Ms. Jess Tomlin:
Honorary members of the standing committee, I would like to thank you first for the depth and attention that you are giving to this issue. My name is Jess, as I've mentioned, and I’m the executive director of the MATCH International Women's Fund.
This review is timely. Just last week, UNICEF reported on the 98 young women in the Central African Republic who were sexually tortured by UN peacekeepers. Just last month, globally recognized human rights, indigenous, and environmental activist, Berta Cáceres, was gunned down in her own home in Honduras. Berta had four children.
The stakes are high for women in conflict. I am here today to share stories from our partners around the world in the hopes that their experiences will be considered as you review Canada's foreign policy as it relates to peace and security.
This is an area where my colleagues and I hope to see the Canadian government take immediate action. I know those sitting with me today agree that the world welcomes Canadian leadership in this area, an area that is so fundamentally tied to the universality of human rights.
The MATCH fund has supported women's movements globally for 40 years. Our funding comes entirely from individual Canadian donors. We channel these resources directly into women’s organizations that are led by women for women and girls in more than 25 countries. We believe that brave women working at the grassroots are the most catalytic in bringing about change for women and girls.
I would like to share with you this afternoon two short examples from our partners in Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo to help illustrate the realities for the women working at the grassroots to bring about peace.
Nubia Sanchez is the director of our Colombian organization, working with women affected by sexual violence, displacement, and forced disappearance after decades of armed conflict. Over the past year, the organization has directly supported more than 200 women with legal assistance and psychological support. As you can imagine, her organization's work to uncover the truth and demand justice is seen as a threat to conflict parties.
At 9 a.m. last Thursday, Nubia received an anonymous phone call. I can share with you an excerpt from Nubia's message to us that we received from her last week. A man, who did not identify himself, called her and said, “You are Nubia, right? Well, it doesn't really matter. If you aren't, I am leaving this message anyway. Stop agitating about the conflict victims here in Tumaco or there will be trouble. I know your son. It would be really sad if something bad happened to the kid. I don't want to see you around anymore”.
Before Nubia could say anything, the man hung up. This is just one of a series of well-documented threats. No progress has been made in the way of investigation. Colombia's national protection unit has not provided any additional minimal security measures, like surveillance cameras or reinforcement for their doors.
By contrast, Julienne Lusenge engages local women's groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She works with them in conflict prevention, peace building, and supports more than 1.7 million women who were raped by armed combatants. Sexual violence in conflict in the DRC has received international attention with the 2014 U.K. summit, which was attended by many governments, including Canada.
In addition, just a few months ago, Julienne was asked to testify at the UN Security Council. Yet Julienne and women leaders like her still haven't received stable funding for their necessary efforts. Julienne's work is tiring enough. She tells me that she dedicates most of her time raising $5,000 here and $5,000 there when hundreds of women come to her every week to talk about or receive services for the rape they have experienced.
These women highlight the issues I bring before you today: first, the overall funding picture for grassroots women's rights organizations; second, government accountability for involving and funding women in peace processes; and third, the importance of the role of and protection for the women human rights defenders who are most at risk.
Allow me to expand on these three critical issues. Let me first address the issue of funding for local women's organizations. Local women's organizations, just like here in Canada, know their context best and can creatively rethink approaches to disrupting power dynamics and demanding state accountability.
They often do this with volunteers and on shoestring budgets. The average annual income of a grassroots women's organization working in the global south is $20,000 U.S. a year. In sub-Saharan Africa, that figure drops to $12,000. Of these organizations, 48% never receive core funding for day-to-day necessities such as staffing, lights, the Internet, and security. Also, every month, one in five close their doors due to financial shortfalls. This is in spite of significant donor prioritization in the last decade for women and girls, whether for maternal and child health or economic empowerment initiatives.
Here is the challenge. Women working at the grassroots have not seen the financial impact of these high-level commitments because, in reality, women's organizations are often not eligible to apply for calls for proposals due to their smaller budget size and the funders' requirements for sophisticated operational and monitoring systems that don't align with the realities on the ground.
In addition, women's organizations often work across a range of intersectional issues. While the emphasis may be on supporting survivors of rape, many organizations often will be delivering integrated health programming, reproductive rights programming, and supporting leaders in how to engage in the peace process. This recent trend in project-based funding and a requirement for narrow deliverables have left these organizations often ineligible because of either their size or their broad community-based approach.
