Bibeau to fight for more ‘feminist’ aid money

OTTAWA — International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she will continue to fight hard around the cabinet table for increased foreign aid funding and that her new feminist focused strategy is a necessary step towards that.

“This is obvious — that we all want more money,” Bibeau said in an interview Friday. “Let’s celebrate this new policy and the next step is working on financing.”

Bibeau unveiled the Liberal government’s new feminist development policy, but it made no new spending commitments for foreign aid, despite numerous calls by international agencies to do so.

The new plan does reallocate $150 million of the existing aid budget to women’s organizations in 30 countries over the next five years.

The announcement caps a week of insight into Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s international strategy, including policy updates from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan.

Sajjan’s announcement in particular committed the government to a $62-billion increase in defence spending over the next 20 years.

Bibeau said all cabinet ministers fight for more money, but at the same time no one should “underestimate the value of Canadian leadership right now” in international development circles.

While governments need to spend more, more emphasis needs to be placed on finding new partners on the private sector to fund aid projects, Bibeau said.

She highlighted a new development financing institution, along with a $300-million start-up budget, as the best way to bring more private-sector money into foreign aid.

Aid agencies have been critical of such an approach, because they say companies are beholden to their shareholders, not driven to alleviate poverty in fragile states where it can be difficult to show progress.

New Democrat MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau dismissed Friday’s announcement as “window dressing.”

“They’re just using this as branding and it’s just trying to look good because there’s no new money behind this,” she said.

Meanwhile, the discrepancy between the government’s approach to the Canadian military and international was criticized by some organizations.

“The juxtaposition of a recommended 70 per cent increase to the defence budget with a recommended zero per cent increase to the development budget is simply stunning,” said Stuart Hickox, the Canadian head of the anti-poverty group One.

Cicely McWilliam, the policy director for Save the Children Canada, said the Canadian peace and security policy put forth this week by Freeland and Sajjan “should be predicated first on addressing the root causes of conflict — poverty, resource scarcity, lack of inclusion — not just on response to conflict when it erupts.

“That there has been no increase in the international assistance envelope or even a plan for an increase is concerning.”

Julia Sanchez, president of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation, said the government needs to boost aid spending “if Canada wants to be taken seriously” on the global stage.

During the government’s consultations, agencies urged Ottawa to lay out a plan to boost aid spending towards eventually reaching the United Nations target of 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

Canada’s annual $5.3-billion budget amounts to about 0.3 per cent.

The review launched a new, five-year $150 million initiative called the Woman’s Voice and Leadership Program, which is designed to advance the rights of women in developing countries.

Others questioned the new focus on gender, saying they fear hard-won gains in helping all children risk falling by the wayside.

“While disappointing that children are not explicitly front and centre, looking forward we hope to see Canada continue to protect and realize the rights of children through the policy’s six areas of action,” said David Morley, the head of UNICEF Canada.

Bibeau said in the interview that the focus on women and girls won’t mean decreased attention towards boys.

“Education, health, nutrition are very important are still the pillars of development,” Bibeau said.

“Obviously we will be vaccinating all kids, but the way we do it, we can have more women empowered in their communities.”

Despite the lack of new money, aid agencies applauded the government’s focus on women and girls, saying that targeting them directly is a time-honoured approach to help alleviate poverty.

“Defeating global poverty means defeating gender inequality and social injustice,” said Jacquelyn Wright of CARE Canada.

“That’s why we’re encouraged Canada is focused on ensuring women’s voices are heard loud and clear in its international assistance.”

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version did not make clear that Hickox is the Canadian head of the anti-poverty group One.

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