Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you, as well, to the committee for undertaking this important and timely study, and for the invitation to appear before you today.
By way of introduction, I'm a volunteer with the Women, Peace and Security Network-Canada. Our network is made up of over 65 Canadian organizations and individuals, and we have two objectives. The first is to promote and monitor the efforts of the Government of Canada to implement and support the United Nations Security Council resolutions on women, peace, and security. The second is to provide a forum for exchange and action among Canadian civil society on this same theme. We operate as volunteers with no office, no budget, and no paid staff. Many of the Canadian organizations appearing before you for this study are members of our network.
Over 15 years ago, when the Security Council passed resolution 1325, there was much optimism. Yet you have heard from others that progress in implementing resolution 1325 and the following-on resolutions has been slow. Today's armed conflicts are complex, with multiple state and non-state actors. With the prevalence of conflict-related sexual violence, we often hear the lament that it is more dangerous to be a woman in today's wars than a soldier. Women generally play minor roles in political decision-making and the security sector. Humanitarian assistance in post-conflict situations often fails to address the different needs and priorities of women and men, boys and girls. Governments are quick to make pronouncements, yet slow to invest resources.
I could go on. I think it is important to return to several key insights and advances that are at the heart of the women, peace, and security agenda. These elements still hold great potential and provide us with a starting point to revise Canada's approach.
First, the Security Council resolutions recognize and highlight the crucial link between the security of women and the security of states. They legitimize attention to the rights, protection, and participation of women and girls, not just in their own right but also as key dimensions of both peace and security.
What is truly path-breaking about the women, peace, and security agenda is its challenge to rethink the way we approach security and armed conflict. Activists have long told us, and now researchers have confirmed, that there is a clear link between the position of women and girls in a society and whether or not it will engage in violent conflict. We have to move from seeing women's rights as something that we'll get to when more important issues are resolved to a crucial factor that is interwoven with conflict prevention and conflict resolution in the first place. Unfortunately this insight appears to have been lacking in Canada's approach to women, peace, and security up to now, as these issues are often treated as a sideline or marginal concerns.
A second and related insight that my colleagues have also touched on is that women's participation is linked to effective peace building and conflict resolution. From Liberia and Uganda to Northern Ireland, Yemen, and Colombia, there are numerous examples of brave women who organize, resist, and work for peace. They do this despite facing great dangers and many threats. It is now clear that investing in these women, in their organizations, and in their movements is an effective conflict reduction strategy.
As my colleague mentioned, a peace agreement is more likely to be reached and to last longer when representatives of women's movements are included. There are also numerous examples of women's groups mobilizing to support a peace deal once it is signed, yet women are often seen as secondary and optional players.
Wazhma Frogh, an Afghan women's rights activist, recently spoke of women from a community bringing a warning of extremist recruiters approaching young men in their home communities. When they brought their story to a government minister, he laughed at them and did not take them seriously. Several weeks later, the same young men launched an attack on a public bus and killed 32 people.
In addition to being marginalized, you have heard from my colleagues that women's grassroots organizations receive little support from the international community to carry out their crucial work. In a survey of civil society organizations conducted last year for The Global Review, respondents noted the lack of resources as a primary barrier affecting the effectiveness of their work.
A third key element in the women, peace, and security agenda is the growing legitimacy granted to civil society organizations in ending armed conflict. The resolutions have paved the way for the broader inclusion of civil society organizations, in general, in peace processes.
It is not just those with the guns who are entitled to be at the table. We have to make sure that those with a stake in building peace, those who represent all facets of the population, are present. As many women's rights defenders are saying, “Nothing about us without us”.
There are many issues that I could explore, but given the mandate of our network, I will focus my recommendations on Canada's national action plan, or C-NAP.
Our first recommendation is that Canada's updated national action plan should be a key policy directive. If Canada is to be a leader on women, peace, and security issues, then the profile of our national action plan must change. As was cited earlier, the mid-term review of C-NAP found that it was perceived as not significantly influencing Canada's overall policy direction with respect to conflict-affected and fragile states. In other words, we need to move our national action plan from the margins of our approach to armed conflict and have it play a more central and influential role. The potential of the women, peace, and security agenda cannot be realized if C-NAP remains marginal, relatively unknown, and invisible in broader discussions and diplomatic initiatives.