Herein lies the opportunity. Canada can be a leader in extending high-level commitments to women and girls beyond multilateral agencies and international organizations. According to Canada's most recent report to the OECD, the Canadian government allocated $5.19 million to women's organizations and institutions in 2013-14. If Canada were to expand development and humanitarian assistance to local organizations led by and for women working on the ground, this would significantly impact the essential work happening at the grassroots. This could be a national funding instrument that is accessible to women's rights organizations, as well as an earmarked funding mechanism within this for women's organizations that are working on peace and security issues.
I'd like to speak specifically about the importance of involving women in the peace process. Data on the women, peace, and security sector confirms that financial resources have fallen significantly short of government commitments. According to the OECD's DAC, only 2% of aid to the peace and security sector targeted gender equality as a principal objective. This is due to a lack of prioritization and, again, to the absence of aid tailored to reach grassroots groups.
Where is the opportunity here? Canada can build in regular, substantive consultations with civil society—like you are doing right now and I applaud you for that—within the country and internationally, that taps into civil society networks of women at the local level. This parliamentary hearing can be an annual event. Imagine the impact of concrete, regular consultations led by Canadian policy-makers with women in the field, with women peace builders, and with women's rights activists. I daresay that might qualify as feminist foreign policy.
Finally, I want to touch on the role of women human rights defenders and our obligation to protect them. Women, peace, and human rights activists often find themselves caught in the crossfire between armed groups and the state. These are ordinary people who work at great personal risk to defend the rights of their communities. Nubia Sanchez and Berta Cáceres are just two examples of women human rights defenders who work at the front lines and who face violent threats against themselves and their loved ones. They are often accused of treason. They and their families are threatened. It is a sad reality that they often pay with their lives. In 2015, 156 human rights defenders were killed or died in detention.
I implore the committee to see your efforts as essential to realizing human rights in practice and as a key contribution to the broader agenda of women, peace, and security that we are discussing today. That is the opportunity here. Women human rights defenders themselves tell us that it is not only about keeping them safe, but ultimately about sustaining the organizations and movements they are involved in so they can change the situations that put them at risk.
Canada has the opportunity to show leadership in the company of only a few other progressive nations, such as the Netherlands and Norway, and to demonstrate commitment to making the protection of human rights defenders a foreign policy priority.
This testimony would not be complete without stressing UNSC resolution 2122, which speaks to the importance of providing the full range of services to women affected by armed conflict, including life-saving measures for women when pregnancies result from rape.
As you can see, there are many opportunities, and I thank you for the opportunity to share some of those with you today.
There is no reason that Canada cannot be a foreign policy leader that funds women at the grassroots, that insists on the participation of local women at the peacemaking table, and that protects women human rights defenders in their important work.
Ms. Diana Sarosi:
Thank you so much, first of all, for the opportunity to address you today.
This is indeed a welcome and timely study and we are very honoured to contribute to its findings and recommendations. The Nobel Women's Initiative is led by six courageous women Nobel Peace Prize laureates. Together they use the prestige of the prize to support women activists and movements across the world. The Nobel Women's Initiative has been supporting women peace builders around the world for a decade. We have supported survivors of sexual violence in Colombia to ensure their needs are included in the peace process. We have supported women in the DRC to provide services to survivors and rebuild their communities. We have supported women in Burma to do community training on the importance of women's participation in the peace process from which they have been barred till this day.
We are now supporting Syrian women who are struggling to participate meaningfully in the Geneva peace talks. Many of these women would make excellent witnesses to this study and we would be happy to facilitate their participation here.
This foreign affairs committee study on the women, peace, and security agenda is timely as we have just marked the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 last October. The UN “Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325”, which included consultations with thousands of women peacemakers, found that there's a crippling gap between governments' commitments and actual political will and financial support.
Key findings of the study include the comprehensive normative framework that has been developed, especially on sexual violence in conflict. Less has been achieved on women's participation. Progress continues to be measured in firsts rather than in standard practice. There's a worrying lack of funding. Only 54 member states have national action plans for the implementation of 1325, and the rise of violent extremism has led to increased threats to women.
Clearly, business as usual is not what's going to solve today's complex emergencies and conflicts in places such as Syria and Yemen. We need new ways of thinking and doing, and the “Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325” does exactly that. It provides us with a road map of what the new ways of operating should entail. What is so revolutionary about the women, peace, and security agenda is its recognition that women's security is integral to the security of states and vice-versa. Evidence shows that societies with greater gender equality are more peaceful societies. This means investing in gender equality and women's empowerment is the means to peace.
