Minister Bibeau’s speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations


October 27, 2017 - Montréal, Quebec

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


I am pleased to be with you to close out this week in Montréal.

I would like to begin by thanking Pierre Lemonde from the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations and OXFAM Québec for inviting me to speak to you about the feminist direction taken in Canada’s new international assistance policy.

This new feminist policy deliberately focuses on empowering women and girls and on gender equality in order to attain the ambitious global objective of ending poverty by 2030.

I say “ambitious” because, even though poverty has dropped over the past 30 years, more than a billion people are still living in extreme poverty around the world, one third of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is an ambitious objective because we are currently navigating the most uncertain international moment since the end of the Second World War, to borrow the words of my colleague, Chrystia Freeland.

Since I started speaking, 20 people somewhere in the world have been forcefully displaced because of conflict, persecution or climate change.

In 2016, there were 65 million refugees or displaced persons in the world. That is the worst record in history.

Bangladesh is now home to the world’s largest refugee camp, as more than 900,000 Rohingya have fled ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. 

I mention Myanmar, but I could also talk about the refugee camps that I visited in northern Iraq, where an entire generation of young people will still spend years in tents before they are able to go home.

I could talk about the women and children that I met in South Sudan.

They are the victims of an avoidable famine, one caused by armed conflict. Caused by political and military decisions.

How many of these refugees, these migrants, these vulnerable individuals have benefitted from the economic growth we have seen over the past 30 years?

Are they not justified in questioning whether international institutions are really working for them?

Are they not justified in asking whether global trade benefits them in any way?

If I were them, I’d be wondering the same thing.

Because what they live through on a daily basis, these are the consequences of growing inequalities.

Consequences that pose a major risk to the stability and security of all societies, including those in developed nations like Canada. 

When human rights are not respected, when prospects for the future are uncertain, when governments do not serve their populations, tensions mount.

That is why international institutions quickly become the target of criticism.

And that is when isolation becomes more appealing than engagement. 

Although our institutions are not perfect, they are the ones that we have spent years building. The ones our government will support in its efforts to better adapt to the reality of the 21st century.

The ones with which we have chosen to re-engage. 


Our re-engagement is taking many forms. We have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change and rejoined the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification because we know that no country is immune to the threat of climate change.

We have reinstated our funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, and announced that we are returning to peacekeeping missions. We are actively campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council.

And in the fight against poverty, we are staunchly committed to the shared sustainable development program for humanity: the 2030 Agenda.

Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy aligns well with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Those goals apply to every country, without exception. Here at home and abroad.

Canada still has significant work to do, particularly in the context of our reconciliation process with Indigenous peoples, to fully uphold their rights, to give them access to the services they need, and to ensure justice for the hundreds of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

Whether we are fighting to uphold the rights of Indigenous women or combatting gender-based violence, the battle we are fighting, on every front, is the battle to help end poverty and inequality.

These two goals influence the choices we make, including the ones we made in the last federal budget and the ones that will be made in future.

This week, we announced that we are making improvements to the Working Income Tax Benefit in support of low-income workers. We have also increased the Canada Child Benefit, which, by the end of the year, will have reduced childhood poverty by 40% compared with the 2013 level.

These two goals are also embedded in our foreign policy, our trade policy and, of course, our international assistance policy—policies that focus on empowering women.


Why? Because in order to break the vicious circle of poverty, we must absolutely involve women and ramp up our efforts to make their voices heard, to uphold their basic right to control their own bodies and make their own decisions.

To fight effectively against poverty, we must also mobilize men and boys, and change social attitudes and dynamics, specifically power dynamics.

Still today, more than 150 countries have laws that discriminate against women, and 15 million girls are married before the age of 18.

Worldwide, 225 million women don’t have access to the contraception methods of their choice. And every year, more than 22 million women and adolescent girls undergo a dangerous abortion.

Every nine minutes, one of them dies as a result.

All around the world, including in Canada, one in three women will suffer some form of physical, sexual or gender-based violence in her lifetime.

Yet, all of the data suggests that women are far from simply being victims; they are first and foremost powerful agents of change, of development and of peace.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute, with positive intervention and sound public policy, women can add $12 trillion to the global economy by 2025.

