As a fund created to resource women's rights organizations and human rights defenders, we hear from activists and their experiences every day. Here is but one recent example.
It says, “Dear sisters, my colleagues and I are speaking to the lawyers, and are working towards resolving the situation. We had campaigned for years to get legislation to stop trafficking of women in Iraq, and it was approved in 2012. Now, the extremists in power are using this same legislation against us, to stop us from sheltering women, and to attempt to humiliate us as criminals.”
Criminalization, attacks, harassment, cyber-bullying, imprisonment and violence against women's rights and LGBTQI defenders are, unfortunately, on the rise in many parts of the world. I congratulate the subcommittee on this important and timely study, and thank you for the opportunity to appear on the heels of International Women's Day.
I represent the Equality Fund, a Canadian-based women's fund that supports women's rights organizations and feminist funds in the global south and east, like the organization from Iraq whose message I just shared. We received a $300-million contribution from Global Affairs Canada in 2019. At present, Equality Fund resources are flowing to over 300 women's rights organizations and LGBTQI groups in about 85 countries.
In my brief time, I'd like to make two observations and leave the subcommittee with five recommendations.
First, I'd like to build on the testimony of other witnesses. Women's rights and LGBTQI activists in Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere are on the front lines pushing back against authoritarian regimes. They pay a huge price. We see this pattern of anti-gender ideologies and backlash against women's rights in many places, whether it's in the U.S. on reproductive rights or in the Philippines, Nicaragua and Sri Lanka.
Second, against this backdrop, I would like to lift up the need for networks, connections and collaborative work that was mentioned by other speakers who have testified here. Following the fall of Kabul in 2021, Equality Fund collaborated with allies to better support brave activists. In the case of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we coordinated to resource women's funds based in Ukraine and neighbouring countries to support women and non-binary people as they fled their homes.
Here's what we've learned: Long-term support for women's rights movements is absolutely key. Strong, well-supported movements enable effective responses when crises hit and regimes crack down. The protests we are seeing in Iran, for example, are possible because of decades of organizing and resistance by the movements. This didn't just happen overnight.
Investments overall in these efforts are incredibly underfunded. This is in sharp contrast to the money being mobilized to attack the rights of women and non-binary people. According to the Global Philanthropy Project, between 2008 and 2017, 11 American organizations associated with the anti-gender movement channelled at least a billion dollars to countries across the globe.
Finally, we have to listen to activists when they say that collective care and protection are inseparable. Defenders require urgent assistance when they are in immediate danger. In addition, investments in support structures, long-term health and community-based strategies, as defined by the activists themselves, are essential.
Here are our recommendations.
First, release the long-promised feminist foreign policy paper and ensure that there are the resources and support to ensure its successful implementation.
Second, with the feminist international assistance policy, Global Affairs Canada has taken steps to resource feminist movements. As the peace and security ambassador told this committee last year, more can be done.
Third, review the effectiveness of the “Voices at Risk” guidelines. As this subcommittee has heard, these commitments are intended to guide how Canadian diplomats support human rights defenders around the world. It is time to assess whether or not the guidelines meet this urgent moment or whether bolder measures are needed.
Fourth, increase the number of human rights defenders admitted under the newly established immigration stream. At the very minimum, Canada could expand this key program so that 250 is the number of defenders alone, not counting the people and family members who arrive with them.
Fifth, increased support for women human rights defenders once they arrive in Canada is urgently needed. The vast majority want to continue their advocacy in their home country but are hindered by the absence of resources to connect, strategize and continue their important work.
We also support the numerous recommendations presented to this committee on Afghanistan, including amending Canada's anti-terrorism legislation to enable Canadian organizations to support women's rights activists in Afghanistan and other countries with similar contexts. The exemptions presented yesterday are a step in the right direction, and we are looking forward to learning more.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today.
I welcome your questions.