Thank you very much, Chair. I'll try to be quicker than that.
I'm very grateful for your invitation to give evidence to this inquiry. Having read the remarks of some of your previous witnesses, I won't repeat some of the general points they made about the recent trends in democratic governance and what they said about the importance of supporting democracy around the world. I fully endorse what they said and I also strongly endorse the points they made about the importance of Canadian support for democratic governance.
I think the most useful contribution I can make to your committee is probably to describe the origins and governance of my organization, its current work and some of the factors that have affected our approach in recent years.
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy was established in 1992 at the initiative of a cross-party group of parliamentarians who wanted to support their counterparts in eastern Europe and in other regions that were enjoying new freedoms following the end of the Cold War. Since our Parliament did not have the means to fund such work, they approached the British government which, having looked at the practices in the U.S. and Germany in particular, decided to establish our foundation. Since then, our governance structure and mission have remained broadly the same.
We are an arm's-length body of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, so the board and the CEO are appointed by the foreign secretary. The board is non-executive and has six political members. At present, they are all members of Parliament—they don't have to be. It has four non-political members as well.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office approves our strategy, but we have operational independence in our work. Although we are not a parliamentary body, the Speaker of the House of Commons is our patron, and we work very closely with all the U.K.'s Parliaments, including the devolved Parliament and assemblies. The U.K. political parties are obviously critically important to us. Our mission remains the same now as it was in 1992: to support improvements in democratic governance in developing and transition countries.
Today we have offices in 30 countries and we work with four main stakeholders: Parliament, political parties, electoral bodies and civil society. Our focus is the quality of the political system in our partner countries, so our main areas of thematic focus are women's political participation, inclusion of marginalized groups, accountability and transparency.
Our dominant methodology is peer-to-peer support, sharing experiences among counterparts. The details of each program are different and tailored to the requirements of our individual partners. I can provide examples later on. There are also many in our annual report and on our website. We also have a small research program and a research partnership with the University of Birmingham in England.
On our funding, we receive an annual grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. This has been steady at £3.5 million in recent years. We also receive grants from the U.K. government, and from a range of other donors for programs in specific countries or regions for which we usually compete with other organizations. Our overall revenue this year will be about £17 million.
Let me just mention three factors that have affected our recent approach to the work in this area. The first factor is interests versus values. We are very much a values-driven organization, but we can no long rely on values alone to persuade donors to invest in democracy support. We also point out that democracy is a critical contributor to all the U.K.'s international priorities from security through to prosperity, from poverty reduction through to carbon reduction. My guess is that it's the same for Canada and all our other allies in their international priorities.
We also want to be clearer than in the past about the specific elements of democratic practice that count, be it financial oversight, policy-driven political parties or gender-sensitive parliaments. It's no good anymore just to say that we support the general idea of democracy. We have to be much more specific than that.
The second factor that affects our work is that change takes time. We believe that progress comes through patient investment in a combination of institutions and leadership. Institutions need skills and a political culture that's adaptive, tolerant and resilient in the face of the inevitable challenges that every country will face, but every country also needs leadership to respond to those challenges and to take up opportunities when they arise.
In some ways, time in this work is more valuable than money. Democracy needs modest resources but abundant patience. I would add that for us as an organization, the position that we're in today, which is feeling pretty strong at home, has taken 25 years of work to get to. So we've needed patience domestically as well.
These two factors feed into the final one that I want to mention, namely, how to work as effectively as possible to support democracy. My feeling in the U.K., and my observation in other countries, is that effectiveness has to start with a clear policy. Each country, be it the U.K., the U.S., Canada or whichever it might be, needs a well-developed democracy support policy that will secure broad political consensus. We haven't all had that all of the time, but I think it is a very important element.
With a strong policy, we can establish a coherent approach across government and help to maintain support over a long period. Without a strong policy, there is a risk of incoherence and a short-term approach.
Mr. Chair, I'm happy to elaborate on any of those points, but those are the main things that I wanted to say to start off the discussion.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to the committee for inviting me to testify this morning.
I applaud the fact that you're initiating a study of Canada's role in democratic development around the world. I've long believed that Canada has a critically important role to play in this field, never more so than at the present time.
