Canada announces expansion and renewal of Women’s Voice and Leadership program
April 27, 2023– Ottawa, Canada - Global Affairs Canada
The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada, today announced $195 million over 5 years and $43.3M annually thereafter, on an ongoing basis to provide sustainable, flexible and responsive programming to women’s rights organizations across the globe.
Renewed funding for Canada’s flagship Women’s Voice and Leadership Program responds directly to the needs of local women’s organizations and movements in developing countries working to advance the rights of women and girls and promote gender equality. The renewal and expansion will also allow the program to reach more women’s rights organizations, particularly those in crisis- and conflict-affected contexts.
A key pillar of program support is the critical advocacy work for gender transformative policy and legislative change. In 2022 alone, local women’s rights organizations successfully influenced over 100 policies, laws and frameworks, breaking down the structures and systems creating barriers to equality.
The Women’s Voice and Leadership Program also supports a wide diversity of women’s rights organizations. With Canada’s support, programming in 2022 reached 3,000 persons identifying as lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LBTQI) and 900 people living with disabilities.
Women’s rights organizations, feminist movements and women human rights defenders are vital to breaking down barriers to gender equality around the world, especially in times of crisis and conflict. Canada remains committed to ensuring they have the resources and support they need to carry out their important work for years to come.
“Canada believes that advancing gender equality and women’s participation in decision-making processes is the most effective way to build sustainable peace and reduce poverty. We will continue to support women’s rights organizations, feminist movements, women peacebuilders and young feminists and the critical work they do in times of peace and in times of crisis and conflict.”
- Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development and Minister responsible for the Pacific Economic Development Agency of Canada
Canada first launched the Women’s Voice and Leadership (WVL) Program in 2017 as a flagship initiative of Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy, allocating $150 million over five years to local women’s organizations in developing countries.
When the program was launched, Canada committed to reaching 400 women’s rights organizations. By the end of March 2022, the program had reached about 1,500 women’s rights organizations.
WVL provides support through core funding, and fast, responsive funding to respond to urgent needs. It complements this support with capacity building and alliance building support. WVL has reached a wide diversity of Women’s rights organisations (WROs), including groups representing disabled women, survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, sex workers, migrants, Indigenous women, and LBTQI organizations.
The program is also building stronger and more sustainable local women’s rights organizations. In 2022, at least half of the women’s rights organizations supported were able to leverage their strengthened organizational capacities to access new resources from other sources.
The Government of Canada is a long-standing international leader on women’s rights and gender equality. With its Feminist Foreign Policy, Feminist International Assistance Policy and National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, Canada has increased its investments. In 2021-22, 99% of Canada’s bilateral international assistance either targeted or integrated gender equality and was among the top bilateral donors in supporting women’s rights organizations in developing countries as well as in ending violence against women and girls.
In 2022 alone, local WROs supported by WVL directed their advocacy efforts towards influencing over 100 policies, laws and frameworks aiming to break down the structures and systems creating barriers to equality:
- In WVL Pan Africa, the WVL local partner, Institute for Community Development in Zimbabwe (ICODZIM) mobilized civil society organizations and government representatives to develop a 10 Point Plus Disability Priority Plan, later adopted by the Parliamentary Committee, which contributed to an increased budget to benefit persons living with disabilities.
- In St. Lucia, WVL partner Raise Your Voice joined with other local civil society organizations to see through the passing of the Domestic Violence Act 2022, extending legal protections to people in same-sex relationships who experience domestic violence, following a decade of advocacy and organizing by these groups. The new act also includes a clause on cyber violence, recognizing growing rates of online perpetration of harassment and sexual violence.
- In Honduras, local WROs continued their ongoing advocacy work for the Law on Safe Houses, which would ensure that existing shelters in Honduras have state funding to operate and that they would guarantee spaces for women with disabilities, indigenous women, women of African descent and transgender women. Progress was made in August 2022, when local WROs organized meetings to socialize and share the draft law with governmental sectors responsible for drafting, approving and executing these legal processes.
- In the context of the closing of civic space in many countries around the world, WVL supports Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs) who daily bear the burden of threats of working to promote women’s and LBTQI+ rights. Many WVL projects, including those in Honduras, Myanmar and Ukraine, have built in funds for support to WHRDs and feminist activists to attend to their own safety and well-being, including their mental health.
- In South Africa, our partner Gender Links along with other local WROs amplified the vaccine campaign during the COVID pandemic through a petition to the President on Women’s Day in 2021 demanding sex-disaggregated data, which resulted in the data being made available for the first time, with South Africa showing leadership as one of the few countries providing sex disaggregated data on vaccine roll out.
- WVL Myanmar has been critical in ensuring that funded WROs are able to continue to effectively deliver work plan activities, while supporting staff safety, security and wellbeing through Myanmar’s multiple crises. All 11 WROs who received funding and support through WVL Myanmar are continuing to operate, despite the overwhelming challenges faced by organizations in the current context. Multiple rounds of emergency assistance, through WVL Myanmar’s Responsive Flexible Funding, have proven crucial in supporting WROs and LGBTIQ+ networks to rapidly respond to the needs of girls, women, LGBTIQ+ people and other vulnerable and/or marginalized groups with respect to both the COVID-19 pandemic and Myanmar’s ongoing political crisis, with 82 percent of WROs reporting greater reach of programmes in 2021/22, directly attributable to WVL Myanmar’s core and emergency funding and support.
- In South Sudan, the WVL project strengthened partner and network advocacy capacity and leadership in humanitarian and women, peace and security (WPS) decision-making mechanisms. Network members undertook policy monitoring to ensure 35 per cent representation for women in governance bodies at both state and national levels under the Revitalized Peace Agreement.
- In Peru, WROs successfully advocated for the regional government of Puno to pass two ordinances to prevent sexual harassment in public spaces and hold perpetrators to account, and to create a regional observatory on violence against women and their family members. While in DRC, local WROs successfully advocated for changes in local and state level laws to prohibit early child and forced marriage (ECFM).
- The WVL Program is making a big difference to WROs in Haiti in their fight against gender-based violence (GBV) in the context of the increase in physical violence, psychological violence, sexual violence and economic violence against women. Multi-year core funding has allowed WROs to improve the quality and reach of psychological support to survivors of violence to 1263 survivors in 2022, as well as providing more welcoming reception and accommodation spaces. The project has also facilitated the establishment of a community of practice in the North (gathering 7 organizations) in order to create a coordinated and complementary chain of services in the area of GBV among the organizations.
- Recognizing that accurate data plays a key role in determining policy measures to prevent and address GBV, in Haiti, Kenya and Nigeria, local WROs have lobbied for and supported the establishment of information systems to safely collect, store, analyze and share data on GBV. One innovation by a women’s network in Kenya was the development of a phone-based tool to reach survivors of gender-based violence that provides a one-stop platform for reporting incidents, receiving tele-counseling, and finding shelter.
- In Kasai Central, DRC, local partner, REFEDAW, has set up a network of women's organizations composed of 22 WROs which helped to revitalize the local alert coalitions (COLA) on women’s rights violations in the five territories of the province. As a result of the information on violations of women's rights monitored and shared by the COLA, REFEDAW set up a database of reported cases. The effectiveness of the COLA and the reliability of the data collected at the local level has led to a positive unintended outcome. The government now uses this database to verify details of cases of violations of women's rights.
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