Women could also reduce chronic hunger in the world, if only they had access to education, property and the same financial resources as men.

Between the 1970s and mid-1990s, 55% of the progress made in alleviating chronic hunger in developing countries was attributed to improving women’s living conditions in society.

Women can also build a more peaceful world by playing an active role in the negotiation and implementation of peace processes.

When women have a seat at the negotiating table for a peace accord, they increase the chances of the agreement lasting at least 15 years by 35%.

And if every society increased the number of educated women and girls, they could greatly reduce poverty. In fact, every additional year of high school education increases a girl’s future income by 10% to 20%.

And that is precisely why Canada believes that the best way to eliminate poverty is to allow women and girls to realize their full potential and to have a direct impact on their family, on their community and on their country’s economy.


Of course, involving women in development is not a new idea. Canada has been working on this since 1976.

In 1995, Canada integrated the concept of gender equality into its development policy update. 

Before, we simply asked whether our project would have an impact on women.

Women were one of many factors, like environmental protection and sound financial management.

So, if this concept is not new, how does the new Feminist International Assistance Policy differ from past policies, do you think?

Well, being feminist focused means that empowering women now guides everything we do. All projects that we fund bilaterally will need to include a significant component that focuses on women, and 15% of our funding will be attributed to transformative projects.

In comparison, before, only 3% of our funding was dedicated to projects that targeted women and 30% had no impact on them at all. So, in concrete terms, to receive funding, our partners must now consult with local women to identify their needs and priorities.

They must involve women in decision making and ensure that the projects being implemented target their specific needs, help to strengthen their rights and build their capacities. 

To apply this approach systematically, we are currently defining reference levels and specific indicators that will allow us to measure our progress.

Indicators such as fertility rates among adolescent girls, the number of women’s rights organizations that receive funding, or the percentage of countries in which women’s access to—and control over—property, financial services and natural resources is increasing.

This new results framework will ensure that our investments focus on meeting the objectives that we want to achieve in the policy’s six action areas:

  • gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls;
  • human dignity, which includes humanitarian assistance, education, health and nutrition;
  • growth that works for everyone;
  • the environment and climate action, including water management;
  • inclusive governance;
  • peace and security.

Rather than focusing on the details of each of these action areas, I will highlight some of the changes that demonstrate our new approach.

We have already begun to do the following:

  • to bridge the gaps in funding for health services provided to women and adolescent girls;
  • to provide funding that is more predictable and more flexible;
  •  to build local capacities, notably in civil society organizations that defend women’s rights.

We have started to bridge gaps in the maternal, newborn and child health program—a program that the previous government launched.

Although that program was relevant, it had significant shortcomings because, for ideological reasons, it did not include the full range of sexual and reproductive health services.

That is why we announced $650 million in additional funding over three years to include sex education for girls and boys, family planning, contraception, safe and legal abortions, as well as post‑abortion care and related advocacy in our programming.

The integration of sexual and reproductive health is not limited to our development efforts. From now on, we will also apply it to our humanitarian assistance efforts.

In a humanitarian crisis, most donor countries focus on basic services like water, food and shelter. 

But the needs that remain chronically underfunded are those related to sexual and reproductive health, including psychosocial services. Canada has already started to tackle this problem.

This is what we are doing in response to the crisis in Myanmar, where 70% of the refugees who have arrived in Bangladesh since August are women and children.

These women, these adolescent girls, these children are exhausted, starving and traumatized, notably by all the violence they have suffered, much of it sexual in nature. Nearly 20,000 of them are pregnant and are now in an extremely vulnerable situation.

That is why we are funding our humanitarian partners, so that they can provide these women and girls with the psychosocial and sexual health care that they so desperately need.


The second significant change that we made was to make our humanitarian programs more flexible and predictable.

Since 2015, Canada has more than doubled its multi-year humanitarian programming in order to strengthen its engagement over the long term.

This change allows our partners to better plan their projects and to maximize their impact on the ground.

For example, we are already in the second funding year of a three‑year, $1.1‑billion commitment made in response to the crisis in Syria and the Middle East.

This commitment allows us to respond to the needs of millions of refugees and internally displaced persons living in camps and communities in neighbouring countries, like Jordan and Lebanon.

