Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy


Executive Summary

This introductory article provides an overview of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), and its potentials and limitations as Canada formalizes and expands its feminist foreign policy. The FIAP was launched by the Canadian government in 2017 as a commitment to gender empowerment and development. This article summarizes FIAP’s fundamental features and goals, and the government’s progress so far in its implementation. While the FIAP has been lauded by many as an innovative and progressive step towards gender empowerment, this article will also present snapshots of shortcomings of the FIAP’s that have been identified by various critics. These shortcomings mainly concern the policy’s choice of language, its conceptual approach to feminism, and the government’s capacity to implement the policy and achieve its targets.


Across both domestic and international political spheres, the term feminist has gained more momentum as states have started to use the term to describe their approach to foreign policy and international development. Feminist foreign policy (FFP) is increasingly garnering more traction in foreign policy discourse, and as of 2019 feminist foreign policies have been adopted by Sweden, Canada, France and Mexico (and to some extent by Luxembourg, the United Kingdom, Norway, and Australia).[1] However, as states understand feminism and feminist agendas in different ways there is no consistent description of a feminist foreign policy. Instead, each nation’s policy reflects the feminist values particular to its respective state. In 2017, Canada committed to aligning its foreign policy with feminist principles and values, which started with the launch of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP).[2] The FIAP’s central mandate is women’s and girls’ empowerment with the ultimate aim to eradicate poverty and build a more peaceful, inclusive, and prosperous world.[3] Since its launch, the FIAP has prompted academics and policy experts to analyze its potentials and limitations as a transformative feminist policy, and the implications it may have on Canada’s global position as a leader in gender empowerment and development.

This article will provide an overview of the main features of the FIAP in its current form, the progress made so far, and what challenges still lie ahead for Canada in implementing a broad feminist foreign policy.

Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP)

Historically, Canada has demonstrated an international commitment to gender empowerment and gender equality. In 1976, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)[4] made its first official commitment to support gender equality through the women in development (WID) approach that focused on providing “guidance in the promotion of women’s participation in the design and implementation of development projects.[5] Since then, Canada has taken steps to support and empower women and overcome gender discrimination. In 1981,  Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (UNCEDAW), and in 1986 CIDA launched the five-year WID Plan of Action to promote women’s full participation as both agents and beneficiaries of development.[6] Similarly, in 1995 CIDA drafted the Policy on Women in Development and Gender Equity, which popularized the “gender mainstreaming” approach, which aimed to achieve fairer outcomes through accounting for the social and economic differences between men and women in all proposed government policies.[7] Another pivotal commitment to gender equality was made in 1999 with the Policy on Gender Equality, which provided guidance on using gender equality as a “cross-cutting theme” across all CIDA policies and projects.[8]

So, the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP) follows a line of numerous commitments and policies to women’s empowerment and equality. The FIAP was launched in 2017 under the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, to empower women and girls and to make gender equality a priority for the benefit of all people.[9]

The FIAP was released after extensive consultations and policy reviews with Canadian and international partners and stakeholders from  65 countries.[10]  The FIAP was designed to guide Canada in the international implementation of the 2030 Agenda of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are a collection of 17 interlinked global goals designed to be a “shared blueprint” for a more peaceful and sustainable future for all.[11]Using SDG number five,  Achieving Gender Equality and Empowering all Women and Girls, as a starting point, the FIAP will help Canada to achieve all the SDGs by focusing on providing aid efforts in the following six action areas:[12]

  • gender equality and empowerment of women and girls;
  • human dignity (health and nutrition, education, and gender-responsive humanitarian action);
  • growth that works for everyone;
  • environment and climate action;
  • inclusive governance; and
  • peace and security.[13]

The FIAP acknowledges that the way to eradicate poverty and inequality is by empowering women and girls to become powerful agents of change and progress for their families and communities. The FIAP positions gender empowerment at the center of poverty reduction and peacebuilding efforts to challenge gender-based discrimination and intersectional[14] inequalities (social categorizations such as race, gender, and class that create additional overlapping systems of discrimination or disadvantage). To transform existing discriminatory norms and patriarchal power relations, the FIAP commits to providing international assistance that is human rights-based and inclusive, strategic and focused, transformative and activist, and evidence-based and accountable.[15]

