Action Area Policy: Human Dignity (Health and Nutrition, Education, Gender-Responsive Humanitarian Action)
Canada’s feminist approach to human dignity will focus on three core areas: health and nutrition; education; and gender-responsive humanitarian action.
Across all contexts, the poorest and most marginalized face obstacles in accessing resources, support and services for health, nutrition and education, and experience increased vulnerability in times of crisis. All too often, they are women and girls. When they have access to the services they need, they may still experience violence and discrimination due to deeply rooted unequal power relations. As a result, they are unable to reach their highest potential as individuals and break through the cycle of poverty. This is why Canada is advancing human dignity as an Action Area of the Feminist International Assistance Policy.
Health and Nutrition
The past several decades have seen dramatic improvements in health and nutrition outcomes in developing countries. Yet this progress has been unequal, often leaving behind the poorest and most marginalized in underserved communities.
Investments in the health and nutrition of the poor create ripple effects that yield multiple benefits. When individuals are healthy and empowered to reach their full potential, they not only survive, but thrive, and can transform themselves and their communities.
But the challenges to reaching the goal of health and wellbeing for the world’s poor are significant.
Weak health systems and resulting gaps in the availability, quality, acceptability and accessibility of services restrict countries’ abilities to respond to the health and nutrition needs of their populations. Health systems remain under-resourced, limiting the availability and coverage of comprehensive services, commodities and information. This is compounded in crisis situations, when inherent weaknesses reduce the ability of health systems to withstand shocks. Furthermore, poor data and weak data-systems impair an adequate understanding of issues impacting the poor, as well as the ability to deliver evidence-based policy and programming.
Unequal access to health services persists. Women and girls in particular face gender, socio-cultural and structural barriers, including: restricted decision-making power, and control over resources, personal healthcare and nutrition; harmful social norms; discrimination; sexual and gender-based violence; and financial obstacles to accessing services and information. Their voices in decision-making processes are often not heard and their views are not adequately reflected in household, community, district, and national policies and programs.
Critical gaps in sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) exist, including policies that restrict women’s and girls’ access to family planning, comprehensive sexuality education, basic reproductive health care, and safe abortion and post-abortion care. Pervasive sexual and gender-based violence, including child, early and forced marriage, also limit women’s and girls’ abilities to make free and informed decisions about their bodies and sexualities. Adolescents face unique barriers in accessing health services due to a lack of accurate and evidence-based information about their needs, health-care provider bias, restrictive national policies and restricted decision-making power.
Women and girls still eat least and last. Women persistently face barriers in accessing adequate nutrition for themselves and their children, which increases their chance of acquiring nutritional deficiencies, and jeopardizes not only their lives and livelihoods, but also those of their children. The first 1,000 days of life, from pregnancy to a child’s second birthday, have been identified as a critical window for maternal and child nutrition. Adolescence is also a period of high risk for nutritional deficiency, as it is the second most rapid period of growth after infancy. Poor nutrition during this period will not only affect adult body size and weight, but also babies born to adolescent girls, creating a vicious cycle of malnutrition.
All of these factors place a disproportionate burden of disease and mortality on those in marginalized situations. As a result, infectious diseases, malnutrition, water-borne diseases, poor hygiene, inability to access and demand quality, age-appropriate sexual and reproductive-health services, and poor maternal, newborn and child health remain leading causes of death and morbidity in low-income countries.
Canada focuses its efforts along three paths to action:
- Improving the quality and accessibility of health services for the most marginalized
- Increasing access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights
- Improving gender-sensitive nutrition for the poorest and most marginalized
Canada supports human rights-based approaches that put the poorest and most marginalized at the heart of all efforts, and fosters constructive dialogue on rights issues related to health and nutrition. Canada advocates and works in partnership with local and national organizations to remove structural, socio-cultural and gender-related barriers.
Canada works in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, including women’s organizations, local civil-society and communities, human-rights defenders, traditional leaders, men and boys, multilateral and global partners, other donors and non-traditional partners such as the private sector to foster coordination and collaboration, and to leverage efforts.
Canada works with adolescents and youth-led organizations advocating for scaled-up action on adolescent health and nutrition, and supports initiatives that amplify women’s and girls’ voices inside and outside the health and nutrition sectors, focusing on local ownership and approaches to drive gender-transformational change.
Canada takes a multi-sectoral approach grounded in the social determinants of health and nutrition, with a focus on innovative approaches. Canada draws on good practices and considers new and innovative solutions where relevant. Where applicable, development innovation may play a role in providing new or improved solutions (business models, policy practices, approaches, partnerships, technologies, behavioural insights or ways of delivery) to transform existing methods.
Canada also supports gender-responsive health and nutrition interventions in crisis and conflict situations. Reaching the most vulnerable with health and nutrition services, including SRHR, building resilience and supporting sustainable health systems, are key components of Canada’s interventions.
1. Improving the quality and accessibility of health services for the most marginalized
Improving inclusive and equitable access to quality, age-appropriate and gender-responsive health services involves supporting evidence and rights-based initiatives with a focus on responding to the diverse needs of the poorest and most marginalized, particularly women and girls. It also entails support for health-system resilience and improving governance and accountability structures.