It is mind-boggling that the international community has made so little progress in the last 15 years when it comes to women's participation. The women, peace, and security agenda recognizes women's participation as crucial to building sustainable peace. Evidence compiled in the global study shows that the participation of women at all levels is key to operational effectiveness, success, and sustainability of peace processes and peace-building efforts. Further, studies show that in cases of women's participation and strong influence, a peace agreement has always been reached. Women's participation also correlates with a greater likelihood of agreements being implemented, yet with each new process under way, women literally have to knock down doors to get inside.
Based on progress reports of the Canadian national action plan, much of the Government of Canada's efforts in terms of women's participation has focused on first, increasing women's inclusion in military and policing operations; second, increasing female officials at its missions abroad; and third, supporting the UN in developing a roster of qualified women to be staffed in senior positions.
Little effort has been made in terms of women's participation in peace processes. In terms of conflict areas, most of the participation reporting in the C-NAP progress report has focused on Afghanistan. With other conflict countries lagging behind, this points to personal commitment rather than government policy.
There is much more Canada can do to ensure women's meaningful participation in peace processes, and here are three overarching suggestions.
First of all, Canada must play a greater leadership role in promoting increased participation of women and ensuring their access in all stages of peace processes. As we are seeing with the current Syria peace process, women face severe obstacles to meaningfully participate in the talks. While they've been assigned an advisory body role, they continue to lack influence and resources to independently engage.
One problem of the current Syria talks, as has been with all other talks, is that it followed the usual method—men designed and set up the process first, and then brought women into a process where most of the decisions are made by a small group of men. According to the global study, there have been very few cases in which women's participation was an integral component of the design process. Generally women's participation is seen as a technical add-on, in a little tick box, once the process is designed and under way. But women must be part of these processes from the design of the preliminary talks, throughout negotiations, as well as implementation.
The Colombian case has been hailed as the best process yet, in terms of women's participation, but we are still very far from what the global community aspired to with UN Security Council resolution 1325. Due to pressure from women's organizations, the Havana peace negotiations included special gender advisers for both sides of the table and the gender subcommittee. However, at the highest level of the negotiation process, you only see one woman.
Now, as Colombia moves forward toward implementation of the peace agreements and the ceasefire, what the under-representation of women at the peace table means in practical terms is a high level of tolerance for ongoing violence against women, particularly against Afro-Colombian and indigenous women, with a 100% impunity for cases dating back to the conflict. Women's groups are now pressuring the government and the UN to include sexual violence as a breach of the ceasefire agreement. Without women at the table, sexual violence will not be properly addressed, and tends to proliferate post-conflict, as can be seen in Liberia and DRC.
Some key recommendations for Canada on concrete steps to promote women's participation include the following: speak out consistently, publicly, and at the highest level on the importance of women's participation as a matter of rights and effectiveness; hold envoys, mediators, and negotiation parties accountable to international norms and commitments; facilitate the participation of women, including provision of logistical support and security, particularly in the early stages of peace negotiations and the implementation of agreements and ceasefires; and hold regular consultations with women to learn about their challenges and collectively find solutions to bring them to the table.
Secondly, Canada must play a key role in strengthening women's movements. Based on the research of 40 case studies, women's inclusion was mostly initiated and achieved via concerted pressure by women's organizations, rather than by conflict parties, the mediators, or the organizers of the negotiations. This is true in the case of Syria, where it was the collective effort of local, national, and international women's organizations that pressured UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura to carve out a role for women in the talks and appoint a women's advisory body.
Research also demonstrates that it is women's movements, not individual women, that have the means to influence the talks. In too many cases, token women are appointed without any meaningful engagement. This was the case in the Myanmar peace process, where two women were appointed who did not have the force of a movement behind them to influence the talks. Yet women's organizations are consistently underfunded, under-resourced, and operating at great personal risks. The global study identified the failure to allocate sufficient resources and funding as perhaps the most serious and unrelenting obstacle to the implementation of the women, peace, and security agenda. Women's organizations need consistent, significant, and reliable funding.
