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Canada: International Development Minister Hopes for Big Impact with New Focus on ‘Women’s Empowerment’
Source: ottawacitizen.com
Source Date: Friday, June 09, 2017
Focus: Citizen Engagement
Country: Canada
Created: Jun 12, 2017

OTTAWA — Canada’s international development minister says a Harper-era “countries of focus” strategy is being scrapped in favour of more “flexibility” and a new focus on women’s empowerment.

In an interview Friday, Marie-Claude Bibeau acknowledged no new money is being allocated for international assistance, despite her requests at cabinet.

“This is another conversation, I would say, that we obviously have around the cabinet table. All the ministers want more money,” she said, adding “of course” she would prefer to have more funding for international development.

A United Nations target would have Canada, like the United Kingdom, spending 0.7 per cent of its gross national income on foreign aid. Canada spends less than half of that, or 0.26 per cent.

The important thing is to ensure the $5-billion fund achieves the “biggest impact” 

A Liberal-majority Commons committee also recommended in a November report that the government should “aspire” to reach the UN target by 2030.

But Bibeau said the important thing is to ensure the $5-billion fund achieves the “biggest impact,” and that’s why the government is changing its approach.

A process of consolidating Canadian assistance from going to about 100 countries down to a smaller group began in 2002 under a Liberal government, when the then-Canadian International Development Agency, which is now amalgamated in Global Affairs Canada, decided to focus on nine countries as “enhanced partners.” In 2005, a list of 25 “partners” was put out.

Under Harper’s Conservative government this strategy was tightened. In 2009, 80 per cent of the budget was allotted to 20 priority “countries of focus” and in 2014, 90 per cent was earmarked for 25 countries: five in the Americas, seven in the Asia-Pacific, 10 in sub-Saharan Africa, plus the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan and Ukraine.

The rationale was aid would be more effective and results would be amplified by putting more money in concentrated areas, but the government was criticized for apparently including countries based on Canadian trade interests, particularly in Latin America and Ukraine.

In a review of the merits of this system, the House foreign affairs committee found in November there was no consensus on whether the “countries of focus” system actually worked, and studying the issue was an “intellectual Rubik’s Cube.”

After a review of foreign assistance that the minister said included broad consultation, it is “no longer the case” that Canada will focus on specific countries. A detailed rationale was not included in the policy released Friday but Bibeau explained “we want to have a more flexible approach.”

She emphasized this does not necessarily mean programs with existing countries of focus would be cancelled. “It doesn’t mean that we will close a bilateral program somewhere to open a new one somewhere else,” she said. Still, some funding will inevitably shift under the new Liberal policy.

Funding will also be earmarked for projects focused on female empowerment

Funding will be refocused on “the poorest and most vulnerable,” in alignment with the new “feminist” policy and with a country’s “local development plan” and “peace process” (should that apply). “It might mean a bit more (funding) somewhere, a bit less somewhere, a bit more focus on a certain area,” Bibeau said.

Although the minister did not address specific countries, she said a full half of funding will go towards sub-Saharan Africa based on its higher density of low-income populations.

Funding will also be earmarked for projects focused on female empowerment. From 2.6 per cent going to such projects in the 2015-16 fiscal year, Bibeau wants to ramp up to 15 per cent by 2020-21.

Over five years, $150 million in funding will go to a “Women’s Voice and Leadership Program” supporting local organizations in at least 30 developing countries.

Bibeau is also aiming for all projects to incorporate some gender-based angles or components by that year. “My target is really 100 per cent,” the minister said. “I’m asking all our partners to have a women’s empowerment component. … And if they don’t have any, the project has to be approved by the minister.”

The bureaucratic process of allocating money is also under review. Some flexibility may be introduced so local women’s organizations are not necessarily asked for “the same prerequisites and the same follow-ups” as a United Nations fund, Bibeau said, though she added, “we obviously always want to be sure that Canadian money is well-utilized.” 

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