Address by Minister Freeland at an event on the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations


September 26, 2018 – New York

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.

It’s wonderful to have so many of you joining us for this Elsie Initiative event. 

As part of its broad commitment to peace and security, Canada is more dedicated to supporting peace operations than ever. Our goal is to think about how to innovate in the context of deployments and ensure that the missions truly bring about the peace these operations promised to these vulnerable communities. 

But we know that making peacekeeping deployments modern and innovative is more complicated than just ensuring we have the right number of troops and the right assets.

It is about thinking about how peacekeepers interact with the communities they are protecting, how they form units and how effective those units are.

There is no one simple answer to all of these challenges.

But we know one positive step we can take: involve more women in peacekeeping.

I want to be clear: this is not about being politically correct or “virtue-signalling.”

This is about a real solution to hard security problems.

When women are present in peace operations, they are more likely to succeed and the peace they create is more enduring.

When women patrol conflict zones, they learn more about threats and conflict dynamics because they can connect with the local community differently than men can.

And I just want to say, for those of us who are mothers, how many of us have said to our children: “If you get lost, and you don’t see anyone you know, look for a woman, preferably a woman with children.”

I have said that to my children. And that is what women around the world say.

And that is one of the reasons we need to have more women peacekeepers.

Uniformed women are able to go to spaces where women gather, to speak to them and build trust.

Women peacekeepers also serve as role models for other women and girls—both when they return home, and in their host communities.

In 2015, United Nations 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 has been three years since the Resolution was adopted.

In that time, the number of women deployed in military and police peacekeeping operations has only risen by 0.2 percent, from 4.2 percent to 4.4 percent.

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

And 37 years is just too long to wait. So we’re all agreed on our objective but we need to find a more effective way to get there.

Ten months ago at the Vancouver Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial [Conference], my prime minister, Justin Trudeau, launched a bold new initiative to increase the meaningful participation of women in peacekeeping.

We called it the Elsie Initiative [for Women in Peace Operations], after a Canadian woman, Elsie MacGill. She was an electrical and aeronautical engineer during World War II who designed and tested planes, and oversaw the production process of the Hawker Hurricane fighters.

She was a pioneer in a world dominated by men. And she is our inspiration.

Since we launched the initiative which bears her name last year, all of us here, working together, have made remarkable progress.

Eleven countries are working together in our Contact Group, and together we have been supporting advocacy efforts and also sharing advice and our experiences.

In February, in Ottawa, we held a design workshop to kick off the practical development stage of this project, and we continue to work with other governments, civil society, with women peacekeepers who know what it’s actually like, think tanks and UN bodies to build on the outcomes of that workshop. Thank you everyone who has been working on this.

We have also just finalized a baseline study of existing research and analysis on the current state of women in peace operations.

I want to emphasize that none of this work would be possible without NGOs and the women’s movement more generally. You are the experts. You are the advocates. You keep pushing us to go further and I am so grateful for your work. It is absolutely essential.

On a practical level, the Elsie Initiative itself is made up of two components.

The first is a financial mechanism.

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

It does not come for free.

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.  

In addition to that $15 million, I am pleased to announce today that as part of the Elsie Initiative, UN Women, the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Executive Office of the Secretary General have jointly requested the establishment of a multi-partner fund to accelerate the deployment of trained and qualified women to UN peace operations.

These financial incentives will enable Elsie to become a reality. The UN and Canada will collaborate on the design of this fund over the coming months.

The second component of the Elsie Initiative is the delivery of technical assistance and training to troop and police-contributing countries.

I am happy to announce today that we have identified the first two countries for the pilot project: Ghana and Zambia.

I am very excited. Thank you very much for agreeing to this collaboration.

Both countries are well-positioned to work with Canada to develop and test innovative approaches to get more women into military and police roles, and for those women to share their expertise and experience in order to help other countries—because we’re all facing the same challenges.

And let me speak for a moment about Canada, because we have our own challenges when it comes to integrating women into our military services.

We know that at home we have a lot of work to do too.

That is why the Canadian Armed Forces will undergo the same barrier assessment as Ghana and Zambia. We will be walking this road together and I think that is very inspiring for all of us.

We need to bring feminism to peacekeeping. It’s time to end the patriarchy in peacekeeping missions.

This is an important time for women. We’re all aware of the #MeToo movement in many of our countries. I think history will show that we are living through a moment when women are really finally rising up and making the world a better place for everybody.

I think the Elsie Initiative is going to prove to be a really important part of that.

I am so grateful to everyone who is here, working on this together with us.

To the UN bodies, members of the Contact Group, civil society, and our amazing women peacekeepers, thank you very much.  

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