NED was founded 35 years ago, at a hopeful moment, when what was subsequently called the third wave of democratization was just beginning to gather momentum. As, of course, we well know, the current period is very, very different. The year 2018 marked the 13th consecutive year, according to Freedom House, in which democracy has declined around the world. This period has seen the rising power and assertiveness of authoritarian states like China, Russia and Iran; the backsliding of once democratic countries like Turkey, Venezuela, the Philippines, Thailand and Hungary; and the rise of populist and nationalist movements and parties in the established democracies. Autocratic regimes have tried to repress independent groups working to promote greater freedom and to cut them off from international assistance, from institutions like the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute, NED's party institutes. They've also passed harsh laws that make it illegal for NGOs to receive foreign assistance.
The work nonetheless goes on and has even been expanding, which is a testament to the determination and the courage of indigenous groups that want to continue to work and receive needed assistance despite the risks. We should not forget that despite all the backsliding, there have also been important gains over the past year in Ethiopia, Armenia and Malaysia. NED provided support to democrats in all of these countries before the political openings, which positioned us to quickly scale up our support once the openings occurred. This is an example of our commitment and ability to navigate around the obstacles created by authoritarian regimes and to continue to provide assistance, while taking care to protect the safety of our grantees.
NED is an unusual institution. It was built to take on tough challenges. Following President Reagan's historic Westminster address in 1982, which called for a new effort to support democracy throughout the world, NED was created as a non-governmental organization governed by a private and independent board of directors. NED receives its core funding in the form of an annual congressional appropriation that was authorized in the National Endowment for Democracy Act passed in 1983. The NED Act also built a firewall between the endowment and the executive branch of our government.
NED is a private, bipartisan, grant-making institution that steers clear of immediate policy disputes and takes a long-term approach to democratic development. In addition to supporting grassroots democratic initiatives, it also serves as a hub of activity, resources and intellectual exchange for democracy activists, practitioners and analysts around the world.
NED takes a multisectoral approach to democratic assistance, funding programs by its four core institutes, which represent our two major political parties, the business community and the labour movement. I'm aware that you heard from the presidents of our two party institutes, NDI and IRI, just two weeks ago. Each of the NED's four core institutes is able to access its sector's expertise and experience from all over the world. In addition, its targeted demand-driven small grants program responds directly to the needs of local NGOs, defends human rights, strengthens independent media and civic education, and empowers women and youth in a manner that enables them to establish credibility as independent democratizing forces in their own societies.
As an autonomous institution dedicated to supporting democracy, NED can steadily strengthen indigenous civil society organizations, learn through trial and error, and build important networks of trust and collaboration that can be effective over the long term.
As a nimble private organization with no field offices abroad, NED has developed a reputation for acting swiftly, flexibly and effectively in providing vital assistance to activists working in the most challenging environments. It also devotes enormous efforts to monitoring the work of our grantees and to fulfilling our fiduciary responsibilities in the careful management of taxpayer funds.
NED further leverages its grants program through networking and recognition activities that provide political support and solidarity to front-line activists. These activities include the World Movement for Democracy, which networks democracy activists globally; the Center for International Media Assistance; the Reagan-Fascell democracy fellows program; and our own democracy award events on Capitol Hill.
NED also promotes scholarly research through the International Forum for Democratic Studies and the Journal of Democracy, giving activists access to the latest insights on aiding democratic transitions and strengthening liberal values, and also helping to inform thinking internationally on critical new challenges facing democracy.
In 2015, the Congress provided NED with additional funds to develop a strategic plan to respond to resurgent authoritarianism. As part of this plan, NED now funds programs that address six strategic priorities: helping civil society respond to repression; defending the integrity of the information space; countering extremism and promoting pluralism and tolerance; reversing the failure of governance in many transitional countries; countering the kleptocracy that is a pillar of modern authoritarianism; and strengthening co-operation among democracies in meeting the threat to democracy.
By pursuing common strategic objectives, the entire net effort has become stronger and more integrated, with greater co-operation taking place across the different regions and among the five institutions—NED and its four core institutes—that comprise what we call the NED family.
