Address by Minister Freeland on Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations


March 12, 2018 – New York, United States

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.

Distinguished delegates, colleagues, friends. It is an honour and a pleasure for me to join you here today, on the margins of the 62nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

The Commission on the Status of Women is one of the most important annual events at the UN.

This week presents us with the opportunity to exchange ideas and share perspectives.

This week, we acknowledge the impressive work that the global women’s movement has achieved and salute the incredible work that you all continue to do to be a force for change around the world.

I am joined here in New York by six of my colleagues, led by Canada’s Minister of Status of Women, Maryam Monsef.

I’d like to acknowledge my colleague, Canada’s Minister of International Development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, who is here with us today.

Last year, Marie-Claude launched an ambitious Feminist International Assistance Policy that is focused squarely on the needs of women and girls.

Maryam, Marie-Claude and I are eager to work with counterparts from all over the world to achieve gender equality across the globe.

But this work must begin at home.

I want to recognize that, in Canada, Indigenous women and girls have been disproportionally targeted by discrimination and violence.

The intersection of the scars of colonialism, the trauma of residential schools and systemic racism mean that Indigenous women are among the most vulnerable people in Canada. We must do better if reconciliation is to succeed.

Thank you to all the Indigenous leaders and groups that have come to New York this week.

All individuals, in Canada and abroad, must be treated with dignity.

To this end, Canada has committed to an unabashedly feminist foreign policy.

We integrate gender equality into diplomacy, into trade, into security and into development efforts.

This commitment is about furthering the right of women and girls, but also of LGBTQ2 communities, and of all those who are oppressed because of their gender identity.

For us, a feminist approach is not politically correct talk, or “virtue signaling.”

It is a smart, practical solution to the challenges we face.

As I said at the launch of Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security:

When women are included in the economy, economic growth is greater.

When women are included in governance, states are more stable.

When women are included in our collective security, everyone is safer.

When women are included in peace processes, peace is more enduring.

No society can reach its potential when half its population is held back.

In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325, which, in part, urged 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.

In Canada, we have taken that call seriously.

We have developed a plan that commits us to making the involvement of women a priority in all of Canada’s activities in fragile states, whether these activities be in conflict prevention, peacemaking, humanitarian assistance or post-conflict recovery and state-building.

And as we reflected on involving more women in peace processes, the plan guided our approach in one area in particular: peacekeeping.

In 2015, UN Security Council Resolution 2242 called for the doubling of the number of uniformed women involved in military and police peacekeeping operations within five years.

While nobody expected that to happen overnight, progress has not come nearly fast enough.

It will be two and a half years next month since Resolution 2242 was adopted. In that time, the number of women deployed in military and police peacekeeping operations has risen by a paltry 0.2%—from 4.2% to 4.4%.

At this rate, it will take 37 years to achieve the stated goal.

But here’s some of what we know about the value of having women involved in peace operations:

  • When patrolling conflict zones, women manage to access a greater diversity of information about threats and conflict dynamics because they can connect with groups of the local community differently than men can.
  • Uniformed women are able to go to spaces where women gather, speak with them and build trust.
  • Women peacekeepers also serve as role models for other women and girls—both when they return home with new skills and experiences, and in their host communities.

So, despite all this evidence, why have we failed at reaching our collective objectives set by these resolutions?

The time for change is now. We need to be bold.

There has never been more leadership and awareness of these issues at the UN.

We now have the Strategy on Gender Parity in UN missions.

We have a network of gender advisors.

We have growing numbers of women in influential positions, both here at the UN and within member states.

Canada is convinced of this opportunity, and we want to seize it to work with the UN and bring much-needed changes to its peacekeeping missions.

That is why we introduced the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations.

The initiative is named after a Canadian foremother, Elsie MacGill. Elsie was a mechanical engineer during the Second World War who designed and manufactured her own planes. The planes were built by hundreds of women she employed in her factory.

Elsie was a pioneer in a world dominated by men. Let her be our inspiration.

This initiative is about getting more uniformed women deployed as military and police peacekeepers.

It is also about breaking gender stereotypes.

And it is about creating long-term and sustainable peace.

We have formed a contact group to design the initiative’s initial pilot program.

I am grateful to those who have expressed interest and agreed to work with us on this initiative, including Argentina, France, Ghana, the Netherlands, Norway, Senegal, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

Last month, Canada hosted representatives from contact group countries, the UN, civil society and academia, as well as women peacekeepers working in UN missions, for a design workshop on the Elsie Initiative. Together, we worked on the design of training and technical assistance packages for two troop- and police-contributing countries and a financial mechanism to incentivize the deployment of women.