To advance inclusive and equitable access to health services for the most marginalized, Canada:
- works with ministries of health and other key stakeholders to contribute to equitable universal health coverage by strengthening health systems. In so doing, Canada could contribute to improving health facilities and service providers’ capacity to be gender-responsive and to delivering adolescent-friendly health services and information, including for sexual and reproductive health;
- implements a human rights-based approach to health and nutrition to contribute to addressing broader barriers to access faced by women and girls, including for SRHR;
- supports improved supply chains, improved gender- and rights-sensitive health policy, financing, governance and accountability mechanisms; as well as research and improvements in age- and gender-sensitive health-information systems with strengthened civil registration and vital statistics;
- fights infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria; improves access to essential medicines and vaccines for all; and water, sanitation and hygiene initiatives, including menstrual-hygiene management, these remain important issues and one area of focus of Canadian initiatives;
- strengthens health systems' resilience to shocks due to emergencies such as infectious-disease outbreaks, conflicts and natural disasters, with particular attention paid to the impacts these events have on the poor;
- engages entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and experts across sectors and around the world to accelerate high-potential innovations, catalyzing investment and increasing awareness of and support for transformative ideas to improve health and nutrition and save lives, including through the use of innovative financing approaches.
2. Increasing access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights
Supporting national systems in the delivery of a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach to SRHR addresses barriers and closes gaps in access to services at all levels within the health system, including in fragile, humanitarian and crisis contexts. This includes improving legal and policy environments, empowering communities to know and claim their sexual and reproductive rights, seeking redress when these rights are violated, and strengthening the capacity of stakeholders to advocate for and advance a feminist approach to SRHR.
To support a comprehensive, multi-sectoral approach to SRHR, Canada:
- advocates for gender-sensitive, age-appropriate human rights-based approaches to comprehensive SRHR in all investments and leverages new ways of working, including amplifying women’s and girls’ voices and participation, and fosters constructive dialogue with a diverse range of stakeholders, such as local civil-society, community and traditional leaders, indigenous and 2SLGBTQI+ groups, and men and boys, to advance SRHR for all;
- supports and contributes to integrated and multi-sectoral approaches toward improved access to sexual and reproductive-health services, including family planning and contraception, and to safe and legal abortion and post-abortion care;
- advocates for and supports improved access to comprehensive sexuality education that addresses social norms limiting women’s and girls’ control over their bodies and decision making on their sexuality and reproductive health;
- strengthens the prevention, treatment and management of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, and reproductive-tract infections; Canada also supports initiatives that strengthen the prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence, including harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting;
- supports efforts to address judicial and legal barriers to the fulfillment of SRHR.
3. Improving gender-sensitive nutrition for the poorest and most marginalized
Improving gender-sensitive nutrition for the poorest and most marginalized by enhancing access to nutritious food, micronutrients and comprehensive nutrition services addresses acute malnutrition, and contributes to supporting nutrition-sensitive food systems through life. This will entail a focus on women, adolescents and young children to address undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies first and foremost.
To advance gender-sensitive nutrition for these groups, Canada:
- supports increased participation of women and girls in household decision making about nutrition and diet issues, leverages new ways of working, including increased engagement with non-traditional partners, such as the private sector, and explores new financing models and mechanisms to overcome challenging nutrition issues;
- contributes to improved nutrition by scaling up effective interventions that address the nutritional needs of women and girls; this includes increasing community capacity to produce and access nutritious and diverse foods and supporting multi-sectoral innovative delivery platforms that respond to the nutrition needs of women, adolescents and young children;
- encourages new product development and technology transfers to address the remaining barriers to adequate nutrition; nutrition-sensitive initiatives are also sought, such as the provision of safe water and sanitation, coupled with hygiene, to improve overall health and nutrition;
- seeks to support leveraged investments that increase the provision of micronutrient supplements, including iron and folic acid to reduce the prevalence of anemia among women and adolescent girls and improve birth outcomes;
- supports nutrition education and health-promotion activities, where undernutrition and micronutrient deficiencies persist, guided by country-driven decision making, recognizing that diet-related non-communicable diseases are rising in many low- and middle-income countries;
- advocates for increased attention on the health and nutrition of women and girls in conflict settings and emergencies since they are most likely to reduce their food intake in favour of other household members, worsening their own nutritional status.
Selected sources for health and nutrition
- Global Affairs Canada. (2017). Health and Rights of Women and Children: Synthesis of Initial IAR Submissions and Consultations.
- Global Affairs Canada. (2015). Formative Evaluation of Canada’s Contribution to the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) Initiative.
- Guttmacher Institute. (2017). Adding It Up: Investing in Contraception and Maternal and Newborn Health, 2017.
- Guttmacher Institute. (2017). The Sexual and Reproductive Health Needs of Very Young Adolescents in Developing Countries.
- Independent Accountability Panel. (2017). 2017 Transformative Accountability for Adolescents: Accountability for the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents in the 2030 Agenda.