As Canada thinks about how to establish an effective, and cost-effective, way to advance democracy in the world, I suggest that you consider the distinction that is drawn in a new European report between what it calls top-down and bottom-up approaches to democracy assistance. In essence, the top-down approach supports the incremental reform of, for example, the judiciary or other institutions, often in a technocratic way and in partnership with governments that may be only superficially committed to democratic reform. The alternative bottom-up approach responds to and seeks to empower local actors in addressing immediate challenges that they face and developing their capacity to promote reform and institutional accountability over the long term. The report recommends a substantial strengthening of the bottom-up instruments, such as the European Endowment for Democracy, an organization modelled on NED, which the report says has been effective in dealing with the current difficult challenges.
I want to conclude by stating my strong and long-held belief that Canada has the ability to make an important contribution to strengthening democracy internationally, especially at this very uncertain moment when liberal democracy is under attack around the world. You have hundreds of dedicated democracy practitioners, many of them veterans of NDI and IRI programs, who have the experience to lead a new Canadian effort.
The U.S. is still engaged in this work, and there is strong bipartisan support in the Congress for what NED does and for human rights and democracy more generally. However, the American voice is now more muted than in the past, and the time has come for Canada to step up and provide a new source of democratic energy and drive.
There are many practical ways that you can help, but the decision to create a new instrument to provide such help will itself be an important act of democratic solidarity, one that will give hope to many brave activists and make our world a safer and more peaceful place.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't know that there has been an acceleration, but the trend is steady and very worrisome. I think we should start by at least recalling....
I referred earlier in my testimony to the third wave of democratization. That was the period that began with the fall of the Portuguese military in 1974 and then grew and expanded. It really covered the whole world except for the Arab Middle East, which then had the revolutions of 2011. This really came to a head at the end of the 1990s. The number of democracies in the world reached a peak in 2005 of about 125. We've seen this reversal since then.
I should point out that in the theory put forward by Samuel Huntington about the third wave, he said that the third wave assumes the possibility of a reverse wave, just as the first two waves of democratization had reverse waves with the rise of communism and fascism in the 1930s. Then there was the backsliding in the newly decolonized countries in the 1960s and 1970s, with the rise of military dictatorships in Latin America.
I might note that in 1976, Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that democracy is “where the world was, not where the world is going”. It was a very pessimistic moment. He had been ambassador in India, and India had an emergency at that time, yet that was at the very point where the third wave of democratization was beginning. We shouldn't get too upset by these reversals. They are sort of built into the process of development. In terms of reversal, obviously there are things like the economic crisis of 2008, globalization and the fact that many people have been left out of globalization, and the so-called dictator's learning curve, where dictators learn how to use forms of democratization while increasing repression, making it more difficult to attack them. All of these things are factors.
I did point out in my testimony that we should not forget that gains have been made. What's happening now in Ethiopia, Armenia, Malaysia and even Tunisia, the first Arab democracy, is very, very important. We need to be able to encourage those trends. The political scientists, in talking about the current period, do not use the term “reverse wave”. They do not feel we're in a reverse wave. It has been called a recession. It may get worse, and this is what we have to fight against, but I would not exaggerate the backlash and the backsliding.
I think it's critically important.
There are different levels of independence. I should note that in his testimony, Mr. Smith noted that the board is appointed by the foreign secretary, and they approve the strategy and the budget. That's not the way it works. NED has a greater degree of independence. I think Canada is going to have to determine the level of independence this can have.
I think the firewall has been critically important in giving us the flexibility and independence to move quickly and to get into very tough situations, sometimes before our government is ready to do that, sometimes when our government may have diplomatic initiatives under way. Somebody may say that if this were connected by an institution without an arm's-length relationship, it may be very difficult.
We were able to be active in Egypt during the Mubarak period. We're active there today, and also in Russia. We're active in China. This gives us the freedom to work, despite the diplomatic engagement that our government may have. That's how Congress wanted it.
This process has worked. In other words, it has not created complications for our government. It strengthened it, as I pointed out. In countries such as Ethiopia, Armenia and Malaysia, when an autocratic government falls, the fact that we have been there and have been involved there has given us the capacity to move very quickly to begin to strengthen the groups that are involved in the transition process. I think that's absolutely critical. I call attention to these three countries because we have to work together to help democracy succeed in these countries. If it does succeed, it's possibly going to give new momentum to democracy in other countries around the world.