In terms of recommendations for Canada, first, Canada must develop a funding mechanism to ensure that resources reach women's organizations and movements. These mechanisms must include easily accessible, multi-year core funding for women's organizations, with dedicated funding going directly to grassroots organizations. Canada must earmark a minimum of 15% of all funding related to peace and security for programs whose principal objective is to address women's specific needs and advance gender equality, as called for by the UN.
Canada must also develop a protection strategy for its missions to support women peace builders around the world facing significant threats as a result of their work. While increased funding is one means of protection, Canadian officials must publicly stand up for the women in their countries and demand accountability for threats against them. Such a strategy must include regular consultations with women's organizations and support for their participation in national, regional, and international forums.
Thirdly, Canada must strengthen the national action plan on the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325. The national action plan is a means to set out an ambitious policy directive that ensures that women, peace, and security commitments are reflected across the full range of international policies.
A mid-term review of the C-NAP conducted by Inclusive Security found it was seen as not significantly influencing Canada's overall policy direction with respect to conflict-affected and fragile states. That's tragic. We hope that the second edition of the C-NAP will live up to its potential.
Here are our recommendations.
The C-NAP must set out a vision for Canada's engagement in the world, not just in conflict and post-conflict, but also to prevent conflict. One of the four pillars of the women, peace, and security agenda is prevention. The C-NAP must be positioned as a policy directive to achieve that vision with clear goals, results, and indicators upon which to measure success.
As part of the drafting process, extensive consultations of women in conflict areas as well as key international players working on women, peace, and security must be held, and their views reflected in the new C-NAP. Canada must also take a more holistic approach in addressing all four pillars of the women, peace, and security agenda, building on their interlinkages and recognizing that women's status in peace will determine their experience in war.
Canada must provide a dedicated budget for the C-NAP, including funds for staff as well as accountability mechanisms. Canada must appoint a high-level champion or special envoy that is staffed and resourced to oversee the implementation of the C-NAP, and most importantly, its vision.
Ms. Beth Woroniuk:
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.
Mr. Bill Fairbairn:
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and members of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to a theme that's very close to the heart of my organization, Inter Pares.
We are a feminist social justice organization that's dedicated to empowering people in Canada and around the world to be at the centre of their own development. We work in long-standing partnerships with local organizations in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Canada. We've enjoyed support from Global Affairs Canada and its predecessors CIDA and DFATD for over three decades.
Since our founding some 40 years ago, we have sponsored numerous south-south exchanges with women on issues related to peace and security. We've convened round tables on the issue of sexual violence in countries in conflict or in post-conflict situations. We've been supporting programming, targeting women's involvement in peace processes and political decision-making in countries such as Burma, Guatemala, Sudan, and Colombia.
Within Inter Pares, I share programmatic responsibilities for Latin America, a region where, sadly, sexual violence against women and girls has been used as a weapon of war. Although most of the region's armed conflicts have ended, levels of violence, in general, and violence against women, in particular, remain extremely high. Indeed, femicide, the crime of murdering females because of their gender, is a leading cause of death among young women today in countries including El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.
Today I'd like to share some developments from the region that highlight the importance of enhanced support to the women, peace, and security agenda, and based on this, to present five recommendations for your consideration.
About a month and a half ago, I was in Guatemala's supreme court attending a trial and meeting once again with a group of indigenous Maya Kekchi women from the area of Sepur Zarco. These courageous women were making history as plaintiffs in what is both the first criminal trial for sexual violence during Guatemala's armed conflict and the first-ever sexual slavery case to be heard in a national court.
Sepur Zarco is a small rural community in the Polochic valley of north-eastern Guatemala. In the early 1980s, at the urging of local land owners, the military government established an outpost there. After forcibly disappearing 15 men from the region who had been engaged in a struggle to get legal title to their land, the soldiers assigned to the base went to the men's communities. There they set fire to the houses and crops. They stole the few belongings they found and before leaving, they raped the wives of the men they had abducted, and subsequently forced the women to move into shacks right outside the military base in Sepur Zarco.
In the following years, the women were held as slaves and were forced to do rotating shifts at the base. They were required to wash the soldiers' clothes; provide them with food, although their own children were starving; and to cook for them. They were repeatedly raped.
Guatemala's legal system has historically excluded and re-victimized indigenous women. This together with their feelings of shame and trauma meant that the women never sought legal redress. For over 25 years, they kept silent about what had happened to them. But very slowly, over a decade ago, and with the support of grassroots women's organizations that are long-standing partners of Inter Pares, the women began a slow and long path toward justice.