- Saewyc, E. (2017). Special Supplement: The Global Early Adolescent Study: An Exploration of the Factors that Shape Adolescence. Journal of Adolescent Health. 61(4), Supplement, S1-S54.
- Sheehan, Peter, et al. (2017). Building the foundations for sustainable development: a case for global investment in the capabilities of adolescents. The Lancet.
- UNFPA. (2017). State of World Population 2017-Worlds Apart: Reproductive health and rights in an age of inequality.
- United Nations Inter-agency Group for Child Mortality Estimation. (2017) Levels and Trends in Child Mortality Report 2017.
- WHO, UNAIDS, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, UN Women, The World Bank. (2017). Global Accelerated Action for the Health of Adolescents (AA-HA!): guidance to support country implementation.
- WHO. (2015). Sexual health, human rights and the law. World Health Organization.
- WHO. (2017). World Health Statistics 2017: Monitoring Health for the SDGs.
- WHO. (2017). Leading the Realization of Human Rights to Health and Through Health: Report of the High-Level Working Group on the Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents.
- Women Deliver. (2017). Policy Brief: Improve Maternal and Newborn Health and Nutrition- Facts, Solutions, Case Studies, and Policy Recommendations.
Relevant international commitments
- Every Woman Every Child. (2015). Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescent's Health 2016-2030.
- Scaling Up Nutrition. (2016). SUN Movement Strategy and Roadmap (2016-2020).
- United Nations (1995). Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
- United Nations. (2014). International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action-Twentieth Anniversary Edition.
- United Nations. (2015). Sustainable Development Goals.
The right to a quality education is a catalyst to improving human dignity and a means through which all other rights are realized. Education is a powerful tool for the empowerment of individuals, families, and nations and a portal through which economic, political and social progress takes place. Education is the mechanism used to know and exercise rights, transform harmful social norms and behaviours and address unequal power relations including gender inequality, develop critical thinking skills, tolerance and appreciation of diversity, foster peace and security, and raise awareness about climate change and environmental sustainability. Yet despite major progress globally on access to education and reducing the number of out-of-school children, significant challenges remain in access, learning, quality, equity, governance and financing, especially for women and girls, and particularly in crisis, fragile and conflict-affected situations.
Drawing on global evidence, Canada uses a feminist and human rights-based approach to education and lifelong learning that leads to improved outcomes among girls, women and marginalized groups, across all initiatives.
To make progress on achieving sustainable education outcomes for girls and boys, women and men, a number of key challenges need to be addressed.
Barriers to access education persist. These barriers are deeply rooted in power dynamics and inequalities that are reinforced in crisis, fragile and conflict-affected situations. Girls, adolescent girls, women and marginalized groups still face barriers to getting the education and skills they need to succeed due to gender-based discrimination; sexual and gender-based violence; pregnancy, child, early and forced marriage, female genital mutilation/cutting; physical or emotional abuse in school environments; inaccessible school buildings, absence of accessible separate toilet facilities and menstrual-hygiene management; distance to school; gaps in health services and reproductive rights; or lack of female teachers. Many children work to support family income. Cultural son preference and social biases in favour of men and boys lead to boys taking priority over girls to go to school. These barriers are deeply rooted in power dynamics and inequalities that are reinforced in crisis, fragile and conflict-affected situations.
Quality of education remains poor. Insufficiently trained and uncertified teachers, outdated curricula, pedagogy and learning materials, under-resourced schools, and school infrastructure that is not safe, secure, accessible, or girl-friendly, all contribute significantly to a learning crisis and poor quality learning environments. When and if children and adolescents get to school, they fail to learn or reach minimum proficiency levels. Curricula, teaching and learning materials are often out of date, do not adequately address comprehensive sexuality education, fail to teach gender equality and often portray negative norms and stereotypes.
Marginalized and vulnerable groups still cannot realize their right to education. In order to successfully ensure “education for all”, teaching and learning at all levels needs to take an intersectional approach, one in which the education system and teaching practice understands and addresses the multiple barriers, identities, and vulnerabilities of students. In developing countries including conflict and crisis, the most prevalent groups include: girls, adolescent girls, and women (especially those who experience early pregnancy and harmful practices), learners living in crisis, fragile and conflict-affected situations, extreme poverty or rural areas, learners with disabilities, 2SLGBTQI+ persons, Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, language minorities, young people and adolescents migrating alone to urban centres, refugees and internally displaced persons, and children who work.
Gaps in the governance and accountability of education systems require action. Ministries of education and other education actors, especially in crisis, fragile and conflict-affected situations, experience capacity issues in developing gender-responsive education sector plans, budgets and policies, curricula and teacher training systems. Women are under-represented in the teaching profession, school leadership, and decision-making positions. Building information management systems with data that are gender-responsive and sex-disaggregated is essential for improving governance and monitoring progress. Likewise, effective management of school infrastructure is critical to ensuring accountability.
Promising innovative solutions in education should be taken to scale. Women, girls and marginalized groups must be empowered as innovators. Innovative approaches and partnerships must leverage new financing for education such as results-based financing and development impact bonds. Systematic, multisectoral responses in partnership with protection, health, nutrition and growth sectors should be scaled up.