Our operating model provides political stability in that we are a cross-party organization. All the parties in our Parliament are represented on our board. This means that in agreeing to a long-term strategy and in taking day-to-day operational decisions, we need to hit that sweet spot where we will maintain the support across our Parliament, across our political system, if you like, for what we do.
Certainly in my four and a half years at the foundation, we have not had any decision that has caused controversy between the members of the board from the governing party and the members of the board from the opposition parties. We have all been in a position whereby we've supported the type of action we're taking, because there is cross-party support for work on democracy. That's the way we have maintained our ability to operate in an objective way that retains cross-party support.
The second thing responds partly to that and partly to the previous questions.
I think the first question for Canada is not necessarily an institutional one; it's a policy one. The first thing we need in our system—and I think it would apply to Canada too—is clarity about that vision, that you, across the political spectrum in Canada, want to work on these issues, want to be committed to these issues over the long term and are willing to fund them.
The question of the institution is the next one. The foundation is not, by the way, the only instrument our government uses for democracy support. It uses many institutions, including the ones that Carl mentioned, our colleagues at NDI and IRI. The institutions question is, if you like, a secondary one. Different models can bind in the political support you need.
Thank you for letting me appear from Washington. It would be cruel to tell you about the weather here today, so I won’t.
Given that I am perhaps just slightly less well known in Canada than the Honourable Ed Broadbent, I thought I'd give you a bit of context on where I come from on this issue.
Several committee members and witnesses have talked about the prevalence of Canadians working in non-Canadian organizations on democracy promotion. Both my husband and I fit that description. He is from Vancouver Island, and after joining the Canadian Armed Forces, worked for the National Democratic Institute. He now works for a private U.S. firm, in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Haiti and Iraq. I grew up and went to university in Edmonton. I lived in Ottawa for several years and have spent the last 15 years or so abroad.
I helped Mr. Roméo Dallaire with the Child Soldiers Initiative.
I worked in Sudan at both a UN peacekeeping mission and an all-women university. I also helped to lead one of the world's top organizations focused on implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325. We've worked with institutions, with more than 30 governments and directly with coalitions of women in Colombia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Rwanda and many other places.
I'll just say that I've been lucky enough to see up close some of what works and some of what doesn't with regard to democracy promotion. Quite frankly, I will note that while I've always been a very proud Canadian, living in the U.S. for the last several years and having a front-row view of the erosion of democratic norms here has only reinforced my appreciation of what Canada has to offer on the world stage.
I've listened to all of the witnesses who have testified thus far, from two weeks ago and this morning, and agree totally with their headlines: democracy is under threat; authoritarians are emboldened; and Canada has a unique and important role.
Every speaker has also emphasized the importance of women's meaningful inclusion. What I'd like to do in my testimony this morning is unpack that a bit and discuss how Canada can do that in the smartest way possible, so here's a spoiler alert about my own headlines. They are, one, meaningful inclusion for women, with support for meaningful inclusion for women, is crucial; two, key to doing this well is thinking broadly about the ingredients of democracy promotion; and, three, we should energetically and unapologetically embrace this idea as core to Canada's brand and central to what we contribute to the global order.
I understand that part of objective of this study is to see how the field has developed since 2007. To start, we have important new data. Harvard researchers undertook a massive study and found that the single biggest predictor of whether a country goes to war with itself or with its neighbours is not its ethnic makeup, geographic location, GDP or dominant religion. It's how women are treated. Do they have access to their rights and are they included?
Another study found that even democracies with higher levels of violence against women are as insecure and as unstable as non-democracies. Why would that be? Researchers now propose that what occurs in a home is fundamentally a blueprint for how society runs and governs. If the dominant norm in the private sphere, in the home, is that men's interests trump women's, that differences are resolved with violence and that there is impunity for that violence, it becomes a template for dealing with all other forms of difference, including ethnic, ideological, etc.
Another new indicator of the centrality of women to democratization since 2007 is much more information about the fact that authoritarians have put women activists more squarely in their sights. The committee has heard about the shrinking space for civil society activism worldwide. Again, let's unpack that for a minute.
