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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Supporting inclusive and gender-responsive violent-conflict prevention, crisis response and sustainable peace in fragile and conflict-affected states
- Supporting gender-responsive security-threat reduction and security system reform
- 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
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:
- responds to violent conflict by drawing on a range of instruments including diplomacy, advocacy and programming—possible activities include supporting inclusive political dialogue and solutions to resolve violent conflict; basic security for everyone’s benefit; demobilization and reintegration of children associated with armed forces; good governance and power sharing; and transitional justice. More generally, Canada promotes a more comprehensive approach to crises that encompasses the humanitarian, development and peace nexus;
- helps to de-escalate conflicts when risks increase and support activities to resolve conflicts—possible activities include supporting political dialogue and inclusive coalitions to address grievances and gendered conflict dynamics, community mediation, projects addressing radicalization to violence, improved service delivery to marginalized and vulnerable groups including youth, and the safeguarding of human rights;
- invests in gender-sensitive approaches to addressing the structural drivers of both conflict and peace—possible activities include strengthening access of all groups to power, resources, services, security and justice; mine clearance (of anti-personnel mines, cluster munitions, explosive remnants of war and unexploded ordnance), stockpile destruction, advocacy, victims' assistance and mine risk education; supporting legal reform to advance human rights; supporting peace education; and improving the livelihoods of marginalized people. Canada could also encourage the integration of peace and security goals into the development planning efforts of all partners;
- supports local and national capacities for peace, working with diverse local, national, regional and global partners, including civil society, as the context demands; this includes promoting meaningful participation of women and women’s organizations in preventing, managing and resolving violent conflict, such as through mediation and peace processes, as well as ensuring that they have a voice in decision making at all levels of society. Canada could also support similar opportunities for youth and for marginalized and vulnerable groups;
- supports initiatives that address sexual and gender-based violence in situations of violent conflict and complex crises.
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.
To support gender-responsive security threat reduction and security system reform, Canada:
- works to reduce security threats to Canadians and Canadian interests, as well as the global community, through dedicated, gender-responsive international assistance initiatives; these include the Anti-Crime Capacity Building Program, the Counter-Terrorism Capacity Building Program and the Weapons Threat Reduction Program;
- invests in addressing the structural drivers and consequences of insecurity to reduce threats and improve security for all; possible activities include preventing crime and violent extremism, gang intervention, restorative justice, disaster risk reduction, and psychosocial support for victims;
- supports security system reform to enable security institutions to carry out their legitimate functions in a manner consistent with democratic norms and sound governance principles;
- supports initiatives that focus on the gender dimensions of the security system; Canada will support initiatives that integrate gender-equality considerations and will also support the ability of security institutions to prevent and investigate sexual and gender-based violence;
- supports the inclusion and participation of women and marginalized groups in the security system to enhance the ability of these institutions to address and respond to security threats;
- supports initiatives that build the capacity of women’s organizations to contribute to peace and security; this could include work to strengthen dialogue and collaboration between civil society and security forces to support security for all. Canada will aim to ensure that its support does not inadvertently undermine or seem to co-opt local, civil society actors, which know what is required to build peace and security in their communities and countries. This would not only diminish the efficacy of their efforts but also potentially put them in harm’s way.
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:
- advocates for increased leadership and participation of women in multilateral decisions, institutions and interventions on peace and security, including UN peace operations; this advocacy includes support for the gender dimensions of multilateral responses and the promotion of gender mainstreaming in multilateral peace and security organizations;
- works to ensure that gender and human rights analyses inform the design and implementation of multilateral resolutions, frameworks, mandates and doctrines;
- uses its significant convening power to support stronger partnerships to encourage collective action and to expand inclusive policy dialogue; such partnerships need to be encouraged horizontally across sectors and vertically between levels (local, national, regional and global). These partnerships should include the private sector and civil society, especially women’s and youth organizations. Moreover, Canada will advocate for the inclusion of voices from fragile and conflict-affected states in multilateral settings;
- encourages multinational engagements of various actors (security, diplomatic and development) to foster comprehensive solutions based on a long-term view of peace and security challenges; this includes investing in collective approaches within the UN and other forums to monitor, prioritize and manage risks to peace and security, and also includes supporting UN reform;
- advocates for greater compliance with international humanitarian, refugee and human rights law, strengthened international accountability mechanisms for sexual and gender-based violence, and for the elimination of all violations of the rights of children in situations of armed conflict; improved efforts to hold perpetrators to account for violations of international humanitarian human rights law could deter further violations and abuses, and fight a culture of impunity. It could also lead to improved protection of and humanitarian access to women, men, girls and boys in need. This priority includes the prevention of unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflict, as well as their rehabilitation and reintegration;
- advocates for universal accession to relevant non-proliferation, arms control and disarmament conventions, such as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, Convention on Cluster Munitions and Arms Trade Treaty.
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The world is connected in its benefits and challenges
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Need for violent-conflict prevention
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Need to address power dynamics for sustainable peace and conflict resolution
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Threats and development
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Relevant international commitments
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