Building on the Charlevoix Declaration on Quality Education for Girls, Adolescent Girls and Women in Developing Countries and the Whistler Declaration on Unlocking the Power of Adolescent Girls for Sustainable Development, Canada will support gender-responsive quality education and skills development that provides the foundation for lifelong learning while applying a comprehensive and life-cycle approach. Canada’s approach to education contributes to a vision where every girl and boy, regardless of circumstance or identity, is able to enrol in and complete primary and secondary education in a safe, secure and respectful environment, and where youth and adults can develop the skills they need to succeed in life.
Canada pursues its efforts in three key areas:
- Improving gender-responsive quality education
- Increasing access to gender-responsive, demand-driven, quality skills development
- Improving gender-responsive quality education and skills development in conflict, crisis and fragility
Canada integrates gender equality and the empowerment of girls and women across all education initiatives, in addition to specifically targeting efforts at girls, adolescent girls, and women. Canada also engages men and boys at all school levels to challenge harmful norms, attitudes and practices and to transform gender inequalities and unequal power relations. Canada addresses barriers and gaps that prevent marginalized groups, particularly girls, adolescent girls, and women from accessing and completing quality education and skills development programs. Canada emphasizes country ownership of education systems and works in partnership with developing country governments, non-governmental, civil society and women’s organizations, and key education stakeholders, including youth, parent and community groups, to support the implementation of education sector plans. Canada supports approaches that are participatory and that use local solutions and knowledge.
1. Improving gender-responsive quality education
Best practices in ensuring equal access to gender-responsive quality education and learning for all, from early childhood to the end of secondary entails building the capacity of education ministries, school principals, teachers, and community members; strategically focusing on increasing access to quality, inclusive education for girls and marginalized groups in safe, secure, welcoming spaces that meet their specific needs, and dismantling the unique barriers faced by girls and women.
To help tackle barriers to quality education, Canada:
- requires that all initiatives it supports integrate into their design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, gender-equality considerations with an intersectional approach including factors such as gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, Indigenous identity and ethnic or religious affiliation, as informed by a gender-based analysis that focuses on human rights (GBA+);
- supports targeted efforts that enable girls’ and adolescent girls’ participation such as separate toilet facilities, cash transfers, school meals, codes that address school-related gender-based violence, menstrual hygiene management, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs;
- supports education programming that addresses girls, adolescent girls, and women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights by ensuring access to appropriate health and nutrition information, services and products and promoting comprehensive sexuality education;
- supports access to schools and learning pathways for girls and women, including those who are especially vulnerable and often excluded from school, such as pregnant girls and girls with disabilities;
- promotes access to gender responsive, inclusive, environmentally-sustainable classrooms and education facilities that are safe, welcoming spaces, and free of violence and which integrate child protection systems;
- promotes the participation of all learners in their education using a child-led and human rights-based approaches and builds the leadership of girls, adolescent girls, and women and the most marginalized in decisions about their education;
- advocates for community-based approaches to addressing harmful norms and practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation, that involves parents, community leaders, and girls and engages boys and men;
- promotes lifelong learning through alternative forms of schooling and education, such as community-based schools and second-chance education, to ensure that girls and marginalized learners can complete their education regardless of cultural, social, or economic barriers
- supports local women organizations advocating and promoting the dismantling of barriers to quality education for all, including women and girls in all their diversity.
To build education system capacity and improve the quality and gender-responsiveness of education, Canada:
- promotes gender-responsive systems strengthening and builds the capacity of education ministries and other education actors, including supporting gender-responsive education sector plans and disaggregated data, monitoring, evaluation and accountability systems at the national, regional and local community levels from pre-primary to end of secondary;
- supports gender equality in education systems, in part through capacity building throughout the education sector, particularly through teacher training and the recruitment and retention of both female and male qualified teachers with decent pay;
- supports quality, gender-responsive pre-service and in-service teacher training, certification and ongoing professional learning that includes inclusive education teaching methods, including supporting emergency, non-formal and distance education and conflict-sensitive, psycho-social teaching practices;
- supports relevant, holistic and linguistically, culturally and age-appropriate teaching and learning materials that reflect local needs, values and languages;
- supports the integration of specific measures for girls' education throughout the education sector plans of our development partners, including planning in anticipation of crisis and conflict situations;
- promotes awareness of the benefits of education for women and girls at every opportunity and of the need for curricula free of gender stereotypes, including at international forums, bilateral talks and informal meetings;
- advocates for materials that challenge discriminatory gender norms, practices and unequal power relations, and promote positive and healthy masculinities;
- promotes and employs innovative approaches and new technologies in classrooms to better prepare all learners;
- works with SDG 4, 5 and 8 statistical accountability partners to improve the collection, monitoring, analysis, publication and reporting of progress in girls' and women's education participation, completion and learning, training and youth employment.