In addition to psychosocial support and health-care services, another project that comes to mind is one on peaceful conflict resolution.

When I went to Iraq in February, I visited a Kurdish village dealing with the arrival of Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis of Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and Yazidi origin.

The substantial arrival of newcomers had changed the ethnic makeup of the community and was beginning to create real tension between neighbours.

The women took peaceful conflict resolution training. They created a multi-ethnic association and organized activities that involved the entire community.

This initiative had the immediate effect of significantly reducing violence and of creating a safer environment for the children.

It allowed Kurdish, Yazidi, Sunni and Shiite sisters to forge strong ties, and these friendships had a ripple effect among the men in the community.

This is a great example of the power of involving women at the local level and of their contribution to peace, security and reconciliation.


As for our third major change, we will be working more closely with local women’s organizations.

The new Women’s Voice and Leadership Program will allocate $150 million to support civil society organizations that advocate for and promote women’s rights, advance their leadership, and increase their social, economic and political power.

Because even if we invest billions of dollars in major international organizations, or in infrastructure or development projects, if discriminatory socio-cultural norms and practices, legislation, policies, governance and power relationships do not change, our actions will not be sustainable.

This is where women’s organizations can still play a key role.

Rooted in their communities, women are best placed to define needs and priorities, to question the status quo, and to hold governments accountable.

These organizations can also contribute to the development of inclusive policies by influencing traditional and religious leaders. 


I have just given you examples of significant changes that illustrate our feminist shift─examples that demonstrate that we have a good policy, as was asked of us.

But in addition to implementing a good policy, our partners also asked me for two more things: money and leadership.

Let’s talk about money. I am aware that it will take money to achieve our objectives.

It is also important to remember that worldwide in 2016, official development assistance represented US$142.6 billion, whereas we would need $5 trillion to $7 trillion to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Contributions from governments certainly must increase but, more importantly, efforts must also be stepped up to encourage the private sector and new donor countries to participate.

That is why we, along with my colleague Marc-André Blanchard, Ambassador of Canada to the United Nations, are currently working on determining the best funding mechanisms we can use to promote Canada’s leadership and to provide a financial contribution to encourage new partners to invest in development.

Take for example We-Fi, a new mechanism that aims to promote women entrepreneurship in developing countries.

In cooperation with the World Bank, Canada is one of the founding nations.

Thanks to our initial $20-million contribution and the allocation of $320 million from other G20 countries, We-Fi plans to make $1 billion available to women entrepreneurs in developing countries by adding a contribution from the private sector. 

I would also like to use this leveraging to increase the impact of our $150-million envelope for local women’s organizations. 

This can be done by getting philanthropic organizations involved. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $20 million to support local women’s organizations following our announcement.

This is also what we will be doing with the new Development Finance Institute, whose headquarters will open in a few months in Montréal.

With $300 million in seed money, this institute will provide private companies with access to funds that are generally not available through traditional banks in order to make deals and stimulate investments that will have an impact on development. 

This is another way to export Canadian expertise and to achieve our policy objectives to the benefit of key development areas, notably green energy, water and residual materials management, and sustainable agriculture.


I will conclude by talking about leadership.

Everywhere I have gone since my appointment, I have been told how Canadians have a knack for and the means of transferring their know‑how and of being innovative, particularly with respect to finding consensus and bringing people together.

Canada has a strong voice, a progressive voice, a voice that is listened to.

They tell us, “We need more Canada.”

We plan on using our leadership on the international stage to convene and mobilize new partners.

To encourage other countries around the world to continue to be involved in our institutions. 

To renew our partnerships and establish agreements that connect us.  

But also to talk about subjects that are not discussed—subjects that may sometimes upset people.

To remind others that the rights of women and girls are important. To remind them that women’s full participation is essential to development, peace and economic growth.

And to remind people that, in order for women to reach their full potential, they must first have full control of their own bodies, and this is achieved through sexual and reproductive health.

Thank you!


Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
Follow us on Twitter: @CanadaDev
Like us on Facebook: Canada's International Development—Global Affairs Canada

Report a problem or mistake on this page
Please select all that apply:

Thank you for your help!

You will not receive a reply. For enquiries, contact us.

Date modified: