for both.


Adam Austen
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
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