2. Increasing access to gender-responsive, demand-driven, quality skills development
In order to expand opportunities and improve well-being, it is necessary to support skills-based demand-driven certified education and training that emphasizes the importance of developing productive capabilities through multiple pathways to support occupational and educational progression and to reduce skills and gender gaps. Gender-responsive skills development and technical and vocational education and training (TVET), including life skills and higher education, that leads to decent work opportunities entails building the capacity, gender-responsiveness, and professionalization of skills development and training systems involving governments, training institutions, the private sector and trainees, especially women.
To ensure that youth and adults, especially women and adolescent girls, in developing countries are equipped with the skills they need for the jobs of the future, Canada:
- supports targeted, gender-responsive skills development initiatives, including stipends, on-the-job training, flexible work-study schedules, distance education, and onsite childcare, that reduce barriers, make training centres and colleges safe and welcoming;
- supports increased access to quality post-secondary education, foster innovative delivery mechanisms and promote lifelong learning opportunities;
- supports various learning tools, including accessible, market-based skills training and TVET;
- supports programs and partners that provide life skills, and technical and vocational education and training, with an emphasis on assisting women and marginalized youth to find work, including in non-traditional and better-paying fields;
- supports education and competency-based learning opportunities for women and adolescent girls that will prepare them for beyond lower-skilled jobs, including in high-growth, higher-wage sectors where women are underrepresented in the work force and in in-demand occupations, such as those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics and medicine (STEMM);
- encourages efforts to overcome the gender digital divide by supporting gender-responsive accelerated learning programs and learning approaches that use digitally blended technologies to ensure trainees gain the foundational skills of literacy and numeracy, critical thinking, digital and financial literacy, self-employment and entrepreneurship skills and have access to professional mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities;
- through and gender responsive approach, builds and develops the capacities of instructors and training institutions and colleges including by updating and modernizing curricula;
- supports the capacity building of government bodies, the private sector, and skills training institutes and colleges on the development of gender-responsive, market-relevant programs and degrees and certificates for work in a global economy, including skills accreditation systems;
- advocates for coordination and gender-sensitive monitoring systems among governments, training institutions, skilled worker associations and the private sector.
To facilitate the school-to-work transition, especially for women and youth, Canada:
- engages in dialogue on job search and skills matching mechanisms for employers, training institutions, and trainees;
- promotes awareness-raising activities particularly on the participation of and employment opportunities for women;
- supports competency-based skills learning and employment centres that provide access to available job information, counselling and computers and digital technologies and that target marginalized groups;
- supports women entrepreneurs, upon course completion, in accessing start-up capital and affordable credit.
3. Improving gender-responsive quality education and skills development in conflict, crisis, and fragility
In situations of conflict, crisis and fragility, affected learners, especially girls, adolescent girls and women, are likely to face greater gaps in access and quality in their education. Refugees in host countries are often also marginalized in host country education systems. Improving access to gender-responsive quality education and skills development for all, particularly for girls, women and marginalized groups in crisis, fragile and conflict- affected situations can be realized through support for a mix of inclusive formal education and temporary schooling including community-based education, stronger coordination across the continuum of crisis, and a strategic focus on reducing barriers to education for crisis-affected and displaced persons and the hardest to reach.
To ensure system strengthening in crisis, fragile and conflict-affected situations, Canada:
- supports education opportunities and learning outcomes for refugees and internally displaced persons, including in host and source communities;
- fosters improved access to quality education for girls and women in the early stages of humanitarian response and peacebuilding efforts, while supporting schools as safe spaces for children;
- supports better coordinated and gender-responsive education services, implements seamless education before, during and after crises, and promotes quality education for all through agreed-upon standards, tools and curricula;
- advocates for the development of gender-responsive and crisis-sensitive education sector plans and disaster-sensitive preparedness plans, including data, monitoring, evaluation and accountability, in a coordinated and harmonized manner, including with host governments and NGOs;
- supports quality, gender-responsive teacher training and education, which includes employing inclusive education and conflict-sensitive teaching methods such as gender equality, social cohesion, peace education, preventing violent extremism and psycho-social teaching practices; ensuring that teachers are adequately trained in minority languages and mother-tongue curricula; and supporting curricula and policy reform where feasible that address the root causes of violence and promotes social cohesion and equitable access to education;
- supports access to inclusive community-based education and skills development at all levels, such as child-friendly spaces, “schools in a box,” distance education and ICTs, especially those that target out-of-school children and the hardest to reach learners, such as persons with disabilities;
- promotes TVET, college and university degree and scholarship programs in fields such as STEMM and teacher education for refugees and internally displaced persons who have little to no access to higher education to build a skilled cadre to contribute to peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts;
- supports the principles of “build back better” and “disaster risk reduction” in school building and reconstruction efforts;
- enhances coordination between development, peace and security and humanitarian actors.
Selected sources for education
- UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (2018). Meeting Our Commitments to Gender Equality in Education.
- Save the Children (2018). The End of Childhood Report 2018: The Many Faces of Exclusion.
- UNESCO (2018). Achieving Gender Equality in Education: Don’t Forget the Boys. Policy Paper 35.
- UNESCO Institute for Statistics (2017). Counting the Number of Children Not Learning: Methodology for a Global Composite Indicator for Education.
- UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (2017): Accountability in Education: Meeting Our Commitments.
