Action Area Policy: Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls (Core Action Area)
Gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls are fundamental to the realization of human rights and are critical to the eradication of poverty and the achievement of sustainable development and peace. Women and girls can be powerful agents of change. Greater focus is needed on creating the enabling environment for them to participate as equal decision makers in their homes and societies, to have control over their own lives and bodies, and to equally contribute to and benefit from development and prosperity.
No country has eliminated gender-based inequalities–vast and disproportionate numbers of women and girls face violence, discrimination and socio-economic marginalization, often compounded by other forms of discrimination such as those based on racial or ethnic identity, place of birth or residence, colour, religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age or ability. Growing evidence shows that high levels of gender inequality and gender-based violence in a society are associated with civil and international conflict. And in such contexts, as well as in disasters, other humanitarian settings or during migration, the discrimination, marginalization and vulnerability faced by women and girls is further exacerbated.
The 2030 Agenda challenges the global community to once and for all put an end to pervasive gender inequalities as a goal in itself and as a prerequisite to the achievement of all Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In response, Canada adopted a feminist approach to international assistance with six action areas. Within each action area, Canada recognizes the importance of gender equality and the roles that empowered women and girls play in building better futures for themselves, their communities, their countries and the world at large. This specific Action Area creates the space for dedicated and coordinated efforts required to build the foundation for the empowerment of women and girls and for challenging gender inequalities, which is necessary for progress in all other Action Areas.
To eradicate poverty and gender inequality, the following issues must be addressed:
Gender inequality is deeply rooted and constrains social, political and economic development. Systemic discrimination, unequal power relations and harmful sociocultural norms and practices, which are often replicated and exacerbated online, are deeply rooted barriers to advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls across all spheres. Gender inequality can be addressed only through profound transformation from within societies themselves, with the active engagement of all members of society including men and boys.
Sexual and gender-based violence undercuts gains made across all sectors. Sexual and gender-based violence is a grave and pervasive violation and abuse of human rights, a contributor to insecurity and an insidious barrier to achieving gender equality. Sexual and gender-based violence is perpetrated mainly by men, and mainly against girls and women, throughout the lifecycle. It has immediate, lifelong and devastating impacts, preventing survivors from realizing their potential and perpetuating gender inequality.
Women’s organizations lack the funding and capacity-building support needed to influence change. Organizations and movements working to advance the rights of women and girls, particularly at the grassroots level, play a crucial role in advocating for change in laws, attitudes, behaviour, sociocultural norms and practices. However, their influence and sustainability is impeded by a lack of funding, capacity-building support and political space.
Lack of gender statistics and analysis is a barrier to closing gender gaps. The limited availability of sound gender-based analysis and of data disaggregated by sex, age and other intersecting identity factors hinders the understanding of gender inequalities, as well as the identification and implementation of effective solutions. Data disaggregated by age is particularly important to tailor strategies to the unique needs and priorities of girls and young women.
Weak public-sector capacity for gender equality undermines its role in ensuring that women and girls enjoy equal rights and opportunities. Public-sector institutions have limited capacity to apply gender-based analysis that takes into account intersecting identity factors, and to bring gender equality goals and the perspectives of women and girls to the centre of policymaking, resource allocation and program delivery.
The Action Area advances gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as an objective in itself, by addressing fundamental and multidimensional challenges. To enhance their overall impact, Canada’s initiatives seek synergies among the Action Areas, which address key issues such as economic empowerment, quality education, political participation, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. Canada directs assistance toward those initiatives that support the enabling environment for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, and that accelerate progress across all Action Areas.
Canada focuses its efforts on three paths to action:
- Addressing sexual and gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage, and female genital mutilation/cutting
- Supporting and strengthening women’s organizations and movements that advance women’s rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls
- Supporting evidence-based policymaking and program delivery for gender equality
These three interrelated and mutually reinforcing paths encompass enabling issues requiring dedicated and innovative investments to build the foundation for achieving overall gender equality.
Canada recognizes the multiple identities, roles, challenges, views and interests of diverse women and girls, men and boys, and non-binary people. Canada’s approach explicitly recognizes the importance of addressing gender equality from the youngest ages when gender norms are learned, and of targeting efforts that promote the rights and empowerment of the girl child, including adolescent girls, who face a double burden of discrimination based on both sex and age.
Cutting across these three priorities is the engagement of men and boys as key stakeholders and allies for achieving gender equality and for supporting the empowerment of women and girls. Harmful masculinities perpetrate gender-based discrimination and violence. Social norms and gender stereotypes also restrict men and boys to specific roles, impeding them from reaching their full potential.
Canada recognizes the risks inherent in championing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls in certain contexts, as it involves challenging power dynamics. Canada’s efforts are conflict-sensitive to ensure that partners are not put in harm’s way, especially in fragile and conflict-affected situations. Canada’s priorities in this Action Area are aligned with and complement Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
Further, Canada encourages innovation by considering new partnerships, perspectives, policies, approaches, behavioural insights and technologies to better understand the barriers to gender equality, and to achieve greater impact than traditional approaches may have allowed, including by supporting the capacity of local women and girls to innovate.
