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Research can help international development do more with less

August 22, 2017

Jennifer Salahub

Senior Program Officer, IDRC

A few weeks ago, Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister for International Development and La Francophonie, announced an ambitious new approach to helping low- and middle-income countries: Canada’s first feminist International Assistance Policy. With a renewed focus on gender equality, dedicated resources for local women’s organizations, and a requirement to consult locally on all project, the policy is set to be a game-changer, and is being recognized as such.

Where critiques have been levelled, they focus on the lack of new resources to implement the vision laid out in the policy. Yet, there are many ways that Canada can strengthen its commitment to prioritizing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls across the breadth of its international assistance portfolio without new money.

One solution lies in using evidence to further strengthen the ability of existing programs to achieve feminist foreign policy goals. Research funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre offers three concrete areas in which Canada has invested in policy-relevant evidence that can help turn feminist ideals into practical solutions and development results.

First, understand masculinities—or what it means to be a man—and how this can be a positive force to help reduce domestic violence and particularly violence against women and girls. Studies conducted in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Maputo, Mozambique, by Promundo, an NGO with offices on four continents, show how bringing men into caregiving roles and sharing household duties is directly linked with men rejecting pressures to join drug trafficking gangs or using violence to express their manhood. Incorporating this kind of evidence into existing programming that Global Affairs is leading to reduce violence against women and girls would come at minimal cost and potentially enormous gain.

Second, consider women’s mobility needs. Research in Pakistan shows how social rules assigned to women restrict their movement around cities like Karachi. In a part of the world where women and men do not mix freely in public and public transit is provided by the private sector, women are often left in unsafe situations when bus drivers eject them from the few seats reserved for women so they can cram more male customers into that space. Fearing that they will be left at the side of the road in unsafe parts of town, many women or their families limit their movements to places that can be accessed on foot, with negative implications for women’s education, labour force participation, and empowerment. Drawing on this research to support dedicated and safe public transit for women, conducting vulnerability assessments and safety audits, and using crowd-sourcing to identify unsafe places would lead to greater impact and healthier societies.

Finally, look more deeply at public service delivery. The same study in Karachi shows how public service delivery of water, sanitation, and hygiene contributes to violence. In informal settlements on the outskirts of the city, water service delivery isn’t provided by the municipality but rather by so-called water mafias working in collusion with corrupt state officials to charge exorbitant prices for irregular water delivery. As families struggle to cope with restricted access to water, tempers flare and women often bear the physical brunt of their spouses’ or in-laws’ frustrations. Public education on women’s rights and changing social roles through theatre and electronic media combined with renewed efforts to professionalize public delivery of water, sanitation and hygiene services can increase the positive impact that public health programming has on the lives of women and girls.

Building these research results into existing and future programming can help Global Affairs and its implementing partners do more with existing resources. It can also help Canada meet its commitments to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. Most importantly, it can help make the lives of women, men, boys, and girls safer, more equitable, and have more opportunities.

And that’s really what a feminist foreign policy is all about.

This op-ed was first published in The Hill Times on July 14, 2017.