- UNESCO (2016). Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action: Towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Lifelong Learning for All.
- UNGEI and Overseas Development Initiative (2017). Evidence Review: Mitigating Threats to Girls’ Education in Conflict-affected Contexts: Current Practise.
- Inter-Agency Standing Committee (2017). The Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action.
- UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (2016). Gender Review: Creating Sustainable Futures for All.
- UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (2016). Education for People and Planet: Creating Sustainable Futures for All.
- Global Education Monitoring Report (2016). If You Don’t Understand, How Can You Learn? Policy Paper 24.
- Global Partnership for Education (2015). Global Partnership for Education Results Report 2015-2016.
- UNESCO and Commonwealth of Learning (2018). Using ICTs and Blended Learning in Transforming TVET.
- Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies (2012). Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.
- UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report (2015). Education for All 2000-2015: Achievements and Challenges.
- UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (2014). Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All.
- UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (2012). Youth and Skills: Putting Education to Work.
- UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (2011). The Hidden Crisis: Armed Conflict and Education.
- UNESCO Global Monitoring Report (2010). Reaching the Marginalized.
- Education for All Global Monitoring Report (2015). Humanitarian Aid for Education: Why it Matters and Why More is Needed. Policy Paper 21.
- World Economic Forum (2017). Skills Children Need for Work: This is the One Skill Your Child Needs for the Future.
- Plan International (2009). Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls in 2009. Girls in the Global Economy: Adding it All Up.
Relevant international commitments
- UNESCO (2015). Education 2030: Incheon Declaration and Framework for Action Towards Inclusive and Equitable Quality Education and Lifelong Learning.
- United Nations (2015). Sustainable Development Goals.
- United Nations (2015). Millennium Development Goals.
- UNICEF (2007). Convention on the Rights of the Child: Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- United Nations (1948). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A Feminist Approach: Gender Equality in Humanitarian Action
This Action Area policy provides additional guidance on what Canada aims to achieve through its humanitarian action as outlined in the Feminist International Assistance Policy. This policy guides Canada’s humanitarian assistance programming, and advocacy and strategic policy efforts, through targeted and crosscutting approaches.
Canada has adopted a Feminist International Assistance Policy to reduce poverty and build a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world. Canada knows that promoting gender equality and empowering women and girls is the most effective way to achieve this goal. Canada’s feminist approach is human rights-based and inclusive. It is strategic and focused, transformative and activist, and evidence-based and accountable.
In terms of humanitarian assistance, this means that Canada supports gender-responsive humanitarian action, which is needed to address the specific needs and priorities of people in vulnerable situations, particularly women and girls, to support their empowerment and to ensure that our aid has a greater and more lasting impact. By adopting a feminist approach, Canada is thus determined to respect humanitarian principles in the delivery of its humanitarian assistance by ensuring that this assistance appropriately meets the specific needs of people affected by a crisis. Canada knows that adopting a gender-responsive approach to humanitarian assistance also strengthens our entire humanitarian response.
When questions of gender equality are not sufficiently considered in the implementation of humanitarian action, the effectiveness and impact of humanitarian assistance diminishes. It can even be detrimental to the people we are trying to help. Insufficient consideration of pre-existing vulnerabilities means that humanitarian responses do not systematically or adequately meet the specific needs of women and girls. For example, when responses do not take the specific needs and rights of women and girls in displacement camps into account, such as safe places to wash and access to toilets, women are more likely to face sexual and gender-based violence, further undermining their security, dignity and well-being. Women also play a key role in their families and their communities. When they cannot meet their own basic needs, the entire community suffers. For example, when humanitarian responses include specific measures to facilitate women’s access to food supplies, the level of hunger in households drops.
Although women and girls are disproportionately affected by conflicts and natural disasters, they also have the ability to contribute to humanitarian efforts and reduce suffering and, beyond humanitarian responses, to facilitate reconciliation, participate in peace processes and rebuild their communities. However, women and girls are too often excluded from the decision-making processes and their potential as agents of change is ignored. Yet, as they trigger social upheaval, crises also offer opportunities to change discriminatory social norms and power imbalances. Humanitarian actors need to recognise and seize these opportunities to contribute to changing unequal power relations and avoid reinforcing discriminatory social norms. Supporting women’s rights groups during humanitarian responses gives women a stronger collective voice and enables them to lobby for their own priorities and for equal decision making. Men and boys can also be strong allies to promote and support women’s rights and they need to be engaged to achieve sustainable gender equality.
Humanitarian actors, including Canada, are responsible for improving humanitarian practices in order to better identify and meet the specific needs of vulnerable and marginalized individuals. However, the implementation of gender equality policies and strategies has not sufficiently been integrated into the way humanitarian assistance is delivered. Humanitarian actors must remove systemic constraints and obstacles at every level and invest the necessary resources to ensure the full and systematic consideration of gender equality in all humanitarian interventions.
As a recognized leader in humanitarian assistance, Canada works with other actors in the global humanitarian system to save lives, alleviate suffering and support the dignity of those affected by crises. Canada’s International Humanitarian Assistance is intended to meet the needs of people affected by human induced crises and natural disasters, by supporting swift, coordinated humanitarian interventions based on humanitarian principles and needs.