Our second recommendation is to ensure that Canada's national action plan covers the full range of women, peace, and security issues and involves all relevant government departments. There are frequent references to the four pillars of the women, peace, and security agenda. These are, one, conflict prevention; two, women's participation; three, protection or attention to conflict-related sexual violence; and four, the importance of women's rights in relief and recovery. It is vital that C-NAP address all four of these issues in an interrelated fashion. This would correct an earlier imbalance in our approach, which tended to downplay the importance of conflict prevention and women's participation.
You have heard numerous recommendations regarding the breadth of issues that C-NAP could and should address, and we encourage you to recommend a comprehensive approach, recognizing the interrelationship of these issues. To address these themes effectively, C-NAP requires the participation of the full range of relevant government departments. Global Affairs Canada, the RCMP, and DND participated in the first C-NAP. We recommend that this be expanded to include Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, Public Safety Canada, and the Status of Women Canada.
We look forward to the testimony of the RCMP and DND for this study. Both of these departments report successes. However, it would also be interesting to know how the RCMP is responding to concerns regarding the treatment of women within the force and recent reports of sexual misconduct by officers in Haiti.
Regarding DND, it is important to have a public briefing on the recent chief of the defence staff directive on integrating Security Council resolution 1325 and relevant resolutions into Canadian Armed Forces planning and operations, as well as to hear progress on addressing the concerns raised in the Deschamps report on sexual abuse and harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Our third recommendation, and this should be no surprise, is to dedicate sufficient resources. A commitment without resources is not a commitment. The first C-NAP had no allocated budget, and it was difficult to calculate the level of spending on women, peace, and security initiatives with the information in the progress reports. We urge the adoption of a specific target for women, peace, and security investments. Canada could follow the lead of the United Nations and set a target of 15% of development assistance in fragile contexts and peace and security funds to have gender equality or women's empowerment as their primary objective. This type of target would also require improved attention to gender equality markers to track and report on these investments.
We strongly support the case made by other speakers to substantially increase Canadian funding going to women's rights organizations. These organizations need substantial and predictable core funding in order for them to carry out their vital work.
Our fourth and final recommendation is to ensure that the national action plan includes robust accountability mechanisms. Even the best policy requires accountability checks to ensure that it is fully implemented. Members of our network have expressed concerns regarding the usefulness of C-NAP progress reports. These have been consistently late. For example, the 2014-15 progress report has yet to be released, so we're a year into another fiscal year without this report.
Reporting tends to focus on listing activities rather than understanding impacts, and the reports lack clear data on investments and investment trends. For example, it is impossible to tell if the government is investing more resources now than before the C-NAP was established. Therefore, the next C-NAP should include a results-based framework and relevant indicators. There should be regular, timely, and public reporting that includes full financial information.
On the positive side, since January of last year our network and Global Affairs Canada—START within Global Affairs—have hosted three joint meetings. This has fostered communication and facilitated a constructive exchange of views. We urge the continuation of these consultations. As well, the new C-NAP should be based on extensive consultations both within Canada and with women in conflict-affected countries.
In conclusion, the moment is right for Canadian leadership on women, peace, and security. We know what needs to be done. This is an investment, not just in strengthening women's rights but in improved peace and greater security. The original promise of the women, peace, and security resolutions is an appropriate place to start.
I'd like to leave you with the words of Dr. Alaa Murabit, a Canadian physician who is a women's rights activist in Libya.
Last October, Dr. Murabit addressed the UN Security Council during the open debate on women, peace, and security. She stated:
When the Security Council finds it unthinkable to address a crisis without addressing women’s rights; where humanitarian responders have full funding for their gender-specific services; when women grassroots leaders find their work fully funded and politically supported; when it is unimaginable that peace talks be held without women’s full engagement; only then will the full potential of 1325 be realized.