Additionally, the FIAP committed Canada to maintain funding for the existing maternal, newborn, and child health programs, including an investment of $650 million over three years on sexual and reproductive health and rights.[16] Similarly, the FIAP announced a fund of $150 million to be disbursed over five years to support grassroots women’s rights organizations, and $100 million over five years for small and medium-sized Canadian civil society organizations to develop innovative programming in partnership with local organizations.[17]With all of these ambitious commitments, Canada’s FIAP seeks to make meaningful impacts in the lives of women and girls to break the cycle of poverty and build a more peaceful world.

Discussions about the FIAP

Many scholars welcomed the FIAP because it focused on intersectionality, inclusivity, and power, making it a progressive feminist document that represents a positive shift towards “an ambitious and transformative” change.[18]Canada’s non-governmental organization (NGO) community welcomed the FIAP because it brought attention to previously neglected policy areas, such as, women’s sexual and reproductive rights and LGBTQ2IA+ rights.[19]Moreover, scholars, like Professor Rebecca Tiessen at the University of Toronto, appreciate that the FIAP provides an opportunity for consultative processes with partner countries to address their concerns and give them the space to realize a truly feminist and intersectional approach to aid and development.[20] More importantly, it opens up a space for dialogue around gender empowerment and feminism in aid policy with global partners who may not otherwise engage in this area.

On the other hand, there are gaps in the FIAP that have raised several concerns and debates amongst academics and policy experts. Critics have highlighted shortcomings within the language of the policy. For instance, by failing to define what the policy means by “feminist,” the FIAP ignores the diversity of the various feminisms (liberal, intersectional, radical, post-colonial, Marxist, post-modern, etcetera).[21]Also, critics like Jessica Cadesky, a board member of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development, say that the FIAP lumps “women and girls” into one homogenous group of vulnerable people, and perpetuates the narrative of women and girls as powerless victims without agency and the international donor(s) as their saviour.[22] Additionally, by using the terms “women and girls,” the FIAP fails to properly account for intersectionality, especially in relation to LGBTQ2IA+ communities.[23] While equality for women and girls is vital, a feminist policy should encompass all women and all groups of identities.

Academics, such as Emma Swan, the Director at International Women’s Rights Project, and Sheila Rao, the lead  researcher with Cooperation Canada and University of Ottawa, remark that presently, the FIAP appears to be more instrumentalist [24] (increasing individual female participation in politics and economics) in its approach to feminism as it primarily focuses on creating economic opportunities for women and girls and it is unclear what mechanisms are in place to realize its transformative potential (understanding the power relations that perpetuate gender inequalities and overcome underlying inequalities for all marginalized groups).[25] Swan and Rao argue that instrumentalizing women’s rights and gender equality to achieve other aims (such as eradicating poverty) risks recreating the very structural issues that cause gender inequalities.[26] While increased economic and political participation by women is crucial, Tiessen argues that women cannot be merely instrumentalized for broader policy goals, rather, they must be also the end goal, so women also reap the benefits of the planned outcomes. [27]

Furthermore, critics have raised concerns regarding the government’s capacity to translate the policy into practice without losing its spirit. Currently, it is unclear how Canada would act should conflict with its global partners and recipients arise because of differing value systems and priorities concerning gender issues. [28]Similarly, Canada’s arms trade relations with countries that have historically poor human rights records may send mixed signals regarding Canada’s commitment to gender empowerment, and undermine the FIAP’s goals.[29]

Steps Taken So Far

Since its launch in 2017, Canada has taken significant initiatives through the FIAP, such as, establishing the Women’s Voice and Leadership Initiative, a program that supports local and regional women’s organizations and movements seeking to empower women and girls and protect their human rights in developing countries.[30] In February 2018, this program received further investment with $8.3 million allocated to support its work done in Haiti.