The increase in the number and intensity of armed conflicts, as well as the scope and frequency of natural disasters, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, has resulted in unprecedented humanitarian needs. Faced with the growing divide between humanitarian needs and available resources, along with the divide between the specific needs of women and girls and the resources allocated, Canada and the rest of the international community constantly strive to improve the effectiveness of the international humanitarian system, as can been seen in our Agenda for Humanity and Grand Bargain commitments. By encouraging more transparent, predictable and flexible funding and better-targeted assistance with more accountability toward the populations in question, the humanitarian system aims to more effectively meet the differentiated needs of those affected by crises. Comprehensive approaches that bring together development, peacebuilding and humanitarian efforts are also needed to achieve long term solutions for people affected by crises and ultimately achieve a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world.
More progress must be made to change how we provide humanitarian assistance. Through its Feminist International Assistance Policy, and the Whistler Declaration on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women and Girls in Humanitarian Action, Canada has improved the integration of gender equality considerations so that its overall humanitarian assistance better meets the specific needs of people affected by crisis. Canada has also increased the share of its humanitarian assistance that meets specific needs, such as sexual and reproductive health needs and those related to sexual and gender-based violence.
This policy lays out how Canada pursues its efforts to increase the gender-responsiveness of humanitarian action through targeted and crosscutting approaches in four key areas:
- Humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law
- Sexual and gender-based violence in the context of humanitarian crises
- Sexual and reproductive health during humanitarian interventions
- Empowerment of women and girls
The actions taken in these four areas contribute towards Canada’s wider approach to humanitarian action to improve assistance to people in need during humanitarian crises.
This policy supports the overarching 2030 Agenda principle of leaving no one behind and contributes to fulfilling Agenda for Humanity and Grand Bargain commitments made by Canada to address and reduce humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability. The implementation of this policy is part of Canada’s feminist approach to deliver transformational change to those most in need.
1. Humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law
Humanitarian principles promote an approach guided by humanitarian needs, thereby requiring humanitarian action that fully meets the differentiated needs of women, men, girls and boys affected by crises. The humanitarian system does not systematically take into account poverty and pre-existing vulnerabilities linked to identity factors. In addition, widespread violations of international humanitarian law, including increased attacks against humanitarian actors and medical personnel, as well as the obstruction of aid, increasingly compromise humanitarian access and prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching those most in need.
To help address these gender equality issues, Canada:
- requires that all humanitarian initiatives it supports integrate into their design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, gender equality considerations with an intersectional approach including factors such as gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, Indigenous identity and ethnic or religious affiliation, as informed by a gender-based analysis that focuses on human rights (GBA+Footnote 1);
- engages with humanitarian actors to increase system accountability in terms of gender-responsive humanitarian action, including in Canada’s efforts to reform the system;
- promotes the integration of gender-based analysis in needs assessments and in humanitarian response plans and supports the collection and analysis of data disaggregated by sex, age and other diversity factors; and
- supports the implementation of gender equality policies in field operations, including by building capacity, coordination, knowledge and data, and by supporting research, innovation and evidence-based decision making.
To help preserve the humanitarian space, Canada:
- advocates at all levels for respect of humanitarian principles and compliance with international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international refugee law;
- promotes and supports greater accountability for violations;
- defends and supports unfettered and safe access for humanitarian workers, including medical personnel; and
- collaborates with humanitarian and other stakeholders to defend the rights of those who are most vulnerable and marginalized in times of crisis, including the right to access life-saving humanitarian assistance.
2. Sexual and gender-based violence in the context of humanitarian crises
In humanitarian crises, the collapse of social structures and lawlessness combined with pre-existing gender inequalities increases the risk of exposure to sexual and gender-based violence. As well, human rights are disregarded, and women and girls become particularly susceptible to rape, child, early and forced marriages, infanticide and sexual exploitation. In many armed conflicts, men and boys, particularly adolescent boys, are also the targets of sexual violence. These acts of violence, in violation of international humanitarian law, are often deadly, and if the victims survive, the physical and psychological after-effects prevent them from accessing essential and immediate assistance and, along with their communities, from being able to heal in the long term.
In order to ensure that overall humanitarian action integrates or supports prevention, mitigation and response strategies for sexual and gender-based violence, Canada:
- supports the supply of medical assistance, including sexual and reproductive health care and psychosocial and economic assistance, to survivors as well as the establishment of safe places;
- supports awareness activities, including activities to involve men and boys;
- strengthens human capacity and techniques in terms of prevention and mitigation of and response to sexual and gender-based violence;
- continues its efforts to strengthen the field implementation of prevention and response strategies for sexual and gender-based violence through its leadership, including in the Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies;Footnote 2
- fosters complementarity and coordination with development and peace-building efforts to strengthen protection against gender-based violence and the accountability of perpetrators, including through support for independent, impartial investigations and evidence gathering;
- champions the rights and dignity of women and girls within global humanitarian forums, arguing for the integration of prevention and response measures for sexual and gender-based violence into every stage of humanitarian intervention; and
- works with humanitarian actors to strengthen safeguarding against sexual exploitation and abuse, particularly to increase system accountability.