This past February, just a few weeks ago, after decades of impunity, two former military defendants were found guilty of war crimes and handed down sentences totalling 360 years in prison. The men sentenced in this case were just the tip of the iceberg, but the verdict is highly significant. It represents not only a major step forward toward justice for the women themselves but it also serves to promote long-term transformations and behaviours in society, so that what was once deemed to be acceptable or even celebrated is exposed to be unacceptable and repugnant.
If time permitted, I could give other examples of similar milestones that are taking place right now as a result of the persistence and courage of the victims, and the grassroots women's organizations that are supporting them.
Canada provides development assistance and in some cases diplomatic support. In the case of Sepur Zarco, the Canadian ambassador made a public presence at the first day of the trial. The Canadian government has contributed to these outcomes, but suffice it to say these achievements would not be possible were it not for the long-term accompaniment provided by the grassroots women's organizations.
Canada has been a leader in the promotion of women's rights globally, although we have lost ground in that area in recent years. The news that Canada has been elected to the governing body of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, as we heard a while ago, is a welcome development. It also means that with such a high-profile role, we have more responsibility than ever to ensure that we are walking the talk. There is much that we can do.
Firstly, it is clear that without the voice and participation of women, peace is not possible or sustainable. To advance implementation of the UN Security Council resolutions on women, peace, and security, we must listen to, respect, and support the voices of women at the grassroots level who are actively experiencing conflict. This is done by working with women's organizations in the countries where we are engaged. As one of our partners in Burma told us, and Beth mentioned the same partners, “There should be nothing about us without us”.
Secondly, long-term, stable, and predictable core funding to grassroots women's organizations is essential to build local capacities that will hold governments to account. This isn't quick work.
Canada's funding architecture has shifted a great deal over the past years. It is doubtful whether organizations spearheading the cases I referred to would be able to count on the same levels of support from our government. Partnership branch once enabled Inter Pares and other Canadian civil society organizations to be responsive to the needs identified by our partners on the ground. The current framework, which privileges unpredictable funding through periodic calls for proposals based on themes that are pre-selected by the Canadian government, is simply inadequate.
Global Affairs Canada needs to increase its support to fund responsive, comprehensive, long-term, and grassroots initiatives that promote women's active participation.
Thirdly, we have seen a shift in the past years away from supporting the broad range of women's rights and instead focusing narrowly on supporting women as mothers. There has been a further narrowing of support, excluding women's sexual and reproductive rights.
UN Security Council resolution 2122, which one of my colleagues referred to earlier, provides important directions in this regard, in particular, the need of women affected by armed conflict and post-conflict situations to have access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination, including regarding pregnancies resulting from rape.
Fourthly, and here I am thinking particularly of the situation in Colombia, it is crucial that women play an active role in formal peace processes and in monitoring the implementation of accords reached.
Women are still largely under-represented at the main negotiating table in the current process between the Government of Colombia and the FARC. With the process beginning now with the National Liberation Army, the ELN, announced in the last days, the situation might be better. The jury is still out on that process. As a result of women's mobilization, relentless advocacy, and international support, it's become impossible for both sides to ignore their concerns.
It is critical for countries like Canada to maintain pressure on all sides to ensure that women's proposals will be transformed into policy options that promote sustainable peace through gender equality and empowerment of all girls and women, and that there is gender parity in the committees charged with the eventual implementation of the accords, especially with respect to indigenous and Afro-descendant women.
In Columbia, our main counterpart, Project Counselling Service, has facilitated exchanges with women who took part in the peace processes in Central America. One of the key messages was that the eventual signing of peace accords does not necessarily mean the end of conflict.
Too frequently, with the formal signing of peace agreements, international support moves elsewhere, or it is directed principally at large government entities, leaving aside the community-based organizations that have made these processes possible. It has been the historic exclusion of marginalized peoples that created the conditions for the conflict in the first place.
Therefore, continued support to women's grassroots and community-based organizations will be crucial to strengthen participatory and inclusive democracy in post-conflict scenarios.
Finally, it's essential to look more closely at conflict prevention and address the root causes of conflict. In my meetings over the past years with the women of Sepur Zarco and the organizations that have been supporting them, and in many other conversations, I've been struck by their comments about conditions for Mayan women in Guatemala. Mayan communities in Guatemala are very similar to those existing prior to and during the armed conflict.