In February 2018, Canada announced that it would spend $1.5 billion on two new financing tools: the International Assistance Innovation Program (IAIP) and a Sovereign Loan Program (SLP). [31]These programs will employ private-sector methods, such as conditionally repayable contributions, equity investment, and guarantees, to bring new funding to developing countries. In May 2018, the International Development and La Francophonie department committed to investing $300 million in a new partnership between the Government of Canada, the philanthropic community, private sector organizations, and civil society, using blended financing to fund gender equality programs that will close gender gaps and eliminate barriers to equality” as a way to eradicate poverty and provide aid to women’s rights organizations.[32]

In September 2020, it was announced that $400 million would be invested in international development to help developing countries fight against the COVID-19 crises and aid in their recovery. This investment will also be used to ensure that women and girls who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 benefit from this fund. [33]Similarly, in October 2020, Canada committed to additional funds of $2.5 million to the “Rapariga Biz” initiative in Mozambique, which aims to prevent child marriage and teenage pregnancy, as COVID-19 has adversely impacted the women and girls’ sexual and reproductive health and rights in Mozambique. [34]

While these are examples of the various steps taken to implement the goals of the FIAP, it has been reported that out of the $1.5 million promised in 2018, only $120,000 has been spent due to inadequate preparations, poor strategies, and significant delays in decision making (delays began even before the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020).[35]  Similarly, the IAIP was allocated $900 million, but the program was not formally launched until July 2019 and very little money has been spent since the launch, and the SLP has not disbursed any funds so far. [36] Hence, there is still a long journey ahead for Canada in its efforts to implement the FIAP and achieve its targets.

Furthermore, in February 2020, as part of the Canadian government’s work to develop a more expansive and policy-coherent approach to its feminist foreign policy, the Minister of Foreign Affairs announced that in consultation with members of civil society, the Department would be publishing a White Paper focused on Canada’s feminist foreign policy. However, the outbreak of COVID-19 a month later caused the government to divert its resources and attention to the pandemic. Since the initial announcement, there has been no further statement regarding the status of the White Paper. [37]


Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy offers a pathway for Canada to support its mission to advance gender equality and justice. As discussed, the FIAP has immense transformative potential, however, several gaps could restrict the policy’s impact. Moving forward, a transformative feminist approach will require going beyond economic and political gender empowerment to dismantle the social and cultural barriers to empowerment faced by women, girls, and all marginalized groups and identities to build a safer, fairer, and more prosperous future. If the gaps identified with the FIAP to date are left unaddressed, they may become major hurdles in the future implementation of the policy and monitoring and evaluating its progress.


[1]Jessica Cadesky, “Built on Shaky Ground: Reflections on Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,” International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis 75, no. 3 (2020): 299, accessed December 30, 2020,; 

[2]Rebecca Tiessen, Heather Smith, and Liam Swiss, “Canada’s Evolving Feminist Foreign Policy: Lessons Learned from 2017 to 2020,” International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis 75, no. 3 (2020): 295, accessed December 30, 2020,

[3] Global Affairs Canada, “Canada Launches New Feminist International Assistance Policy,” News release, (June 9, 2017,

[4] Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (Ottawa: Global Affairs Canada, 2017), 2013 the CIDA was merged into the Department of Foreign Affairs which was renamed the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development and subsequently renamed Global Affairs Canada. See “Federal Budget Folds CIDA into Foreign Affairs,” CBC News, last modified March 22, 2013, .; See “Trudeau Government Renames Key Departments,” CTV News, last modified November 6, 2015, .

[5] Rebecca Tiessen, “Gender Equality and the Two CIDAs,” in Rethinking Canadian Aid, eds. Stephen Brown, Molly den Heyer, and David R. Black (Ottawa, Ontario: University of Ottawa Press, 2016),  197.

[6] Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, New York, 18 December 1979, United Nations Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13, available from;Canadian International Development Agency, CIDA’s Policy on Gender Equality, (Ottawa: Canadian International Development Agency, 1999),

[7] Global Affairs Canada, “Mainstreaming of a Gender Perspective,” Global Affairs Canada, last modified June 7, 2017,

[8] Tiessen, “Gender Equality and the Two CIDAs,” 6.

