How to Spend Foreign Aid like a Feminist

By Swiss, Liam; Associate Professor of Sociology et al. | The Canadian Press, July 4, 2017 | Go to article overview

How to Spend Foreign Aid like a Feminist


Swiss, Liam, Associate Professor of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland, The Canadian Press


How to spend foreign aid like a feminist

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This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Disclosure information is available on the original site.

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Author: Liam Swiss, Associate Professor of Sociology, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Canada's new Feminist International Assistance Policy was released on June 9. It has been welcomed by many as a bold step for Canadian foreign aid, but questions remain about how the policy will shape Canadian aid spending going forward.

Canada is the first aid donor country to explicitly label its international assistance policy a feminist one. With its focus on gender equality and the rights of women and girls, the policy aims to help Canada regain its past reputation as a leader on these issues after seeing it squandered during the Harper era.

Most analyses of the new policy have examined its feminist credentials and criticized the lack of new funding for the aid programming. Less attention has been paid, though, to how the spending commitments in the policy will affect the already limited and, recently, shrinking pool of Canadian aid funds.

How Canada rates in tying aid to gender equality

The international aid community, through the OECD, tracks spending on women and gender equality in two ways. First, they track two categories of aid: programs that have gender equality as the "principal" objective; and programs that give secondary consideration of gender equality (as a "significant" objective), but are not mainly a gender project. Second, they track targeted support for women's organizations and institutions -- a subset of the "principal" category.

Data released by the OECD in March 2017 shows that in 2014 and 2015 (the latest years data was available) about US$40 billion, or 35 per cent of aid, committed by OECD donors addressed gender in some way. In contrast, only US$5.7 billion, or five per cent of total aid, was focused on gender as a principal objective.

Compared to the billions spent on gender equality, only an average of US$465 million was spent in 2014-2015 on women's equality organizations and institutions globally.

Canada's commitments in the same years included US$72 million in programming with gender equality as its principal objective and US$2.1 billion where gender was a significant priority. Together, this was 67 per cent of Canadian aid, but only about two per cent had gender as the principal focus. Furthermore, only US$3 million was devoted to women's organizations and institutions - less than 0.01 per cent of total aid.

Promises have big implications

It's against this backdrop that Canada's new feminist aid policy makes several spending promises intended to shift towards a feminist approach, even though it budgets no new funds to implementing the policy. Three of these promises have significant implications for changing how Canada will spend its foreign aid dollars.

1. Gender in Everything

First, the policy commits Canada to spending no less than 80 per cent of its aid on programs where gender is a significant objective by 2022. This means an additional 10 per cent of Canada's non-gender-related aid programs will now integrate gender equality as a secondary aim in some way - an additional $360 million in today's terms. …

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