One of the most credible 2018 reports on the subject said that, by a large margin, women, including women's rights defenders and groups advocating for women's rights, are the most common target in the incidents they recorded. See the murder in Guatemala of indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres. See the arrest last week in the Philippines of Maria Ressa, a journalist and outspoken critic of President Duterte.
This weekend, I spoke with a friend in Sudan, who confirmed that women have been the primary organizers and front-line protestors of the demonstrations that have been going on there since late December. She confirmed that women are facing targeted rape and sexual assault and that in the last few days, security forces have taken on a new tactic of cutting off women's hair while they are exposed in the streets.
In terms of women's political representation, where do we stand? As I think you know, about 24% of national parliamentarians globally are women, and that has doubled in the last 20 years. The fastest-growing area has been Latin America. Of particular note for this committee given your interest in promoting youth inclusion has been the fact that among women you see the greatest proportion of young people. About 18% of ministerial posts are held by women worldwide. Right now, there are only about 11 women serving as heads of state.
The trajectory is roughly good with some exceptions, but the overall pace of change is abysmal. How can Canada accelerate that pace of change?
I would argue that it is important to focus on the so-called traditional dimensions of political strengthening, such as building capacities of women candidates and members of Parliament, registering women voters, encouraging women to run and focusing on institutional capacities. I'd also argue that Canada can lead the way by thinking and acting more expansively, that is, by recognizing the connections between democratization and women's participation in a broad range of areas that determine governance. That includes areas like peace negotiations where forms of government are determined, constitution drafting where rights are enshrined or ignored, and non-violent civil resistance movements, which are the linchpins to sparking the democratic culture that Mr. Smith mentioned earlier.
That means playing a deliberate role in conflict environments, which are often the hardest and the messiest, but which also present opportunities for the most accelerated change. This bears out around the world. Of the 30 countries with the highest levels of women's representation, one-third are post-conflict.
In this case, strategic support for democratization means implementing Canada's national action plan on women, peace and security. It means funding the feminist international assistance policy and ensuring core funding for women's rights groups. It means insisting that women be at the table for negotiations in Afghanistan, North Korea, Venezuela and beyond, and maintaining a holistic perspective about the path to democratization, specifically resisting the idea that spending on defence equates to the only true investment in security.
I'm happy to speak to any of those issues, including technology, which I realize we haven't touched on.
If I may, to close, I want to address a notion that I've heard expressed several times, that Canada may already be pushing too hard or too fast on some of these issues, and that this could be alienating or counterproductive or harmful economically for us at home.
First, I say in response to this that this is no time to treat inclusion as a side item or merely nice to have. There are forces aggressively pulling people away from democracy. They are strong, well resourced and aggressive, and there is a profound cost to not meeting that pull with an equal and opposite reaction. It may not happen immediately but we will experience the costs from states that are more likely to traffic in drugs, weapons and people, to create or harbour terrorists, to enable criminal networks, to generate refugees, or even to suffer pandemics.
Very clearly, the fight for women's rights has never been isolated from the economy or from national security.
Finally, I have seen on too many occasions how people who want to hoard power often use the excuse that some changes that others are seeking are not “culturally appropriate” or are western driven. To be clear, culture has to inform tactics such as the messengers we use. It's a crucial consideration regarding our approach, but democratic values and the idea that women should have an influence on decisions that affect their own lives are not inherently western concepts. In my experience, those who tell outsiders to bring their capital but step back on anything related to power are usually the ones most fearful of being held accountable by their own constituencies.
I think our approach must always be respectful and humble, but we can and should talk about our values. It's more crucial now than ever.
Mr. Chairman, and if I may say, my fellow colleagues or former colleagues, it's good to be back here, especially in consideration of such an important subject. I appreciate the opportunity of sharing some thoughts on how Canada can best support democratic development internationally. In particular, I will focus on the proposals made by an earlier incarnation of this committee in the report issued in 2007, in which it recommended the creation of two bodies: an arm's-length foundation for international democratic development and a centre for multi-party and parliamentary democracy, to be funded by that foundation.
