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Action Area Policy: Peace and Security


Canada has a long history of contributing to peace, security and stability through its international assistance.Footnote 1 Canada builds on this legacy through the Feminist International Assistance Policy by pursuing gender-responsive and integrated responses to global peace and security challenges.

Violent conflict and insecurity have wide, deep and lasting effects, often with regional and global implications such as irregular migration and terrorism. The number of protracted conflicts has risen over the last decade. According to the World Bank and United Nations, countries experiencing violent conflict are unlikely to make significant progress for a generation, putting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) out of reach for millions. Meanwhile, certain security threats, such as organized crime, weapons proliferation, violent extremism and cyber-violence can exist anywhere. These threats evolve with and adapt to changes in society, politics, economics and technology, and frequently contribute to conflict and violence in other geographic locations.

Canada is committed to helping achieve the SDGs in Canada and in developing countries. SDG 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 SDGs. 

The international community struggles to prevent and resolve violent conflict and insecurity. Still, international collaboration is necessary to generate effective and lasting solutions given the complexity of the issues.

The Global Peace Index has repeatedly demonstrated that more inclusive—including gender-equal—societies are more able to avert violent conflict and to institute effective measures for conflict management. At the same time, men, women, boys and girls experience violent conflict and insecurity differently. Therefore, using a gender lens is essential to develop inclusive and effective peace and security efforts.

To improve peace and security, and eradicate poverty and gender inequality, the following key issues must be addressed.

Peace - particularly sustainable peace - and security must be pursued deliberately. Economic growth and poverty alleviation are necessary but insufficient to build peace, political inclusion and access to opportunity, particularly among marginalized and vulnerable groups. The sources of violent conflict and insecurity must be addressed directly.

Economic growth and poverty alleviation are necessary but insufficient to build peace, political inclusion and access to opportunity. The sources of violent conflict and insecurity must be addressed directly. 

There needs to be greater investment in peace and security before conflict becomes violent. Political inclusion, security and justice are especially important to managing conflict and building sustainable peace but receive little donor support. Moreover, peace and security investments tend to focus on the short-term after conflict has escalated to violence. Conflict triggers are unpredictable and contexts vary, but common risk factors for violent conflict include group-based exclusion from power, resources and land; abuse by security forces; limited or low-quality basic services; lack of economic opportunities; and limited redress mechanisms for grievances. Often, these factors intensify one another, increasing the overall risk of violence. There is also evidence that climate change is an exacerbating factor. It fuels insecurity in water, food and livelihoods, increases competition for local resources, and can contribute to population displacement. Similarly, poorly managed urban growth can also result in inequitable, exclusionary and fragmented cities and increased risk of violence.

Supporting peace and reducing security threats require both immediate and long-term efforts. Violent conflict and the immediate dangers of security threats must be stopped as soon as possible to limit their impacts. Doing so requires effective state security institutions that meet people’s essential needs and provide a stable and secure environment. Further, growing evidence shows that implementing a long-term strategy for inclusive and gender-equal, sustainable peace, in addition to preventing violence and reducing security threats, is more effective than only responding to violence. This includes addressing gender dimensions of insecurity and advancing gender equality and human rights. Too often though, a long-term strategy is not pursued because of inadequate systems and incentives at the global, regional and national levels.

Peace and security interventions need to better recognize that women and men may have different experiences and roles related to security threats and violent conflicts. Interventions must also recognize that violent conflict and insecurity often affect women disproportionately. Because of economics, ideology and social norms, most members of armed groups are men. They consequently suffer higher mortality rates on the battlefield. In contrast, women often face a continuum of violence before, during and after conflicts. While women and girls disproportionately experience sexual and gender-based violence, it is also perpetrated against men and boys. Notably, displacement caused by violent conflicts and insecurity can amplify safety risks and gender inequalities. Women often take on new or additional roles during violent conflict, which can create both stress and autonomy. Importantly, women and girls are often combatants or provide support services (e.g. as cooks, messengers) in violent conflicts, and make up 10 to 15 percent of extremist groups.

Women’s leadership and participation in addressing violent conflict, insecurity and fragility can facilitate gender-transformative solutions. 

Responses to violent conflicts and security threats often neglect to include women and girls and to consider their experiences. However, women’s leadership and participation in addressing violent conflict, insecurity and fragility can facilitate gender-transformative solutions. Periods of upheaval can catalyze changes to a society’s power structures and dynamics. Sometimes this deepens inequality. However, if harnessed and locally driven, these changes can inspire solutions that promote inclusion of, and greater respect for, the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable people. It can also be an opportunity for all members of society to shape social norms that promote increased tolerance, nonviolent political and civic engagement, and disarmament.

Violent conflicts and security threats often affect children and youth disproportionately, while responses tend to exclude them and their needs. More than half of the 65 million people displaced by violent conflict are under 18. Children can be separated from their families, exploited, and unlawfully recruited or used by armed groups. Low educational achievement and stifled cognitive capabilities result from the trauma of violent conflict, limited access to learning and health services, and persistent food insecurity. New tactics of warfare, the absence of clear battlefields, the deliberate targeting of schools and hospitals, and the increasing multiplicity of actors add to the complexity of safeguarding children.

Progress on peace and security will be hindered unless the multilateral system is able to intervene before tensions escalate to violence; respond more strategically and coherently; and support more durable, inclusive and locally owned solutions. Collective action on peace and security is necessary because the problems often cross borders, sectors and institutional mandates. The international community has recognized the requisites for gender-responsive conflict prevention, peacemaking and peacebuilding in many UN resolutions and international frameworks. Nevertheless, multilateral enforcement of resolutions and frameworks is inadequate, as are the related mechanisms and doctrine. For instance, there are challenges adapting peace operations to changing demands.

