The Canadian government recently pledged $300 CAD (about $225 million U.S.) toward improving women’s rights and economic security in the developing world. Maryam Monsef, who serves as Canada’s Minister of International Development and Minister for Women and Gender Equality, made the announcement on June 2 ahead of the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver, where she is a speaker.
The Canadian government is partnering with the Equality Fund to administer the funds. The Equality Fund is a consortium of Canadian and international organizations that is funding efforts to improve outcomes for women and support gender equality globally.
Global Affairs Canada calls the Equality Fund, “the first global platform that brings together the private sector, philanthropists and governments to strengthen women’s organizations and movements by giving them sustainable and flexible funding.” The fund has mobilized initial investments of $100 million CAD to complement the Government of Canada’s $300 million commitment.
The funds will promote gender equity in the developing world, and will go to local organizations with the goals of combating gender-based violence, improving women’s economic security and enabling more women to take on leadership roles in their communities. These are key elements in the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
“Women’s rights are challenged the world over,” said Monsef. “With the Equality Fund and domestic partnerships announced today, Canadians are shifting the power to women’s rights organizations and supporting women pushing back against the push back. Behind this effort is Canada’s best in philanthropy, feminist leadership, banking and investment, and international development.”
The Equality Fund collective comprises the Ottawa-based MATCH International Women’s Fund and ten other partners: the African Women’s Development Fund, Calvert Impact Capital, the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Community Foundations of Canada, Philanthropy for Advancing Women’s Human Rights, Royal Bank of Canada, Toronto Foundation, World University Service of Canada, Oxfam Canada and Yaletown Partners.
Jess Tomlin, MATCH Fund President & CEO and Equality Fund co-founder, remarked, “With women’s funds, community foundations, large philanthropic institutions, high net worth philanthropists, a leading Canadian bank, an impact fund manager and venture capital aligned, it is unprecedented to have this diversity of willing partners working to reach the ambitious goal of generating new assets to tackle gender inequality – for once and for all.”
The Equality Fund projects that it will “activate a minimum of $1B over the next fifteen years.” The Fund’s grant making approach supports women’s movements in Canada and internationally and will be based on three themes: “shifting power, building peace, protecting the planet. ” According to Theo Sowa, CEO of the Ghana-based African Women’s Development Fund, “Money is a very specific type of power, and we believe that one of the most powerful things we can do is move significant money into the hands of women leaders driving change in their communities. Canada and the world can do more to shift power in this way.”
The consortium finances are being led by the Royal Bank of Canada, and Maryland-based non-profit Calvert Impact Capital, which will apply a holistic gender lens to $75 million CAD of private loans deployed primarily through funds and intermediaries. Calvert will develop a pipeline of deals sourced from their extensive global network that provide intentional, measurable social and/or environmental return across a range of sectors and geographies, with a focus on emerging markets.
The Canadian government is also working on gender justice at home. Through the Department for Women and Gender Equality, it is partnering with the Community Foundations of Canada, the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada to match up to $30 million CAD in funding directed into gender equality efforts.
One of the hallmarks of the Canadian Liberal Party’s Trudeau government has been its public commitment to women’s rights and diversity. The 33-year-old Maryam Monsef is Canada’s first Afghan-Canadian Member of Parliament, and the first Muslim to serve as a federal-level Cabinet Minister. She is behind Canada’s first national program to prevent gender-based violence, has worked with the Minister of Finance on gender budgeting, and was part of an initiative undertaken by multiple federal institutions to pass pay equity laws in the federally regulated sector. Given her portfolios on matters pertaining to women and international development, Monsef is ideally positioned to work with the Equality Fund and others in advancing women’s rights worldwide. As part of her duties, Mosef also heads Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. Closer to home, she is the Member of Parliament for the riding of Peterborough-Kawartah, approximately 80 miles northeast of Toronto
While the Trudeau government has championed gender equity in Canada and abroad, and its inaugural cabinet was split evenly between women and men, it has been dogged by the long-standing problem of the disappearance of large numbers of Indigenous women. The government has been accused by activists of foot dragging on the matter and failing to move more decisively.
Additionally, the Trudeau government took a serious hit in March when two of its top female cabinet ministers, Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, resigned. Wilson-Raybould had been attorney general (and was the first Indigenous woman to hold the post) and says she was improperly pressured by members of Trudeau’s staff on a bribery and corruption case involving Montreal-based engineering and construction giant SNC Lavalin. When she refused to budge on her decision to prosecute, Wilson-Raybould was demoted to the position of minister of veteran affairs. She subsequently resigned, as did her cabinet colleague Jane Philpott (who has served as Minister of Health, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and President of the Treasury Board). The two were booted from the Liberal caucus in April, and will run as independents next election.