Little has changed in terms of entrenched racism, poverty, and the exploitation of indigenous peoples. Land ownership, which was at the root of the Sepur Zarco case, remains highly unequal. Fifty-seven per cent of the country's land is owned by only 2% of its people, while 3% of the land in Guatemala is shared among almost half of the population.
Today we are seeing a remilitarization of citizen security, including declarations of states of emergency, judicial persecution of community leaders, and once again, the establishment of military bases on territories of indigenous communities where there are existing land disputes. Today, this is happening to support large-scale resource development projects, in particular, mining and hydroelectric projects.
Today another group of Maya Kekchi women, 40 years younger but from the same region and the same ethnicity as the women from Sepur Zarco, are plaintiffs in a case before Canadian courts involving gang rapes committed by private security forces employed by a Canadian mining company, along with Guatemalan police and soldiers. This took place during a forced expulsion of the families from their farms and homes in the remote community of Lote Ocho.
Whereas Canada was once known for its role in peace building and the promotion of human rights, in my travels I am increasingly hearing repeated concern expressed regarding the actions of a number of our mining companies and doubts about the commitment of the Canadian government to the imperative of free, prior, and informed consent.
Inter Pares and our counterparts have a wealth of experiences that relate to this study, but to conclude and sum up, our key recommendations are that Canada must listen to local women directly impacted by the conflict; provide long-term, stable funding to women's organizations before, during, and post-conflict; support access to the full range of sexual and reproductive health services; insist that women are at the negotiating table for peace processes; and invest in conflict prevention and address the root causes of conflict.
Thank you very much for your attention. I look forward to answering any questions you have.
Mr. Ian Thomson:
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
On behalf of KAIROS let me begin by thanking you for this opportunity to address the committee as a part of its study on women, peace, and security. It's good to be here with you today.
KAIROS is a national ecumenical organization that works with partners both in Canada and internationally for human rights and ecological justice. We unite 11 national churches and religious organizations from eight Christian denominations.
KAIROS approaches all of our work through the lens of gender justice, understanding gender justice as full equality and equity among women, girls, men, and boys in their diverse identities and in all spheres of life. KAIROS is committed to working for a more just world in which power and responsibility are shared equally by all and to supporting those individuals and organizations working to transform power relations and end historical injustices.
KAIROS and our global civil society partners have a noteworthy history of working together on issues of women, peace, and security, and human rights in countries of protracted conflict.
Together with these partners, KAIROS has developed our women of courage program. This work is rooted in the understanding that while women around the world face many injustices, women are also key catalysts and agents of change when they create and exercise leadership in human rights and peace building. KAIROS works with partner organizations in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the West Bank in Israel-Palestine, the Philippines, and South Sudan to respond to the needs of women in their local contexts. In addition, KAIROS works to build solidarity relationships with women in Canada who are affected by gender-based oppression, particularly indigenous and migrant women.
Our women of courage programming is multi-faceted.
It includes a psychosocial support and counselling to women who are victims of human rights abuses and survivors of sexual violence, as well as legal support to increase their access to justice and reparations; as well as training and capacity-building workshops for women's organizations and women human rights defenders to assist them in using national legislation and international frameworks and resolutions to protect women's human rights in contexts of militarized conflicts and to advocate for women's participation in peace-building processes.
The program also includes grassroots education campaigns on such things as the women, peace, and security agenda, the UN Security Council resolution 1325, and the other resolutions to increase awareness of these commitments among women and all members of society. Finally, it includes international exchanges between women's organizations and human rights defenders that allow the sharing of experiences and best practices in order to help develop joint strategies and recommendations.
For example, in Colombia in the context of the current peace process and the victims' law KAIROS and our partner, Organización Femenina Popular, are supporting individual and collective reparations for victims of human rights abuses and gender-based violence, as well as the victims committees in which women receive legal representation and support to prosecute abuse and violence.
In South Sudan, KAIROS works with the national women's program of the South Sudan Council of Churches to engage women across tribal lines on advocating for peace locally, while developing an understanding of the international frameworks on women's role in peace building, including UN Security Council resolution 1325.
Although historically women have been at the forefront of movements for peace and human rights, peace-building processes are often dominated by men's voices and experiences. From 1992 to 2011, only 2% of chief mediators and only 9% of negotiators in peace processes were women.