Canada’s priorities

Canadian international assistance for peace and security contributes to its broader feminist foreign policy and links to defence, trade and domestic priorities. Canada provides such assistance multilaterally and bilaterally. It also has programs dedicated to peace operations (e.g. civilian and police deployments and the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations) and stabilization, capacity building to counter crime and terrorism, and preventing the spread and use of weapons, particularly weapons and materials of mass destruction. Under this Action Area policy, Canada ensures coherence across the full spectrum of its peace and security activities and ensures that they are gender responsive. It also works to ensure that peace and security are appropriately considered and addressed across other Action Areas. For example, many humanitarian crises stem from violent conflicts and governance is crucial to managing conflict peacefully.

The approach adopted in this Action Area is consistent with and will further advance principles and commitments made in Canada’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2017-2022. Importantly, the Action Plan provides policy guidance on addressing sexual and gender-based violence in situations of violent conflict and insecurity, which is a priority for the Government of Canada. Activities pursued under this Action Area also link to the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations and will be implemented as appropriate through a Government of Canada strategy to address sexual exploitation and abuse in United Nations peace operations.

In all priorities, Canada advocates for improved compliance with existing international law and with emerging norms such as the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers. Indeed, responding to the needs and vulnerabilities of children, recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, should be considered in all priorities.

Canada focuses its efforts on three paths to action:

  1. Supporting inclusive and gender-responsive violent-conflict prevention, crisis response and sustainable peace in fragile and conflict-affected states
  2. Supporting gender-responsive security-threat reduction and security system reform
  3. Improving multilateral management of peace and security challenges 

In all paths to action, Canada directs assistance toward initiatives that can support the empowerment of women and girls, and that have the potential to reduce gender inequalities and exclusion. Canada supports gender-responsive collective action in conflict prevention, peacekeeping, peacebuilding, state-building and threat reduction. Canada takes an inclusive and gender-responsive approach using the principles of conflict sensitivity. This means that all of Canada’s assistance recognizes barriers to rights and equality, particularly for marginalized and vulnerable people, including children and youth; and recognizes that inequalities exist along intersectional lines. It also means Canada responds to context, including gender-specific roles, norms, needs and interests; and manages the risks that interventions may pose to the people Canada aims to support.

Further, Canada encourages innovation by considering new partnerships, perspectives, policies, research, approaches, behavioural insights and technologies to better understand the constraints to peace and security, and to achieve a greater impact than traditional approaches.

1. Supporting inclusive and gender-responsive violent-conflict prevention, crisis response and sustainable peace in fragile and conflict-affected states

Peaceful societies are inclusive and secure, respect human rights, and manage conflict and crisis constructively and peacefully.

Conflict prevention concentrates on lessening the prospects of violence by supporting efforts to resolve tensions, while deterring the emergence or re-emergence of violence, considering gendered power relations as drivers of conflict.

Stabilization centres on de-escalating tensions to create space for conflict resolution. Stabilization engagements are transitional, have political objectives and address urgent situations where the risks of violent conflict are most acute.

Peacebuilding focuses on strengthening of the institutions, actors  and structures that are capable of establishing and sustaining inclusive peace.

Canada’s objective in this path is to respond to violent conflict, to prevent violence, and to promote sustainable peace in fragile and conflict-affected states. Canada  focuses on political inclusion, security, justice and respect for human rights to address group grievances and horizontal inequalities in situations of rising tensions, violent conflict, and transitions to peace and stability.

To support inclusive and gender-responsive crisis response, violent conflict prevention and sustainable peace, Canada:

The Government of Canada will also strengthen its mechanisms for ensuring accountability of its staff and partners for sexual exploitation and abuse in these contexts. Similarly, it is important to strengthen international accountability mechanisms so that they deter further violations of international humanitarian law, and violations and abuses of international human rights law.

Canada could also support survivors of sexual and gender-based violence through access to justice, psychosocial services and other means. Canada recognizes that children under the age of 18 will benefit from dedicated child-sensitive services, including juvenile justice and child protection services.

2. Supporting gender-responsive security threat reduction and security system reform

Canada’s objective in this path is to reduce security threats and support the improvement of security systems in partner countries by taking a gender-responsive approach to address security challenges. This path is not limited to countries experiencing violent conflict, as any country can face security challenges. This includes increased support for initiatives focused on the gender dimensions of country security systems, and support for women’s organizations to contribute to peace and security.

The security system involves core law and security entities, as well as their oversight mechanisms. These may include military and police forces, police commissions, the criminal justice sector, corrections, border-management and intelligence agencies, executive bodies, parliament and financial-management bodies. Traditional structures may be considered part of the security system in cases where they provide security services to the local population.

To support gender-responsive security threat reduction and security system reform, Canada:

Canada could also support much needed quantitative and qualitative studies to document women’s roles in preventing, addressing and perpetrating security threats, including in contexts where extremist ideology and terrorism drive violence.

3. Improving multilateral management of peace and security challenges

Canada’s objective in this path is to strengthen the multilateral system to more effectively prevent, mitigate and respond to violent conflict, security threats, insecurity and fragility. This applies to global, regional and sub-regional organizations tasked with collective action such as the UN and international financial institutions. This includes supporting women’s leadership and participation in policy development and implementation in multilateral institutions, inclusive policy dialogue in international forums, and compliance with relevant international law.

To support improvements to multilateral management of peace and security challenges, Canada:

Selected sources

General sources

The world is connected in its benefits and challenges

UN reform

Need for violent-conflict prevention

Need to address power dynamics for sustainable peace and conflict resolution

Threats and development

Relevant international commitments

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