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Canada's National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security: What comes now (December 2017)

by Monique Cuillerier, WFMC’s membership and communications director

After numerous delays, the Canadian federal government launched its second National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security on November 1st, 2017 at an event in Ottawa attended by parliamentarians, academics, and civil society representatives.

The previous WPS NAP expired at the end of March 2016 and consultations with civil society and the various government partners were finally held in April 2017. (The outputs of the consultation process, including recordings of keynote panels and webinars, background papers, and summary reports, are available at the consultation website.) The process to develop a second WPS NAP was delayed, in part, because of the federal election of October 2015, but also because of the numerous consultative processes the new government initiated that addressed related areas such as defence policy and international development.

The new WPS NAP is significantly different than its predecessor in several notable ways. The new NAP is divided into three parts. The main plan is more extensive and detailed than the previous one, offering an overarching rationale and explanation of the government’s approach to WPS that is inclusive and intersectional. The larger part of the NAP are the implementation plans that have been developed by each of the government partners. Additionally, there is a theory of Change document intended to bring together the other two parts.

The main plan makes for a lovely read. If — and this is a big ‘if’ — the government is willing and able to follow through on the commitments made in the plan, Canada’s contribution to the international women, peace and security agenda will grow and improve substantially. There is no doubt that the government, at the political, if not bureaucratic, level, takes the agenda seriously. The participation of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Status of Women Minister Maryam Monsef at the launch was indicative of the weight the government is willing to put behind the plan.

It is important to acknowledge that the new WPS NAP does address a number of issues long raised by civil society, in particular the Women, Peace and Security Network – Canada. In the most general way, the new plan offers a clear setting of the agenda across government departments. And it has a plan for accountability, monitoring, and review, which includes a new advisory group that will include representatives from the government partners and civil society. There is also a timeline for progress reports (to be tabled every September) and the expectation for implementation plans to be updated annually in reference to the progress report. This is important, as in the past progress reports oen took unreasonably long periods (over a year in some cases) to be produced.

The plan also has a section on “Canada’s Own Challenges: Learning From Our Experiences,” which addresses reconciliation, Canada’s experiences with the consequences of colonialism, and the particular forms of intersecting violence and discrimination faced by Indigenous women and girls. Addressing domestic issues within the context of the WPS NAP has been raised by members of civil society in various contexts, including during the consultation process for the new plan.

It is in the implementation plans, though, which are really at the heart of any potential improvements, that there is the most potential for failure. While having each government partner develop their own implementation plan is, on the surface, a good idea, it also results in widely varying quality. It is understandable that the new government partners, who are considered ‘supporting partners’ — Public Safety Canada, the Department of Justice, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and Status of Women Canada — do not have the same level of detail in their plans that the lead partners — Global Affairs Canada, Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — do. But this does not excuse the varying levels of commitment to the women, peace and security agenda in general and the WPS NAP in particular seen in the different departmental plans. A striking example of this is found in the conclusion of Public Safety Canada’s implementation plan that reads, “the department’s primary mission is domestic. Through its work on countering radicalization to violence and other internationally connected efforts, it will nevertheless contribute to the implementation of Canada’s Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.” On the other hand, Global Affairs Canada has a short implementation plan that is accompanied by an almost fifty page addendum that details targets, baselines, activities, and indicators.

Between the main body of the WPS NAP and its lofty objectives and the implementation plans, however, there is a gap. The Theory of Change document is not entirely consistent with either and does not clearly map the objectives of the WPS NAP to the implementation plans of the partners. This will make it difficult to properly assess the impact of the NAP.

Overall, the new WPS NAP has potential. The launch of the plan is only the beginning of the very hard work that remains to be done.

All parts of the National Action Plan are available from Global Affairs Canada at

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