Working with the UN and the contact group, we will conduct a needs assessment and develop a tailored assistance package, developing the pilot program with the partner countries that we will select this summer.

The Canadian Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police—the RCMP—will in large part deliver the training and technical assistance.

While it is certain that their training and assistance will be invaluable, it is also worth noting that both our military and the RCMP are also working to ensure that more Canadian women are deployed on peacekeeping missions abroad.

Brenda Lucki, who last week became the first woman to be named Commissioner of the RCMP, has served in a number of UN peacekeeping missions.

Beyond training, we know that we need to improve the mission environments for women. In particular, I’d like to thank Atul and Jean-Pierre for agreeing to work with us on this.

When they deploy to UN missions, women peacekeepers often find that these environments—while challenging for everyone—are set up to meet the needs of the majority, and they lack the amenities or services that meet women’s needs, including regarding their safety. We ask peacekeepers to risk their lives to fulfill mission mandates, but women doing the job must contend with additional, avoidable risks due to gender.

We need to ensure that appropriate infrastructure is available, to respond to women needs, and to ensure that women are not facing unnecessary risks to their personal safety or barriers to their operational effectiveness simply because they are women.

But this is not just about infrastructure. It’s about attitudes, too.

At the design workshop last month, a major who deployed from her national armed forces to a UN peace operation described how the lack of respect shown to her by two male colleagues of the same rank brought an added degree of difficulty to the mission.

But her concerns went well beyond the personal. As she told her colleagues, “If you can’t respect me, how will we bring peace to this foreign land?”

This is but one example of the challenges women peacekeepers face, and another reason why we must look at peace operations through a new lens.

Even worse is the scourge of sexual harassment and abuse—both for peacekeepers and the people they are charged with protecting.

This unspeakable behaviour by supposed protectors is unconscionable.

We must ensure that robust procedures are in place to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and abuse.

There can be no impunity for such behaviour.

At a time when powerful social movements such as #MeToo and #TimesUp are causing a tectonic shift in how women are both perceived and treated, everything is under review.

Let us commit to ensuring that we do not let this moment pass us by. Let us collectively endeavour to make change happen.

As anyone who works in government or civil society knows all too well, making change happen costs money.

We do not believe that a lack of financial resources should keep countries that want to advance gender equality in their UN deployments from doing so.

Canada has already committed $15 million to a financial mechanism from which willing countries will be able to draw for support.

We are carefully designing this mechanism to incentivize the change that is needed, while also supporting women to ensure they are participating in meaningful roles, with proper training.

In addition, we have committed to conducting robust monitoring and evaluation, in order to accelerate progress and make the pilot program replicable and expandable. We need to know what works and what doesn’t, to finally achieve our targets.

The Elsie Initiative is an opportunity for us to work alongside countries that have tremendous experience in peacekeeping and are themselves trying to deploy more women and advance the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

For us, this is not just a question of operational effectiveness. It is also about gender equality and women’s rights.

It is long past time to recognize that women and men, girls and boys, should have an equal voice and equal rights, benefit from equal opportunities, and live in equal safety and security.

Today, I am pleased to announce that, beyond the Elsie Initiative, Canada is contributing more than $16 million toward projects that aim to do just that.

Projects that will advance gender equality and protect human rights, including those of women and girls; address gender-based violence; and support women’s engagement in the peace process and the implementation of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda.

I want to acknowledge how essential the work of grassroots organizations, of NGOs and of women’s movements is to the success of this project—as I am sure our panelists will be able to speak to shortly.

It’s been 60 years since then Canadian foreign minister Lester B. Pearson championed the first armed UN peacekeeping mission during the Suez Crisis.

The peacekeeping structures developed in the 1950s and 1960s do not adequately respond to the new and ever-evolving challenges of today’s world.

So, through the Elsie Initiative, we are building on Pearson’s legacy and making it fit for purpose in the 21st century.

Today, we need approaches that are multi-faceted and comprehensive. That combine our military, diplomatic, security, development and humanitarian capabilities. And, of course, that includes the meaningful engagement of women.

We need to bring feminism to peacekeeping and end the patriarchal structures perpetuated in missions.

We are so thankful to everyone who came to Ottawa in February, and to all of you who support what we want to achieve, for the role you are playing to help guarantee the initiative’s success.

Thank you.


Adam Austen
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
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