1. Addressing sexual and gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting
Canada’s objective under this priority is to eliminate sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), particularly against women and girls. Achieving this objective requires strengthening the capacity of state and non-state actors to enhance and effectively implement prevention and response strategies. It also entails addressing the cultural, societal, legal and judicial barriers to ending SGBV by generating evidence on the drivers and root causes of violence and on strategies to prevent it; and by engaging women, men, girls and boys to promote positive behavior and social-norm change in favour of gender equality.
SGBV is rooted in unequal power relations and socio-cultural norms that condone, enable and perpetuate gender inequality and violence. It reflects patriarchal control over the bodies and sexualities of women and girls. Even where laws exist against SGBV, implementation and enforcement are often weak or inconsistent. The poorest, marginalized and vulnerable groups, including children and youth, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities and LGBTQ2I people face greater risks of experiencing gender-based violence. Girls and boys face unique vulnerabilities limiting their agency to protect themselves against violence. They also experience violence in gender-differentiated ways. Women in public leadership roles, including women human rights defenders and women in politics, are threatened with violence at significantly disproportionate rates than men in similar positions, across all societies.
To eliminate SGBV, particularly against women and girls, Canada:
- strengthens the capacity of state actors to outlaw all forms of SGBV, to denounce, investigate and prosecute sexual and gender-based crimes, and to end impunity for perpetrators;
- supports state and non-state actors to plan, coordinate and implement comprehensive and multisectoral protection systems and prevention services to assist survivors of SGBV in seeking help and remedies;
- builds the capacity of individuals, especially women and girls and those who experience multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination leading to SGBV, to know and demand their rights and to have control over their own bodies and sexualities;
- works with civil society, including women’s and child rights organizations, youth-led initiatives, media personalities, and religious and community leaders, to address negative gender stereotypes and harmful norms regarding masculinity and femininity and to promote positive behaviour;
- supports innovative solutions, such as new technologies and social-media platforms, in the prevention of and response to SGBV;
- supports the collection of data and generation of evidence on the incidence, drivers and root causes of SGBV and on strategies to prevent it.
2. Supporting and strengthening women’s organizations and movements that advance women’s rights, gender equality, and the empowerment of women and girls
Canada’s objective in this path is to increase the effectiveness and influence of women’s organizations and movements to bring about institutional and social-norm changes; and to hold governments accountable for their commitments to protect the rights of women and girls. This involves providing support for the delivery of their agendas and programs, strengthening their institutional capacity and sustainability, facilitating networks and alliances, and advocating for their role, participation and leadership in policy dialogue at all levels and as partners in the design and implementation of initiatives in all sectors.
Ample evidence, as well as Canada’s own experience, demonstrates that women’s organizations play a critical role in bringing about change in policies, laws, services, social norms and practices. These organizations mobilize families and communities, engage men and boys, and reach out to influencers and decision makers from the public, private and civil-society spheres to challenge barriers to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, including social expectations regarding the societal and family roles of men and boys. Knowledgeable about their communities’ challenges and dynamics, they are best positioned to elaborate effective strategies and innovate. They provide platforms and networks for the engagement of diverse women and girls in decision making, supporting their leadership in society. They are also powerful in resisting regressive forces that attempt to reverse gender equality gains, a phenomenon known to be a precursor to fragility or violent conflict. They must be at the forefront of community building, conflict prevention, conflict resolution and post-conflict state-building.
Addressing the gap in funding and capacity-building support for women’s organizations and movements, particularly at the community level, is a cornerstone of Canada’s efforts to shift more power into the hands of women and girls and promote their participation as equal members of society. Canada recognizes that, to be effective, support to women’s organizations should reach nascent and informal groups, be responsive, flexible and reliable. In developing countries, humanitarian crisis situations, fragile or conflict-affected contexts, where civil society is often undermined and access from outside urban areas is difficult, supporting local women’s organizations may require partnering with established national, regional or international women’s organizations and funds to design, pilot, scale and champion new ways of working and funding mechanisms.
To increase the effectiveness and influence of women’s organizations and movements, Canada:
- supports and funds women’s organizations to define and implement their long-, medium- and short-term agendas and programs, including for piloting new ideas, approaches, practices, technologies and services and raising awareness of gender-based discrimination and the rights of women and girls;
- strengthens their institutional capacity and sustainability, including to diversify their sources of revenue, to conduct research, advocacy and policy dialogue, and to mobilize their constituency;
- facilitates networks and alliances among women’s organizations and with other social movements from the community to the international levels as a means to enhance their credibility, influence, reach, knowledge and security;
- advocates for and supports the role, participation and leadership of women’s organizations in policy dialogue at all decision-making levels and as partners in the design and implementation of initiatives in all Action Areas.
3. Supporting evidence-based policymaking and program delivery for gender equality
Canada’s objective in this path is to enhance accountable, effective and evidence-based policymaking and program delivery by national and subnational state and non-state actors to advance gender equality. This can be done by strengthening their capacity and systems to advance gender equality through policies, laws, budgets, programs and services as well as to generate, use and disseminate gender data and evidence; and by facilitating multi-stakeholder partnerships and networks to foster dialogue and accountability on gender equality.
