Canadian government must support women’s rights organizations in these troubled times

More than words is needed to address gender-based violence around the world.

In the wake of the U.S. election, when hope seems very dim for those committed to women’s rights and gender justice, we can be inspired by women’s rights organizations worldwide that continue to secure justice and build peace despite huge obstacles.

The government of Canada has noticed that these organizations can be key drivers in building sustainable peace movements in the Global South. But the welcome feminist words need to be backed
up with appropriate funding and public support.

In its report, An Opportunity for Global Leadership: Canada and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development recommended that Canada make women, peace and security a priority of its foreign policy.

While it is good news that the committee recognizes the critical role that grassroots women’s rights groups play in peace building, its recommendations need a budget.

The government must commit to multi-year development assistance that supports the core operations of grassroots civil society organizations working to implement the women, peace and security agenda in conflict-affected and fragile states. The committee recommended that at least 15 per cent of Canada’s international assistance for peace and security programming should be directed to grassroots women’s rights organizations. Sounds good, only change should to must.

The case for supporting women peace builders at the grassroots level is compelling. At KAIROS we have seen first-hand how women’s organizations use human rights and advocacy training to empower victims of conflict to carry out the critical groundwork necessary for long-term peace building. These organizations are effective because they respond to the local context and accompany survivors in the midst of ongoing and changing conflict.

The Organización Femenina Popular (OFP), a 44-year-old Colombian grassroots women’s rights organization, is one such group. It organizes and advocates for peace at the regional and national level. It is one of the civil society groups that lobbied for the peace accord between the government and the FARC guerrilla group that was narrowly rejected by Colombians in the October 2 plebiscite. Hope for healing and lasting peace was restored when a revised peace agreement was announced, and the OFP will continue working to rebuild communities ripped apart by the 52-year-old domestic conflict that has uprooted more than seven million people.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), soldiers on all sides of the country’s brutal civil conflict use sexual violence as a weapon. To counter the impact of these crimes, Héritiers de la Justice, a defender of women’s rights, runs a clinic that provides legal accompaniment and counselling to victims of sexual violence, and enables women to defend their rights and engage in peace building.

Local women’s committees supported by Héritiers de la Justice have taken root in towns and villages to help women support each other and break their silence around sexual violence.
Both the OFP in Colombia and Héritiers de la Justice in DRC provide legal support to women victims of violence, as well as psycho-social counselling, human rights training, and youth programs. They empower female victims of war and gender-based violence to become human rights defenders and advocates.

In a time that seems almost hopeless for women’s rights, women human rights defenders are shining a light and offering a way forward towards just peace in conflict countries around the globe. And while the government of Canada recognizes how grassroots women’s organizations contribute to gaining and sustaining peace, it must match its words with dollars in order to become be the kind of powerful ally that these women need.

Originally published in Hill Times on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016

Rachel Warden is the Women of Courage and Latin America Partnership coordinator for KAIROS Canada.

Filed in: Gender Justice/Women of Courage, Op Eds


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