I believe that in considering these proposals, the committee can do no better than to review the reasons for Parliament's decision in the 1980s to create the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, which fortunately has since been simply renamed Rights and Democracy, which is a little easier to say. Then, as now, much of the world was in turmoil and our parliamentarians came up with a modest, but effective, proposal for assisting people in developing nations in their efforts to develop democratic societies. In a unanimous report to Parliament, they recommended the creation of a single institution that would be clearly at arm's length from the government and would foster in developing countries provisions of the International Bill of Human Rights, and in so doing, would most effectively establish the foundation for a multi-party democracy. This key idea was accepted by the government of the day, Mr. Mulroney's government, and by the opposition parties, and resulted in the unanimous adoption of the bill creating Rights and Democracy that came into effect just before the election in 1988.
Of particular concern to parliamentarians at that time, as it should be today, was to avoid any form of Canadian imperialism lite, if I may put it that way. Our objective should not be to replicate our form of parliamentary democracy or our Charter of Rights; rather, it should be to foster human rights, which are universally recognized in the International Bill of Human Rights. This includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the optional protocol on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and finally, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
With this emphasis, it was understood in the 1980s as it is today that many states, for example, in Latin America, have so-called competitive elections, but what they lack is freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom to have a union, freedom of the press, and broadly speaking, the rule of law. As the broad sweep of western European and North American history has shown, the core foundation for a multi-party democracy is a society that embodies in its institutions and practices universal rights, which now include social and economic rights. Without human rights and the rule of law, so-called elections more often than not are simply a sham. With rights in place, however, men and women who were once excluded from the franchise used those rights to organize and demand their right to it. The act creating Rights and Democracy specifically focused on what it said was the need to reduce the gap between what some states are formally committed to, for example, in their constitutions, and what actually takes place within those states.
Since that time and now, many states have signed onto the international covenants but have failed to meet international standards for their implementation. Much of Rights and Democracy's most useful work has been to help bridge this gap between principle and reality, for example in Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan and Thailand. It was to pick up, as some of the earlier presenters said, a bottom-up approach, not top down. Most often this work was done by the institution with civil society partners in those countries, and it was those partners, not we Canadians, who established the priority for action. In the same countries, CIDA often worked on a state-to-state basis for the same objectives with the government of the day.
I believe it's of great importance to understand that by combining the words “democratic development” with “human rights”, the former was not seen as an add-on to the latter; rather, it was to make clear that the emphasis on rights is precisely what is involved in democratic development. It's for this reason that I do not believe Parliament needs to create two institutes, as recommended by the committee in 2007, one for international development and then another one for multi-party and parliamentary democracy. I believe one institution can suffice.
The principal reason the former Rights and Democracy did not have programs specifically aimed at the development of multi-party democratic states, during my six-year tenure as president, for example, was simply a matter of resources. Considering the global scope of the mandate and the limited financial resources, we thought we should restrict our support to human rights activists and programs. I now believe that with an enhanced budget, one institution would be sufficient, and it could be made clear in legislation that the development of multi-party democracies should be part of its mandate.
Some other suggestions might also be considered in contemplating the content of legislation creating a new institution. It should be spelled out in that legislation, in my view, that the institution is “not an agency of Her Majesty”.
To help ensure all-party support for its work, I believe board members should be appointed after serious consultation with leaders of all the opposition parties. In addition, consideration should be given to appointing up to one-quarter of the board's members from developing countries.
In conclusion, I would like to emphasize how unique the structure, independence and importance of Rights and Democracy were up until nearly the end of its existence. In operating independently of the government, it gained credibility both with international NGOs and foreign governments. At the same time, as a creation of the federal government with its president appointed by Privy Council and having the institutional support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, I as president had more access to heads of government than almost any other international NGO.
It was because of the special combination of independence from the government of the day, yet being on a Canadian diplomatic passport that I was able to seek and obtain meetings with President Clinton, the King of Thailand, and the presidents of Guatemala, Mexico, Rwanda, Eritrea and Kenya, among others. Such meetings and the usefulness they provide for serious human rights action and discussion are simply unavailable to heads of NGOs.
In summary, I believe Canada should help the emergence of more democracies in the world, and do so in part by establishing an arm's-length institution whose purpose is to help facilitate in developing countries the implementation of the rights found in the International Bill of Human Rights.
I'm very much aware that the ideas I've briefly outlined raise a lot of questions that I will now try to answer.
