Action Area Policy: Inclusive Governance

Context

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 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. 

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 affects how states manage complex challenges, such as inequality, urbanization, migration, violence, natural resources and climate change. By fostering governance that is more inclusive, Canada’s responses to these challenges at all levels contribute to leaving no one behind.

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.

Canada is committed to helping achieve the SDGs in Canada and in developing countries. Sustainable Development Goal 5—achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls—is at the heart of Canada’s approach to implementing the 2030 Agenda because it will drive progress toward achieving the other Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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 priorities

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:

  1. Promoting and protecting human rights
  2. Increasing equitable access to a functioning justice system
  3. Enhancing participation in public life
  4. 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:

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:

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:

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: 

Selected sources

General sources

In many countries, women’s rights are not promoted or protected, excluding women from economic and political life.

Approximately 5.1 billion people do not have access to protections guaranteed by law.

Corruption is a major obstacle to sustainable development and negatively impacts the lives of the poorest.

Many developing countries struggle to collect enough domestic revenue to fund essential public services (e.g. health, education, water and sanitation).

Multiple layers of discrimination and disadvantages overlap and reinforce each other, increasing vulnerability and marginalization.

Civil society and civic space are under threat in many countries.

Promoting and protecting human rights

Increasing access to a functioning justice system

Enhancing participation in public life

Ensuring that public services work for everyone

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