At the same time, studies have shown that peace processes that involve women are not only more equitable and inclusive, but are also more sustainable. There are convincing reasons to support the participation of women's civil society organizations and women human rights defenders in peace process and post-conflict development: equity, inclusivity, justice, sustainability, and the efficiency of the process.
Our first recommendation to this committee would be that the Government of Canada should provide more in the way of financial support to women's rights organizations and grassroots civil society organizations for peace-building efforts in conflict affected and fragile states.
KAIROS supports the recommendation brought to you by the Women and Peace Security Network—you heard from them just a moment ago—around the target of 15% of our support towards a peace and conflict context going towards programming with women's empowerment or gender equality as the principal objective of the programming.
We were very encouraged by Canada’s remarks at the UN Security Council in March that recognized the critical importance of supporting the participation of local women’s organizations in peace building. In contrast, the Government of Canada has focused much of its official development assistance in recent years through large multilateral organizations, such as UN agencies and the World Bank, and less through partnerships with civil society organizations in Canada and internationally.
There are cases where this makes sense, when Canadians' support can leverage contributions from other donors, but experience in peace building has shown that lasting peace is achieved by supporting the women, peace, and security agenda at all levels. I'd like to offer you an example.
In February I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo. KAIROS and our Congolese human rights partner, Héritiers de la Justice, run a legal clinic that provides legal accompaniment and counselling to victims of sexual violence. To enable these women to defend their rights and engage in peace building, paralegals and women’s rights educators from the clinic hold training workshops on domestic law, international human rights instruments, and UN Security Council resolution 1325. Supported by Héritiers de la Justice, local women’s committees have been established in the cities and the villages to help women support each other, and most importantly, to break their silence around sexual violence.
In 2013 the Government of Canada made a significant investment of $18 million through the United Nations Development Programme to fight impunity around sexual violence in Congo. Through this project, mobile tribunals have been created to travel deep into rural areas in eastern Congo and facilitate access to justice. While this institution-building is critical, it requires the participation and trust of women at the local level. Without investing in such grassroots capacity-building by local organizations, Canada’s commitment to ending impunity through this larger multilateral project will not be fully realized. In our view, it’s not an either-or scenario. For peace building and women’s empowerment to be truly lasting, top-down national and regional initiatives must be accompanied by grassroots civil society-led initiatives.
KAIROS was already planning to expand the legal clinic in Congo in 2009. Back then, we approached the Canadian International Development Agency to partner with KAIROS on this work in Congo and other conflict-affected states. As many of you will recall, notwithstanding a recommendation from the CIDA president, the KAIROS proposal was not approved.
In January of this year, KAIROS submitted a new proposal to Global Affairs Canada seeking support for our women, peace, and security partners. While we are still awaiting a response, we remain hopeful that the work of KAIROS and our partners will complement and help to ensure the success of Canada’s current programming in these areas.
We believe our global partners and our international program are transformative, and they deliver long-lasting, sustainable results. We see the lives that are changed, the communities that have been empowered, and the women who regain their dignity and are able to exercise their rights. However, more resources are needed to support women's civil society organizations and women's human rights defenders. Despite the research that they have been the key drivers to defending rights and promoting peace all over the world, the resources they receive are shamefully scarce and dwindling.
Our second recommendation for the committee is regarding the national action plan. We would like to see the national action plan on women, peace, and security be expanded, such that it can serve both as a strategic vision for how Canada will implement and strengthen its international commitments around women, peace, and security, and as a monitoring and tracking tool to facilitate reporting on financial commitments, activities, gaps, and the progress to date.
KAIROS recognizes that the Government of Canada has played an important role in supporting the passage of the first UN Security Council resolution on women, peace, and security in the year 2000, in welcoming subsequent resolutions, and in adopting the national action plan in 2010. As I mentioned earlier, we appreciate Canada’s recent statements at the UN Security Council regarding its commitment to women, peace, and security.
Through our participation in the Women, Peace and Security Network, KAIROS has been monitoring Canada’s implementation of these resolutions and its commitment to working with partners on the implementation of the subsequent resolutions. We hope the renewal of the C-NAP in 2016 will produce a strategic vision for how Canada can best implement its international commitments on women, peace, and security. The plan must allow Canadians to gauge how Canada as a country is making this a policy priority, where we are headed, and what Canada's particular contribution will be to this global effort.
Therefore, our third recommendation for consideration by this committee is that the Government of Canada hold consultations and collaborate with women's rights organizations and their international partners on policy development and programming around women, peace, and security.