[9] Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, 3.

[10] Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, 3.

[11] See Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “The 17 Goals,” United Nations, accessed January 2, 2021,

[12]Global Affairs Canada, “Report to Parliament on the Government of Canada’s International Assistance 2018-2019,” Government of Canada, Global Affairs Canada, last modified August 20, 2020,

[13] Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, 3.

[14] Intersectionality refers to how social categorizations such as race, gender, class etc. intersect and overlap with each other creating overlapping systems of discrimination or disadvantage for individuals or groups with such categories. See Kimberle Crenshaw, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989, no. 1 (1989): pp. 139-167, .

[15] Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, 3.

[16] Rebecca Tiessen, “What’s New About Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: The Problem and Possibilities of ‘More of the Same,” Canadian Global Affairs Institute, The School of Public Policy Publications University of Calgary 12, No. 44 (2019): 3,

[17] Global Affairs Canada, Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, 3.

[18] Cooperation Canada, “Canada’s International Assistance Policy Is a Bold New Vision for Advancing Gender Equality,” News release (June 28, 2018).; Stephen Brown and Liam Swiss, “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: Game-Changer or Fig Leaf?,” in How Ottawa Spends, 2017-2018: Canada @150 (Ottawa, Ontario: Carleton University School of Public Policy and Administration, 2018), 129,

[19] Marianne Davidson, “Canada’s Global Feminist Leadership Matters,” CARE Canada, last modified February 22, 2019,;Erin Aylward and Stephen Brown, “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Canada’s ‘Feminist’ International Assistance,” International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis 75, no. 3 (2020): pp. 316-317,

[20] Sheila Rao and Rebecca Tiessen, “Whose Feminism(s)? Overseas Partner Organizations’ Perceptions of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,” International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis 75, no. 3 (2020): 358,

[21] Emma Swan, “‘The Personal Is Political!’: Exploring the Limits of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy under Occupation and Blockade,” Canadian Foreign Policy Journal, (August 2020),

[22] Tiessen, “What’s New,” 18.; Cadesky, “Built on Shaky Ground,” 1.

[23]Sam E. Morton, Judyannet Muchiri, and Liam Swiss, “Which Feminism(s)? For Whom? Intersectionality in Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy,” International Journal: Canada’s Journal of Global Policy Analysis 75, no. 3 (2020): 336,

[24] Rao & Tiessen, “Whose Feminism(s)?,” 22.; Tiessen, “What’s New,” 18.

[25] Rao & Tiessen, “Whose Feminism(s)?,” 22

[26] Morton et al., “Which Feminism(s)?,” 25.

[27] Tiessen, “What’s New,” 18.

[28] Morton et al., “Which Feminism(s)?,” 25.

[29] Cadesky, “Built on Shaky Ground”, 1.

[30]Global Affairs Canada, “Women’s Voice and Leadership Program,” Global Affairs Canada, last modified November 4, 2020,

[31] Geoffrey York, “Ottawa’s $1.5-Billion Foreign Aid Initiative Has Spent Only $120,000 So Far,” The Globe and Mail, last modified October 14, 2020,

[32] Tiessen, “What’s New,” 18.;Global Affairs Canada, “Canada Announces New Partnership to Fund Gender Equality and Empower Women and Girls in Developing Countries,” News release (May 25, 2018),

[33] “Trudeau Government Investing $300-Million in Women’s Equality in Canada and Developing Countries,” The Globe and Mail, last modified June 2, 2019,

[34] “The Government of Canada commits additional funding to ‘Rapariga Biz’ initiative as COVID-19 impacts the sexual and reproductive health and rights of vlnerable girls and young women in Mozambique,” Relief Web, News release (October 15, 2020),

[35] Tiessen, “What’s New,” 18. ;York, “Ottawa’s $1.5-Billion Foreign Aid Initiative”, 34.

[36] York, “Ottawa’s $1.5-Billion Foreign Aid Initiative”, 34.

[37] Carleton University, “Canada’s Feminist Foreign Policy: Past, Present, Future,” Faculty of Public Affairs, last modified October 8, 2020,