Like a cereal company marketing sugar-covered GMO cornflakes as a “healthy breakfast,” Justin Trudeau’s government spouts progressive buzzwords that mask elitist, pro-corporate policies.
As part of their self-declared “feminist foreign policy,” the Liberals established a Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), convened the first ever women foreign ministers’ meeting, and appointed an ambassador for women, peace and security.
Considered in isolation, each of these initiatives is praiseworthy. The problem is the government’s broader foreign policy is decidedly non-feminist, and their “feminist” marketing legitimates those policies.
For example, Honduras recently became the 50th country to ratify the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW). As such, it will enter into force on January 22 for those nations that have adopted it.
The Trudeau government opposed negotiating a treaty to abolish nuclear weapons, boycotted the conference where it was born, and has steadfastly opposed signing the treaty. At the UN last Tuesday, Canada voted against a resolution backed by 118 countries that reaffirmed support for the TPNW.
This is the opposite of a feminist foreign policy. In The Nation, Ray Acheson, director of the disarmament program of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, wrote:
“The TPNW is the first feminist law on nuclear weapons, recognizing the disproportionate impacts of nuclear weapons on women and girls and on Indigenous peoples, urging more equitable participation of women in disarmament, and mandating victim assistance and environmental remediation in relation to nuclear weapon use and testing.”
Women exposed to nuclear radiation are significantly more likely to suffer deleterious health impacts than men.
Another example of the Liberals’ hollow words: Bolivians recently defeated an elitist, Christian-extremist, coup government. They did so through protests demanding an election and then delivering a landslide victory at the polls.
In the recent election, women (mostly Indigenous) won 57 per cent of the seats in the Senate and 51 per cent of the positions in the chamber of representatives. By way of comparison, 29 per cent of Canadian members of Parliament are women.
From what I can tell, the Trudeau government has remained silent on the feminist win in Bolivia — and understandably so. Last year, the Liberals backed the overthrow of the Bolivian government that adopted the legislative measures that greatly advanced women’s representation in politics.
The Liberals have also been seeking to oust a Nicaraguan government in which women hold half of all cabinet positions and 45 per cent of the legislature.
While seeking to get rid of leftist governments with stronger feminist credentials, Trudeau touts right-wing allies for being pro-woman. In August 2018, the PM lauded extreme right-wing Colombian President Ivan Duque for adopting “a gender-equal cabinet.”
Over the past two years, the number of Colombian women social movement leaders murdered has increased significantly at least partly because of Duque’s policies — including, notably, his bid to scuttle the peace accord with the FARC rebels.
A number of repressive, elitist governments have claimed the feminist mantle to curry favour with Ottawa. When a parliamentary delegation led by Liberal MP Robert Oliphant visited General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in 2018, the Egyptian president claimed his dictatorial regime promoted women’s rights.
This hard-to-believe claim appeared in the delegation’s post-trip report, which whitewashed el-Sisi’s substantial repression.
In a similar vein, proposed Haitian prime minister Fritz William Michel presented a gender-balanced cabinet amidst massive protests in July 2019 calling for President Jovenel Moïse to go. Moïse’s appointee sought to align with a stated objective of his second-most influential backer, generating sympathetic Canadian headlines.
Along with praise for Moïse, Canadian Global Affairs’ webpage about “Canada’s international assistance in Haiti” focuses on gender equity. During a February 2018 visit, then-international development minister Marie-Claude Bibeau launched the first project under FIAP’s “Women’s Voice and Leadership” program.
“It’s a new president and we want to support him,” Bibeau told CBC before leaving on a trip that included a meeting with Haiti’s illegitimate leader.
Taking the feminist justification for its support of the corrupt and repressive Haitian regime to an absurd extreme, the Trudeau government recently tendered a $12.5-million contract in operational support to the Haitian police under FIAP!
Haiti’s Canadian-trained and funded police force is what sustained Moïse as president while facing multiple general strikes between July 2018 and December 2019.
As the Liberals have touted their “feminist foreign policy,” they have also sold armoured vehicles to the Saudis and deepened ties to other misogynistic Gulf oil kingdoms.
In another position hard to align with feminism, Canada was one of two countries to vote against a June 2019 United Nations Economic and Social Council resolution stating, “the Israeli occupation remains a major obstacle for Palestinian women and girls with regard to the fulfillment of their rights.”
In a highly patriarchal and unequal world, one cannot expect a government — even one, unlike the Liberals, genuinely committed to feminism — to be completely consistent on the subject. But the Liberals have taken hypocrisy to new heights, and this sort of fake feminist branding can weaken progressive resistance to reactionary policies if people actually believe the marketing.
In fact, the FIAP was launched partly to dampen criticism of the dearth of aid spending at a time when they ramped up decidedly (patriarchal) military spending. The government launched FIAP two days after releasing their 2017 defence policy statement, which included a 70 per cent increase in military spending over a decade.
FIAP didn’t include any new aid, which was at its lowest proportion of GDP in half a century. (As I’ve detailed previously, Canadian aid is far from as benevolent as often portrayed, but it’s preferable to military spending.)
In “Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy: Bold Statement or Feminist Fig Leaf?” Stephen Brown and Liam Swiss write:
“While the feminist aid policy will buttress the Liberal government’s feminist credentials, it will also provide a convenient fig leaf for the lack of political will to expand aid funding and decidedly un-feminist policies in other areas.”
The primary problem with the Liberals’ “feminist foreign policy” is not the specific initiatives or even the hypocritical double standards. It’s how the marketing drains all meaning from the word “feminist” and sometimes succeeds in convincing progressives to support a foreign policy overwhelmingly driven by the U.S. empire and Canadian corporations.
Yves Engler is a Montreal-based writer and political activist.
This commentary was first published by rabble.