Public institutions at the national and subnational levels, including central ministries and agencies (e.g. finance, planning and public safety), sectoral ministries (e.g. health, education and agriculture) and legislatures, have respective and complementary roles to advance gender equality, as well as to promote and protect the rights of women and girls, but most face challenges in fulfilling their mandates. Ministries and agencies assigned lead responsibility for gender equality (i.e. national women’s machineries) have an important role to play as catalyst and support for other government entities to take up their responsibilities, yet they often lack resources, technical expertise and influence.
In addition, there is a lack of statistics, including civil registration and vital statistics, that adequately reflect the roles, realities, priorities and experiences of diverse groups of women and men, girls and boys–gender statistics for short–as well as sound quantitative and qualitative gender-based analysis, essential to inform policymaking and program delivery, and to identify effective solutions to achieve gender equality and the SDGs. Better and more accessible gender data and evidence also serve to strengthen the advocacy work and capacity of women’s organizations.
To enhance evidence-based policymaking and program delivery to advance gender equality across all Action Areas, including to implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Canada:
- supports the accountability systems and capacity of public institutions, including national women’s machineries, to prioritize, design, pilot, resource, implement and measure policies, laws, programs and services that address gender equality gaps, realize the rights of diverse women and girls, ensure that justice is observed and make resources and services equitably accessible for women and girls, men and boys, in all their diversity;
- strengthens the capacity, systems and innovation of public-sector institutions (e.g. statistical agencies) and of non-state actors (e.g. research institutes, the media and civil society) to generate, use and disseminate gender statistics, tools, analyses and policy research to inform actions, including budgets, that respond to the specific needs, experiences and interests of diverse groups of women and girls, men and boys, and that foster equal outcomes;
- facilitates multi-stakeholder partnerships and networks to promote dialogue, inform collective action and ensure accountability on gender equality, and to build more inclusive structures of power, where the voices of all women and girls can influence public-sector decision making.
- Hallward-Driemeier, M., Hasan, T., and Bogdana Rusu, A. (2013). Women's Legal Rights over 50 Years: What is the Impact of Reform? World Bank Policy Research Working, Paper 6617. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.
- McKinsey Global Institute (2015). The Power of Parity: How Advancing Women’s Equality Can Add $12 Trillion to Global Growth. McKinsey&Company.
- UN Women (2015). Fact Sheet - The Global Study on 1325: Key Messages, Findings and Recommendations.
- United Nations and World Bank (2018). Pathways for Peace: Inclusive Approaches to Preventing Violent Conflict – Main Messages and Emerging Policy Directions. Washington, D.C.: World Bank Group.
- World Economic Forum (2017). The Global Gender Gap Report 2017. Cologny/Geneva: World Economic Forum.
- Relevant internationally agreed-upon instruments, declarations and UN resolutions, including:
- Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
- Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)
- Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)
- Cairo Programme of Action (1994)
- UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) and subsequent resolutions on women, peace and security
Sexual and gender-based violence
- Duvvury, N., Callan, A., Carney, P., Raghavendra, S. (2013). Intimate Partner Violence: Economic Costs and Implications for Growth and Development. Women's voice, agency, and participation research series, no. 3. Washington, DC: World Bank.
- Together for Girls (2016). Data from the Violence against Children Surveys.
- UNICEF (2013). Children and Young People with Disabilities: Fact Sheet. New York: UNICEF.
- UN Women (2013). In Brief: Ending Violence against Women and Girls. New York: UN Women.
- World Health Organization (2017). Violence Against Women: Fact Sheet.
- Women Deliver (2017). Policy Brief: Dramatically Reduce Gender-Based Violence and Harmful Practices.
Women’s organizations and movements
- Arutyunova, A. and Clark, C. (2013). Watering the Leaves, Starving the Roots: The Status of Financing for Women's Rights Organizing and Gender Equality. Toronto: Association for Women’s Rights in Development.
- Nobel Women’s Initiative and The Match International Women’s Fund (2017). Strengthening Women’s Rights Organizations through International Assistance. Ottawa.
- OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality (Gendernet). (2016). Donor support to southern women’s rights organisations: OECD findings. Paris: OECD DAC.
- O’Neil, T. and Domingo, P. (2016). Women and power: Overcoming barriers to leadership and influence. London: Overseas Development Institute.
- UN Women (2015). Summary Report: The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action Turns 20. New York: UN Women.
Evidence-based policy making and program delivery for gender equality
- DFID and UN Women (2016). Working Paper: How Can PFM Reforms Contribute to Gender Equality Outcomes.
- United Nations Economic and Social Council (2013). Gender Statistics. Report of the Secretary-General.
- UN Women (no date). Financing for Gender Equality website.
- UN Women (2015). Progress of the World’s Women 2015 – 2016. New York: UN Women.
- Women Deliver (2017). Policy Brief: Build Sustainable Financing and Partnerships for Girls and Women.
- Women Deliver (2017). Policy Brief: Improve Data & Accountability for Girls and Women.
- World Bank Group (2016). Women, Business and the Law 2016: Getting to Equal. Washington, DC: World Bank.
- Tip sheet on Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA): Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls
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