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Jacqueline O’Neill, Canada’s ambassador for Women, Peace and Security, appears before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in November 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Women, peace and security initiatives should matter to all Canadians

Canada recently released its long-awaited third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, entitled Foundations for Peace.

Women, peace and security is a policy framework that recognizes women must play a critical role in all efforts to achieve sustainable global peace and security.

As a self-styled leader on women, peace and security, Canada has been a vocal advocate of feminist foreign policy, appointed the first ambassador for women, peace and security in 2019 and has integrated the Gender-based Analysis Plus analytical tool in its policymaking to support the development of inclusive initiatives.

Yet this international engagement has not always translated into domestic action.


Read more: What's taking Canada's Armed Forces so long to tackle sexual misconduct?


How women, peace and security evolved

With the regression of women’s rights, threats to LGBTQ+ and two-spirit individuals and continued violence against Indigenous women and girls, initiatives focused on women, peace and security should be of critical importance to all Canadians.

It’s helpful to look back on how these initiatives evolved.

Formally introduced in 2000 as the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, the women, peace and security agenda was created to bring attention to the need for equitable decision-making in security processes and the inclusion of women’s rights in all activities related to peace and conflict resolution.

The decades of work done by civil society organizations on this issue resulted in the resolution being passed. This milestone led to greater awareness of the role of women in peace building and armed conflict.

Furthermore, as countries became more invested in UNSCR 1325, they produced national action plans to confront gender inequality issues related to security in their countries. This also allowed governments to emphasize regional, state and local priorities.

Canada’s latest national action plan covers 2023 to 2029. It’s based on lessons learned from Canada’s previous two national action plans on women, peace and security that spanned 2010 to 2022.

It was created in collaboration with 11 federal partners, alongside experts, members of civil society and Indigenous Peoples. Importantly, it references the final report on the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, bringing attention to the higher levels of insecurity and instability faced by Indigenous women as a result of ongoing colonial legacies.

Indigenous women carrying signs that read Search the Landfills speak at a rally.
Family members of missing Indigenous women speak during a rally on Parliament Hill on an International Day of Action to Search the Landfills in September 2023. The remains of three women killed by an alleged serial killer are believed to be in a landfill north of Winnipeg. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Six goals

The 2023-2029 national action plan outlines Canada’s goals over the next six years through its domestic and international commitments.

To do so, it has highlighted six key areas of focus and four main principles. The focus areas are:

Building and sustaining peace;

Security, justice and accountability;

Crisis response;

Sexual and gender-based violence;

Leadership and capabilities;

Inclusion.

To properly respond to these focus areas, Canada has outlined four principles as the foundation for the implementation: humility, responsiveness, coherence and trust.

As explained in the plan, the purpose of outlining these focus areas and principles is so that Canada can adapt the implementation based on “emerging needs, changes in the broader environment and ongoing learning.”

Strengths of the new action plan

There are many strengths of the new national action plan, particularly the creation of a co-ordination hub within Global Affairs Canada. This change is intended to strengthen communication between stakeholders and ensure consistency in implementing policy.

In addition, there’s a greater focus on qualitative reporting. That means data is being collected on lived experiences, ideas and concepts (as opposed to quantitative data that focuses on numbers and statistics), which will be central to understanding how Canadians are directly impacted by the women, peace and security agenda.

This is critical to undertaking an intersectional approach, since women are affected by security issues differently depending on the context, their experiences and overlapping identities.

For too long, the women, peace and security agenda — as well as other international initiatives such as the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals — have focused on quantitative monitoring. This limits our understanding of context, individual experiences and variations when it comes to women, peace and security issues.

The focus on qualitative data also moves Canada further away from the problematic “add women and stir” approach that has dominated the issue for too long, and it better enables policymakers to confront systemic challenges.

Areas of concern

Nonetheless, there is uncertainty around funding and minimal details on the monitoring, evaluation and learning efforts that will track the progress of the latest national action plan.

How the provisions of the action plan will be implemented also remains unclear as the current focus is on descriptive measures that detail why the changes need to occur as opposed to explaining how those changes will happen.

The biggest question that remains is how Canada intends to tackle the “pre-existing systemic and structural inequalities” mentioned repeatedly in the report that maintain racism, gender inequality and violence against marginalized groups.

With all this said, why should this report matter to Canadians?

Violence against women and gender-diverse people remains a major problem in Canada.


Read more: 'Home is the most dangerous place for women,' but private and public violence are connected


While we support members of the international community to combat issues outlined by the women, peace and security agenda, there remain significant problems at home that also need to be at the forefront of Canada’s work on gender security.

Furthermore, as noted in the latest national action plan, international concerns such as conflicts and climate change will soon become domestic ones if they aren’t already.

Investing in women, peace and security initiatives at both domestic and international levels is important to Canada’s commitment to an equitable society and just world.

While Canada has until 2029 to confront the many issues highlighted in the third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, it must invest at all levels of government.

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