In the first instance, a broad-based public consultation should be held across Canada to inform the renewal of C-NAP. We believe this is an opportunity for the government to enhance the plan with input from a wide range of stakeholders. These parliamentary hearings are building a good foundation, but we hope that Global Affairs Canada will conduct a broad-based public consultation in cities across Canada in 2016 to inform the development of the new plan.
Women's organizations and other civil society organizations like KAIROS have a great deal to share on experiences from other countries, and lessons learned from efforts in Canada to end violence against women and promote women's political participation and empowerment.
Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to answering your questions.
Mr. Bill Fairbairn:
Maybe I'll talk about Sepur Zarco, because it's very fresh in my mind. I was with the women just recently.
I've met them a number of times over the years. In different circumstances, and sometimes when we were taking pictures of them, they would put veils over their faces because it was too dangerous for them to be seen to be involved in the case. When we met with them in the supreme court, their faces were veiled as well. We went into a corridor at one point to have a meeting with them and they took off their veils because they said that they felt that they were among people they could trust.
That process has been very long. The women, as I mentioned, were very traumatized, and sometimes with many problems in their own community, when the community members accused them of being responsible for their own rapes. Fifteen of the men were killed and 11 of the women were taken to the military base. Four women among the widows—because the men were disappeared and then murdered—went up into the mountains. They were hiding. They were trying to eke out an existence in a very difficult situation.
Ten years ago in this process, a group called the Breaking the Silence alliance brought together three Guatemalan organizations: one, UNAMG, which is the National Union of Guatemalan Women; another one, which provides psychosocial support, called ECAP; and another one called Women Transforming the World, which provides legal support.
The initial work with the women was just to meet with them, to start talking, to break them out of their silence, to find people who knew the communities very well—obviously, they were speaking Kekchi, so you needed those people—and to gradually bring the women together so they were able to share their stories and find consolation in the fact that they were sharing what happened to them. It was very long process. Finally, it was about talking with them about the litigation, because it's one thing to bring them together, but the other thing is that they're going to be going before the courts and they're going to have relive and tell the story over again.
I have to say that it's been a very long process. That's why I say that some of these things take decades to do. It's not a short-term process. The women now are very happy. They're very happy with the results. They feel that all of their sacrifices were worth it. One woman died in the last years before the process came about, but she gave advance testimony so that it could be included in the trial.
I think that enabling women to become, to have the transformation from being a victim to having their own agency, is a long process. It involves a lot of multidisciplinary actions at various levels. Yes, this was really an important experience.
Mr. Bill Fairbairn:
Personally, I've worked since the 1980s in a number of countries in Latin America, mainly on human rights issues. I've been working very closely with human rights defenders.
In terms of Inter Pares, right now we're working in five countries in Latin America: Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia, and Peru. Those are the five countries where we have the focus.
In terms of the Sepur Zarco, out of the sentence there will be.... The women have asked for education, health care. They've asked for a number of things to support their community. What they kept telling us is that they're doing this because they don't want it to ever happen again to anyone else, and that's the real motivation. That's what you hear, whether it's Guatemala, Colombia, or Peru. When you talk to women who have experienced sexual violence in the way that these women have, they have the courage to come forward because they don't want it to ever happen again to anyone.
They want people to know the truth about what happened. Often I think about the work of many human rights organizations in past years, and I think violence against women has been absent. People would talk about torture and forced disappearance and summary executions, but violence against women did not always make it into the reports. I think that's changing, and it's because of women like these courageous women from Sepur Zarco, or another group of women from Manta.
Again, I think the Canadian government has supported some of our grassroots organizations. Right now there's a campaign going on in Peru because during the Fujimori dictatorship up to 300,000 women were forcibly sterilized. They were pressured into it. These are women in the Andes, in the departments of mainly Ayacucho and Huancavelica, and the government of the day wanted to reduce the population in the area. They forcibly sterilized up to 300,000 women and 20,000 men, forcing them to have the operation or else they would not be getting food supplies or they would have other things taken away from them. That's another area that we're extremely concerned about.
Human rights groups and women's organizations in Peru are at the front of this struggle to draw attention to this. Because of their work, last year the Peruvian government set up a national registry. Our partners right now in Peru are from the Andes region, and they're working with local women to make sure that they register and that there are reparations to the women in particular who were affected by this policy.