McLeod Group Blog



McLeod Group Blog, September 25, 2017

Canada’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy, launched by Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau in June, has been welcomed by many Canadian organizations and individuals as an exciting step towards a renewed approach to foreign aid. But niggling doubts haunt its implementation: Is Global Affairs Canada “fit for purpose”?

When Juan Somavía was appointed head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1999, he wanted to deepen the organization’s focus on decent work for both women and men. First, Somavía needed to know if the ILO could deliver. Under his leadership, it launched a process of participatory gender audits initially in its country offices and then in its partner organizations. This was the first such exercise in the United Nations system.

The gender audits were meant to help the organization learn how to promote gender equality and implement gender mainstreaming effectively through its policies and programs, as well as within its institutional structure. Since then, other UN institutions and international organizations have been inspired by the ILO’s gender audits and have also found them to be useful – even transformative – as a strategic management tool.

Minister Bibeau has given Global Affairs Canada (GAC) a clear task: to implement the Feminist International Assistance Policy. Yet, she has few tools with which to execute the gender agenda.

In the years since the merger of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) into GAC, former CIDA officers are increasingly being treated as rotational generalists, a devaluing of the hard-won development knowledge that the CIDA cadres had built over the decades. As well, gender equality expertise was severely eroded by a decade of the previous Conservative government.

Can GAC deliver on the minister’s promise? Does it have the capacity to turn the government’s statement into an action plan that identifies strategic and resilient approaches, entry points, tools and accountability integrated into the institutional accountability and risk management framework? Can GAC deliver on a vision that is not just an accumulation of small projects but a major contribution to progress on gender equality, so vital to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals? How will Canada’s partners, host governments and civil society organizations, promote gender equality in the Global South?

A gender audit would tell GAC’s senior management whether or not their institutional framework of managerial processes and procedures, administrative systems, staff capacities, financing mechanisms and culture align with a coherent feminist foreign policy. It would also indicate what improvements are urgently required.

Gender audits usually reveal that organizational processes are not policy neutral. For example, burdensome approval processes can prevent nimble and innovative organizations from applying for funding. The centralization of decision-making in headquarters often means that country-based groups are excluded.

Audits also highlight elements of corporate culture that act as disincentives to success in policy implementation – including unclear lines of accountability, low risk tolerance, and a focus on compliance rather than results. Audits that are repeated over time track can also promote GAC adapt to lessons learned from its interventions.

In the end, taking a hard and strategic internal look via a gender audit should help GAC not settle for programming that is gender sensitive, but rather become gender transformative.