Action Area Policy: Inclusive Governance
Canada considers inclusive governance to be fundamental to long-term sustainable development. Governance is inclusive when it effectively serves and engages all people; takes into account gender and other facets of personal identity; and when institutions, policies, processes, and services are accessible, accountable and responsive to all members of society. Fostering governance that is inclusive is essential to advancing democratic values, including peaceful pluralism and respect for diversity, human rights and equality before the law.
Governance affects how states manage complex challenges, such as inequality, urbanization, migration, violence, natural resources and climate change. Fostering governance that is more inclusive helps to ensure that Canada’s responses to these challenges, at all levels, leave no one behind.
Canada believes that a focus on inclusion enables countries to unlock the potential of their diverse populations. Society benefits tremendously when women are engaged in the public life of their countries. For example, lower inequality and lower levels of intra-state armed conflict are associated with a higher proportion of women in legislatures and in sub-national governments. However, women are often excluded from consultation and decision making and have limited opportunities to influence the institutions and policies that determine their lives. This is not only due to a lack of access to, and participation in, the public life of their societies, but also to social and cultural norms that exclude women.
Governance and gender equality are both rooted in power relations within society. Power dynamics can either negatively or positively affect human rights, participation in decision making, access and control over land and resources, as well as opportunities for all people. Governance is largely about the kind of society that people want to create. It is about how power is exercised and resources are allocated among different groups within society.
In many countries, women’s rights are limited, not promoted or protected, excluding women from economic and political life. The weak enforcement of women’s rights around the world is a serious obstacle to sustainable development.
In implementing this policy, Canada recognizes that country ownership is the driving factor. Locally led approaches can result in important incremental changes that benefit all people. Fostering inclusive governance requires thorough knowledge of national and sub-national governance issues, and of local power and conflict dynamics.
To eradicate poverty and gender inequality, the following governance issues must be addressed:
Approximately 5.1 billion people—two thirds of the world’s population—do not have access to protections guaranteed by law. Sometimes formal legal systems are not able to cope with the demands of their citizens, nor are they accessible to people in local communities. In many countries, the rule of law is weak. Laws may exist, but often they are not enforced, or they apply only to some and not to others. Laws may also intentionally or inadvertently reinforce gender discrimination. In these contexts, corruption can flourish.
Corruption is a major obstacle to sustainable development and negatively impacts the lives of the poorest. Corruption has been demonstrated to have a disproportionate impact on the poor, especially women and children. It reinforces and perpetuates existing gender inequalities, exclusion, discrimination and poor service delivery. In countries rich in natural resources, inclusive governance is critical to ensure that natural resource wealth is managed sustainably, in a way that benefits all people in society.
Many developing countries struggle to collect enough domestic revenue to fund essential public services (e.g. health, education, water and sanitation). There is an over-reliance on value-added or goods and services taxes, which often disproportionately impact the poorest. Taxes on property, income and wealth are not currently used to their fullest potential, even in middle-income countries. Progressive tax-systems that help reduce inequality are the obvious, but less popular, solution to funding sustainable development.
Civil society and civic space are under threat in many countries. An engaged civil society and open civic space, including online, are essential to enable peaceful, democratic societies to thrive. Civil society is a vehicle for people participating in the development and implementation of government policies and programs, playing a part in holding governments to account and facilitating the sustainability of results.
Canada’s Inclusive Governance Policy seeks to foster inclusive and gender equal societies where individuals, the state, civil society and the private sector interact to make decisions and allocate resources—nationally and locally—in collaborative ways that improve people’s human rights and equality, particularly among the most marginalized and vulnerable in all their diversity.
Canada focuses its efforts on four paths to action:
- Promoting and protecting human rights
- Increasing equitable access to a functioning justice system
- Enhancing participation in public life
- Ensuring that public services work for everyone
The four paths are based on evidence and Canada’s comparative advantage in these areas. Canada directs assistance toward initiatives that best support the empowerment of the poorest, most marginalized and vulnerable, particularly women and girls, and those that have the greatest potential to reduce inequalities based on gender and other identity factors. Canada will prioritize initiatives that address the multiple layers of discrimination and disadvantages that overlap and reinforce each other, increasing vulnerability and marginalization. The “leave no one behind” agenda emphasizes inclusion and shared prosperity within Agenda 2030. When they are empowered, all individuals, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity, place of birth, colour, religion, language, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, ability or migrant or refugee status, can be agents of change in their communities.
