Institutions, Ideas, Women and Gender: New Directions in Canadian Foreign Policy

By Keeble, Edna; Smith, Heather | Journal of Canadian Studies, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Institutions, Ideas, Women and Gender: New Directions in Canadian Foreign Policy


Keeble, Edna, Smith, Heather, Journal of Canadian Studies


This article explores the relationship between the representation of women in the Canadian foreign policy machinery and the sorts of policies promoted by the Canadian government. We note that there are few women in the top echelons of Canadian foreign policy. We also show how Canadian foreign policy may be viewed as somehow more feminine than the policy of other states. Some could say that the lack of women at the upper levels has not stopped Canada from adopting gender sensitive policies; however, we suggest that the promotion of gender equality is not the same as the achievement of gender equality. Canada's rhetoric is not borne out in results, particularly when we examine attempts at achieving gender equality at home. Ultimately we argue that women and gender must be meaningfully brought into Canadian foreign policy and we offer some suggestions as to how this can be achieved.

Cet article explore la relation qui existe entre la representation des femmes au sein de l'appareil des affaires etrangeres canadiennes et le genre de politiques dont le gouvernement canadien fait la promotion. Nous faisons remarquer qu'il y a peu de femmes aux echelons superieurs de la politique etrangere canadienne. Nous demontrons aussi comment les affaires etrangeres canadiennes peuvent etre considerees comme plus , << feminines >> que les politiques d'autres pays. Certains pourraient dire que l'absence des femmes aux echelons superieurs n'a pas empeche le Canada d'adopter des politiques sensibles A la specificite des sexes. Nous sugg&ons cependant que la promotion de l'egalite des sexes West la meme chose que la realisation de l'egalite des sexes. La rhetorique canadienne West pas source de resultats, particulierement lorsqu'on examine les tentatives de realisation de l'egalite des sexes A la maison. En fin de compte, nous soutenons que les femmes et la specificite des sexes doivent etre comprises de facon generate au sein de la politique etrangere canadienne, et nous offrons des suggestions sur la facon d'y parvenir.

In describing life in the Canadian foreign service, Christine Hantel-Fraser begins by illustrating the weight and significance of the huge bronze doors leading into the Lester B. Pearson Building. She relates that "according to a rumour among established foreign-service members for whom setting nine hundred pounds of bronze into motion is routine .... Only the gifted few who manage in one attempt to pry open one of the doors can be considered qualified to enter the world of the Canadian foreign service"(3). Although Hantel-Fraser then recognizes that with the doors modified to open automatically, their symbolic importance becomes part of "foreign-service mythology," the allusion to the doors is no less significant.

Few would dispute that those who make foreign policy - those who are at, or rise to, the top - are an elite group. At the commissionaire's desk in the Pearson Building are the pictures of the ministers, deputy ministers and assistant deputy ministers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT). These are the individuals who are responsible for the policy stances and directions that Canada takes. And, like most foreign services throughout the world, the highlevel policy-makers in Canada have primarily been male. Has this mattered?

At first glance, it would appear that the relatively small number of women in high level government positions has not prevented Canada from articulating gender-sensitive, if not gender-centred, international policies - for example, policies on refugees, human rights, development assistance and security. From the time he became Canada's foreign affairs minster in January 1995 until his retirement in the fall of 2000, Lloyd Axworthy unrelentingly promoted a conception of human security that would be representative of feminist views, one that:

recognizes that human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, good governance, sustainable development and social equity are as important to global peace as are arms control and disarmament. …

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