3. Sexual and reproductive health during humanitarian interventions
In humanitarian crises, women’s and girls’ access to reproductive health services is often interrupted, which exposes them to unwanted pregnancies in difficult conditions and increases the risk of unsafe abortions and maternal death. Women affected by crises have a higher risk of miscarriage, premature delivery, childbirth-related complications and infertility. Providing sexual and reproductive health services in the context of humanitarian interventions helps save lives by addressing problems related to unwanted pregnancies, obstetrical complications, sexual and gender-based violence, sexually transmitted infections and a multitude of reproductive complications.
In order to ensure that global humanitarian action integrates or provides the full range of services related to sexual and reproductive health and rights, Canada:
- works to improve access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services during emergencies, in particular for women and adolescent girls;
- strengthens technical capacities and knowledge, in particular, with regard to sexual and reproductive health, emergency obstetrical services and neonatal health, contraception, abortion and post-abortion care, and the treatment of sexually transmitted infections; and
- advocates for the systematic integration of complete sexual and reproductive health services into humanitarian interventions.
4. Empowerment of women and girls
Women and girls are powerful agents of change in their communities and are the best positioned to identify their needs and the best ways of meeting them. However, in an emergency, their contribution to the humanitarian decision-making process is often ignored. Moreover, current humanitarian practices do not systematically take into account the context and sociocultural obstacles women and girls face, such as limited access to education, in times of crisis. Therefore, such practices cannot ensure the full participation of women and girls in humanitarian processes. The voices and the leadership of women and girls affected by crisis are undervalued and underused in humanitarian interventions.
In order to ensure that humanitarian action takes women’s and girls’ voices and their potential into account, Canada:
- supports and promotes humanitarian initiatives that systematically encourage and support the leadership, participation and decision making by women and girls in humanitarian action, including by involving men and boys;
- strengthens women’s leadership in humanitarian action and supports the expertise and capacity of women leaders and local women’s organizations;
- supports innovative approaches that empower women and girls and advance gender equality through humanitarian action, including by removing obstacles to quality education;
- influences the humanitarian system at every level to systematically ensure the participation, leadership and empowerment of women and girls in humanitarian processes; and
- fosters complementarity and coordination with development and peace-building efforts to ensure the active participation of women and girls and their empowerment.
Selected Sources for Gender-Responsive Humanitarian Action
- CHS Alliance. (2015). Humanitarian Accountability Report.
- Cubie, D. 2017.The International Legal Protection of Persons in Humanitarian Crises, Exploring the Acquis Humanitaire. Oxford, UK: Hart Publishing.
- Development initiatives. (2017). Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2017.
- Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. (2016). Global Report on Internal Displacement.
- Ferris, E. (2010). Natural Disasters, Conflict, and Human Rights: Tracing the Connections. Presentation given at St-Mary’s University, San Antonio, Texas.
- Handicap International. (2015).Disability in humanitarian contexts, Views from affected people and field organisations. World Humanitarian Summit.
- Humanitarian Outcomes. (2017). Aid Worker Security Report 2017, Behind the attacks: A look at the perpetrators of violence against aid workers.
- Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). (2018). The Gender Handbook for Humanitarian Action.
- International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC). (2015). Unseen, unheard: Gender-based violence in disasters.
- Oxfam. (2013). Gender Issues in Conflict and Humanitarian Action.
- Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO). (2016). Trends in Armed Conflict, 1946–2014.
- Price, P. (2011). Education in Emergencies: Benefits, Best Practices, and Partnerships. Briefing paper, University of Denver.
- United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). (2016). Global Trends Report 2016.
- United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). (2012). Coordination to Saves Lives: History and Emerging Challenges.
- United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). (2017).Global Humanitarian Overview 2017.
- Talbot, C. (2013). Education in conflict emergencies in light of the post-2015 MDGs and EFA agendas. Network for International Policies and Cooperation in Education and Training (NORRAG), Working Paper #3, 17 pages.
- WHS Urban Expert Group. (2015). The Urbanisation of Emergencies – Adapting Humanitarian Action to a Changing World, Paper prepared for ALNAP/USAID Global Forum for Improving Humanitarian Action.
- World Health Organization (WHO), 2014, Gender, Climate Change and Health.
Relevant international commitments
- Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO – Current Lead). (2017). Call to Action on Protection from Gender-Based Violence in Emergencies.
- Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC). (2016). Grand Bargain.
- United Nations General Assembly. (2016). New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants.
- United Nations Security Council. (2000). Resolution 1325.
- United Nations Security Council. (2008). Resolution 1820.
- United Nations Security Council. (2009). Resolution 1888.
- United Nations Security Council. (2009). Resolution 1889.
- United Nations Security Council. (2010). Resolution 1960.
- United Nations Security Council. (2013). Resolution 2106.
- United Nations Security Council. (2013). Resolution 2122.
- United Nations Security Council. (2015). Resolution 2242.
- United Nations. (2016). Agenda for Humanity.
- UN Women. (2018). Peace and Security.
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