Christians light candles at Our Lady of Dormition Church in Damascus, Syria. Development and Peace wants the government to ensure a strong women’s voice for peace in war-torn areas like Syria. CNS photo/Youssef Badawi, EPA

Campaign puts women at peace table

  • September 14, 2017

The international development organization of the Catholic Church in Canada is demanding the federal government adopt a feminist foreign aid policy that diverts emphasis from enabling abortion to delivering lasting peace.

Development and Peace is set to launch a national campaign called “May Peace Be With Her.” Local Development and Peace groups intend to meet with their Members of Parliament in late November to demand that Canadian policy ensures women are involved in peace negotiations around the world and that local women’s groups receive support in quests for peace and reconciliation in war-torn countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Syria.

“It really is taking a look at all of what women are capable of doing in terms of peace building,” said Toronto Development and Peace archdiocesan council president Sylvia Santin.

Santin says it is “unfortunate” that Canadian policy has become so focussed on providing access to abortion in poor countries. The upcoming campaign, she said, will be “far more positive or broader looking in terms of what it means to support women.”

In June, Minister of International Development Marie-Claude Bibeau announced Canada was launching a new “feminist international assistance policy,” but so far its most prominent and public commitment has been to fund contraception, abortion providers and groups lobbying to liberalize abortion laws in Africa, Latin America and Asia to the tune of $650 million over three years.

Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops president Bishop Doug Crosby protested in a letter to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland that elevating abortion to “the core of Canadian foreign policy” ignores the larger, deeper and more urgent concerns of women in poor countries.

“They include Canada’s economic partnerships with countries in which female infants are murdered for not being male; those in which women earn less than men for the same job or where they do not enjoy the same privileges under the law, including the right to education or protection from rape, physical violence, and other forms of abuse,” Crosby wrote. “It is difficult to comprehend how the policy agenda you have advanced truly represents the interests of women, particularly those that are already at risk.”

Development and Peace is concerned that Canada’s overseas development budget has been shrinking for a decade. Canada’s contributions to development worldwide remain stuck at 0.26 per cent of gross national income. Aid decreased from $5.8 billion in 2015 to $5.4 billion in 2016.

“We really want girls to be born into families where they are respected, where they have dignity, where they are able to live and survive,” said Development and Peace advocacy and research officer Elana Wright.

According to Development and Peace campaign materials, when women are involved in peace negotiations the resulting agreements have a 35 per cent increased chance of holding for at least 15 years. When a country in conflict elects women to 35 per cent of its parliamentary seats the risk of war is nearly zero. For every five per cent increase in women in parliament, a country is five times less likely to be caught up in a war.

There’s every reason to believe that a campaign focussed on women and peace will catch fire in parishes and Catholic schools, said Development and Peace organizer Armella Sonntag.

“With what’s been happening in Syria for so long, with North Korea and the States — and they’re talking about Canada being within the strike area of North Korean missiles — I think there is certainly an interest in a broader sense of concern,” Sonntag, responsible for Development and Peace groups in Keewatin-Le Pas, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon told The Catholic Register.

“There’s a climate that sees things not working properly. The voice of women would present something different. We need to draw out what women are doing, and just spark the imagination.”

Postcards addressed to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demand the government “go beyond words to action by supporting women and women’s organizations who are working for peace.”

The cards also demand a “precise time frame for reaching the goal of dedicating 0.7 per cent of the gross national income to development assistance,” a U.N. target which Canada has committed to achieving.

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