Canada will therefore employ gender-based analysis plus (GBA+) and human rights-based approaches to guide program analysis, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. This requires an in-depth understanding of local political economy and gender dynamics. Canada supports innovative delivery models for its international assistance to help shift the incentives of decision makers toward policies and services that benefit the poorest (e.g. outcome-based funding approaches). Canada continues to support multi-stakeholder approaches to promote governance processes that increasingly include all relevant stakeholders—particularly those not traditionally included.
1. Promoting and protecting human rights
Canada’s objective in this path is to promote and protect all human rights, including online, by strengthening the capacity of all actors in society to claim their rights and seek redress, or to uphold their obligations or responsibilities to respect, protect, fulfill or promote human rights. This includes supporting individuals, civil society, governments and the private sector to promote and protect human rights for the poorest and most marginalized, particularly women and girls.
The realization of human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, empowers people and propels economies, and is the basis of inclusive development. To better address the discrimination and power imbalances that cause exclusion and marginalization, Canada:
- requires that all initiatives it supports integrate gender equality and human rights considerations into their design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. Initiatives must be grounded in intersectional gender and human rights analyses that take into account various identity factors that can lead to discrimination, marginalization or vulnerability;
- works with formal and informal actors, including governments, individuals, civil society, faith leaders, the private sector and the media—those with power, and those on the margins—to support coalitions that can make a difference for communities;
- supports and strengthens women’s leadership and women’s rights organizations and networks, including human rights defenders, working to advance equality, environmental protection and land and labour rights, among others;
- supports free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) processes related to natural resource projects and others affecting traditional or customary lands, throughout project implementation;
- directly supports marginalized groups to improve the lives of the most vulnerable;
- supports advocacy and programming that address discriminatory laws that prevent women from realizing their rights;
- strengthens local public services that can quickly respond to the needs of women at risk;
- supports journalists and independent media, think tanks, faith-based organizations etc., to advance accountability in their societies related to human rights and inclusion;
- supports legal reform, including the reform of discriminatory laws, such as those that impede women’s equitable access to and control over land, natural resources or economic assets, along with institutional strengthening that specifically advances the rights of the poor (e.g. human rights bodies);
- helps protect human rights defenders through support for legal and regulatory reforms, policy development or institutional capacity-building that reduces the particular barriers faced by women’s, LGBTQ2I, Indigenous or youth organizations, etc. in their societies.
- funds local women’s organizations and supports the reform or implementation of human rights legislation, particularly as it relates to the rights of the most marginalized and vulnerable;
- supports initiatives with private-sector partners that advance human rights, gender equality and sustainable development, including in their supply chains, because responsible business conduct can be an important driver of inclusive development.
2. Increasing equitable access to a functioning justice system
Canada’s objective in this path is to foster equitable access to fair justice and law-enforcement services that serve to advance the human rights of the poorest and most marginalized and vulnerable people. This involves improving the gender responsiveness of justice and law-enforcement institutions, ensuring that justice services reach people in their communities and increasing people’s legal awareness.
Equitable access to justice is a means to overcome poverty, as it provides people and communities with a legal basis upon which to claim their rights and see justice served. To support justice systems that translate legal guarantees into real improvements in the daily lives of the most marginalized, Canada:
- works with partners across government and civil society, as well as across traditional, informal and customary systems, to foster an inclusive and human rights-based approach to justice system strengthening that helps guarantee marginalized and vulnerable people, including women and girls, their rights;
- supports justice and law-enforcement policies and institutions (e.g. judiciary, police, prisons, juvenile justice) to be gender-responsive, including by working at the national or local level to help end impunity for human rights violations, such as gender-based violence, and by addressing sexual and gender-based violence in fragile and conflict-affected states to advance Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security;
- supports efforts that help simplify informal or traditional practices and customary laws, harmonize them with the formal legal system or ensure that they are respectful of human rights;
- supports legal and law enforcement services that reach people in both urban and rural contexts;
- supports context-specific approaches such as paralegal services, legal aid, legal advice offices, holistic services for women and children (e.g. psychosocial supports) and child-protection systems, nationally and in local communities, to better respond to the needs of survivors of violence and exploitation;
- supports alternative dispute resolution approaches that enable individuals or communities to find their own human rights-based paths to justice outside of the courtroom—for example, in the context of large economic development projects, inclusive access to recourse mechanisms and non-judicial remedies can play an important role in resolving local disputes and advancing human rights;
- supports transitional justice processes to resolve grievances, provide redress to victims and foster political settlements, for example in the aftermath of violent conflict or widespread human rights abuses;
- helps improve people’s legal awareness, empowering them to peacefully resolve disputes or use the law for advocacy to improve the lives of people in their communities, as legal empowerment can lead to legal reform and the reform of justice institutions to improve accountability and responsiveness to marginalized groups.