Thank you very much.
To look back on the foundations is good in this case, because the foundations were excellent.
I didn't work on the committee at the time—I was party leader—but I can say it was a remarkable all-party report in the 1980s, with a lot of enthusiasm, which led to the creation of Rights and Democracy. It had the support not only of the government, but of all the parties in the opposition, and for many years, whether it was in Mr. Mulroney's government, with Joe Clark as foreign affairs minister, or in Jean Chrétien's government, with André Ouellet as foreign affairs minister, there was an arm's-length relationship with the institute, but the emphasis of the institute was on grassroots organizations.
I should add, because it was a big part of the mandate, that women's rights were at the front and centre of our priority in developing countries then, as they should be now.
By the way, all parties were represented on the board, not as MPs, but in terms of their backgrounds. They came from all political persuasions in Canada. It was built on experience, and the institutional work is there. I would recommend the committee look at some of the reasons why it was created and why it was quite successful.
Exactly as the speakers in the previous session mentioned, some of the biggest challenges we're seeing right now are with the most fragile or perhaps regressive democracies. I believe they call them shallow. They are the ones who have taken steps at an architectural level very quickly and have either not had the cultural change underpinning them or been genuinely inclusive. There is a quick-fix option that I think we're seeing that is not resulting in sustainable results.
What does that mean for women's representation, women's inclusion and its connection to this issue? Specifically to your question, if there were to be an institution set up, I would, number one, want to ensure that it's not very narrowly defined as being only, for example, political party strengthening or candidate strengthening. I think it has to be, as many other speakers have referenced, broadly inclusive of civil society. It would also be crucial that staff there understand, and the programming reflect, a really sophisticated understanding of different contexts and different ways and different responses for supporting women, i.e., when they are appropriate and when they are not.
A great deal of study and scholarship experience has been gathered on, for example, saying that different types of quotas are more likely to work in different contexts. We need to make sure we understand that. We need to understand the different types of support that women's civil society networks are more likely to need to receive than either mixed or primarily male-dominated civil society networks. We need to have a level of sophistication and understanding about how to do this embedded in any institution.
I think Canada's far better placed to do this than almost any other country I have worked with. I mean, we have members of the Canadian Armed Forces who know how to do gender-based analysis plus. The national action plan was generated through your committee, overseen through this committee, and done with massive consultation across the country. There are people who have the expertise on this and who can do more than say that women's rights are important and we must protect those as a means of ensuring inclusion. I'd say there should be a real depth of expertise and a professionalization of that service within any future institution or set of institutions.
Very briefly on technology, I really commend the committee, because I know that in the past you've talked about technology and this issue, recognizing its importance, and also recognizing that many of us talk about technology as though it's so-called gender neutral, as though it's something that's a great equalizer and it affects men and women in the same way. Again, I would love to unpack that.
For women, especially women democracy activists, technology can be really positive. Number one, it helps organize and helps overcome some of the barriers that I just mentioned in response to MP Vandenbeld about restrictions on movement. Technology is a way to overcome that. Civil society often needs permits to meet, to gather and to assemble more than 11 people at a time or something like that. It allows women to organize in a way they weren't able to do before.
It's also a very important way to bring young women into governance. I often tell the story about a friend in Tunisia who started a website, an app, to track Tunisia's constitutional drafting, and literally line by painstaking line she got consultation from young people. Her app ended up having more followers than the entire Tunisian national soccer team. When we're talking about getting young people involved in politics, transparency and oversight, it could be really useful.
It can also help share lessons globally. Solidarity is important and the sharing of good practices matters.
However, it also has a very negative potential impact for women specifically and for democracy promotion specifically. I don't need to tell all of you in this room the way that, number one, it can contribute to the external influence on elections, and the level of vitriol or backlash that men and women can face. Often much of it targeted at women is highly sexualized and is targeted at their honour and their place in families and communities.
I'd say that as we are supporting democratization worldwide, part of what we need to make sure we're doing is to ensure that we are supporting women with digital security training, data security, managing their online presence, etc.
I think we need to be wide-eyed about it, and like everything else, recognize that there are gender dimensions to even something that seems relatively innocuous from that perspective.