3. Enhancing participation in public life
Canada’s objective in this path is to increase the participation of people from traditionally marginalized groups in public leadership, decision making and democratic processes in their societies. This involves supporting local and national governance processes, political participation, civic education and public-sector reforms that increase diversity and inclusion.
To support the participation of people from vulnerable and marginalized groups in the public life of their countries, as voters, elected officials and public-sector employees and managers, and to foster pluralist societies that embrace inclusion, Canada:
- supports initiatives that are informed by GBA+ and human rights analyses, and that identify and address barriers that impede the ability of vulnerable or marginalized people, particularly women and girls, to engage in local decision-making or leadership opportunities;
- supports greater political participation by women, particularly women from vulnerable or marginalized groups, through training programs for women candidates and through support for gender-responsive civic education;
- informs its approaches with gender equality and human rights analyses that identify the context-specific barriers (e.g. legal, political and social) that impede the ability of marginalized people to engage in local decision-making or leadership opportunities;
- works with those who wield power and those who work to level the playing field across government and civil society, at all levels, to foster an inclusive and human rights-based approach to improving the participation and leadership of marginalized people, in their communities;
- builds the capacity of governments at all levels to transparently and meaningfully engage local communities, build the capacity of local and community organizations to engage with their governments and to hold them accountable and strengthen the leadership skills of women, children and youth to organize and dialogue with governments, the private sector and other stakeholders, nationally and sub-nationally;
- supports the participation of women and youth in important processes in their societies that foster inclusion and empowerment, including for example, political participation as voters or candidates in electoral processes, nationally and sub-nationally;
- helps increase the meaningful participation of women and youth in peace processes and the implementation of peace agreements, in leadership and decision-making on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts or in participation in sustainable natural resource management;
- supports civic education programs, including for children and youth, on human rights, on voter education and on combatting corruption, election violence and vote-buying, as well as programs that promote tolerance and inclusion in post-conflict settings;
- supports gender-responsive democratic institutions (e.g. legislatures, electoral-management bodies, political parties) to eliminate barriers that discriminate against people from marginalized groups and ensure that all people can fully and meaningfully participate in electoral processes;
- supports public-sector reforms that introduce positive measures for diversity and gender equality as well as leadership opportunities for people from marginalized groups, particularly women, to help public-sector institutions inspire trust, achieve fairness, increase government credibility, improve the quality of public services and help mitigate social exclusion and marginalization.
4. Ensuring that public services work for everyone
Canada’s objective in this path is to support its government partners to provide and/or monitor high-quality public services that respond to the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized. This includes working with governments at all levels and service providers to foster gender equality and enhance transparency and accountability, strengthening social accountability, improving public financial management and using statistical data to guide service delivery and improvements.
To foster public services that work for everyone and that can help address issues related to urbanization and rural poverty, as well as build overall resilience, Canada:
- helps design and implement initiatives that address the differential needs and opportunities of women and girls, including through gender-responsive budgeting;
- supports public-services that respond to the differential needs of people, including the most marginalized and vulnerable, helping to improve their overall quality, accessibility and affordability in local communities;
- helps governments at all levels (national, state or provincial, and municipal) to effectively engage women and girls in decision making, including over resources;
- works with service providers, national and local governments, diverse civil society organizations, private-sector entities and the media to foster gender-responsive, inclusive and human rights-based approaches to public-service delivery;
- strengthens the capacity of national, sub-national and local governments, as well as service providers, to work together to successfully deliver gender-responsive public services to all citizens that overcome their context-specific accountability and transparency challenges;
- support gender-responsive and innovative social accountability initiatives that help improve the quality of public services and reduce corruption by engaging the poor, as the end users of public services, through for example, citizen monitoring of service delivery, public complaint mechanisms, public information and transparency campaigns, citizen report cards, social audits and public expenditure tracking surveys, etc;
- increases awareness of the gendered impacts of public financial management and apply a feminist lens to reforms of tax policy and administration, to natural-resource fees and royalties, to the management and auditing of public funds and to budget processes (i.e. gender-responsive budgeting);
- supports an incremental shift to progressive tax systems that lighten the tax burden on the poorest and promote sustainable and inclusive development;
- strengthens national and sub-national statistical systems and their ability to ethically and responsibly collect, analyze and publish quality, timely and meaningful disaggregated data, which is necessary for the design and delivery of public services that better respond to the differential needs of a population and leave no one behind;
- strengthens capacity of statistical systems to undertake systematic registration and reporting of vital and civil events (e.g. birth and death), providing legal identity to marginalized and vulnerable groups, which is necessary to access essential public and financial services.
- OECD (2014). Accountability and democratic governance: Orientations and principles for development, DAC guidelines and reference series, OECD publishing.
- United Nations (2017). Peace, justice, and strong institutions: Why they matter.
- Whaites, A. (2017). Institutions, politics and aid: Challenges from the literature. National School of Government International, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, London.
- Whaites, A., Teskey, G., Fyson, S. and Gonzalez. E. (2015). A governance practitioner’s notebook: Alternative ideas and approaches. OECD publishing.
- World Bank (2017). World Development Report 2017: Governance and the law.
In many countries, women’s rights are not promoted or protected, excluding women from economic and political life.
- Wang, Y., Lindenfors, P., Sundström, A., Jansson, F. and Lindberg, S. (2015). No democratic transition without women’s rights: A global sequence analysis 1900-2012. Working Paper, the Varieties of Democracy Institute.
Approximately 5.1 billion people do not have access to protections guaranteed by law.
- Task Force on Justice. Justice for All – The report of the Task Force on Justice: conference version. New York: Center for International Cooperation 2019.
Corruption is a major obstacle to sustainable development and negatively impacts the lives of the poorest.
- International Council on Human Rights Policy (2009). Corruption and human rights: Making the connection. Versoix, Switzerland.
- Peters, A. (2015). Corruption and human rights. Basil Institute on Governance working paper series.
- World Bank (2004). Mainstreaming anti-corruption activities in World Bank assistance. Operations Evaluation Department.
Many developing countries struggle to collect enough domestic revenue to fund essential public services (e.g. health, education, water and sanitation).
- Capraro, C. (2014). Taxing men and women: why gender is crucial for a fair tax system, Christian Aid.
- Sharpe, R. (2017). Making tax work for women’s rights. ActionAid briefing. London. Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development.
- World Bank (2017). World Development Report 2017: Governance and the law. Chapter on equity.
Multiple layers of discrimination and disadvantages overlap and reinforce each other, increasing vulnerability and marginalization.
- Stuart, E. and Samman, E. (2017). Defining ‘leave no one behind’. Overseas Development Institute (ODI) briefing note.
- United Nations Development Programme (2016). Human Development Report 2016: Development for everyone.
Civil society and civic space are under threat in many countries.
- CIVICUS (2017). State of civil society report 2017.
- Melander, E. (2005). Gender Equality and Intra-State Armed Conflict. International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 49, Issue 4.
- OECD (2014). Women, government and policy making in OECD countries: Fostering diversity for inclusive growth. OECD publishing.
Promoting and protecting human rights
- Government of Canada (2016). Voices at risk: Canada’s guidelines on supporting human rights defenders.
- Government of Canada (2017). Canada’s policy for civil society partnerships for international assistance: A feminist approach.
- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2014). Women’s Human Rights Defenders.
Increasing access to a functioning justice system
- Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor (2008). Volume 1: Report of the commission on the legal empowerment of the poor. Toppan Printing Company, U.S.A. (New Jersey).
Enhancing participation in public life
- OECD (2014). Women, government and policy making in OECD countries: Fostering diversity for inclusive growth. OECD publishing.
- Slack, E., Spicer, Z. and Montacer, M. (2014). Decentralization and gender equity. Forum of Federations, Occasional Paper Series.
Ensuring that public services work for everyone
- McGee, R. and Gaventa, J. (2010). Synthesis Report: Review of impact and effectiveness of transparency and accountability initiatives. Institute of Development Studies.
- World Bank (2004). World Development Report 2004: Making services work for poor people.
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