Taking a Feminist Approach

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The Kuki Women’s Centre uses ground-breaking restorative justice techniques to address gender-based violence in their communities in Burma’s north west.
The Kuki Women’s Centre uses ground-breaking restorative justice techniques to address gender-based violence in their communities in Burma’s north west. Credit: Inter Pares

At Inter Pares, February is filled with a frenzy of activity and collaboration in preparation for International Women’s Day. For one of our Ottawa celebrations, I often spend a few evenings compiling feminist highlights and lowlights from the previous year. I use this content to create a short and hopefully entertaining video, and I find the time for reflection truly inspiring.

Last year, it wasn’t until I was making this video that it hit me: three out of four federal party leaders had proclaimed themselves feminists. This year, among other things, we will need to take stock of Canada’s Minister of International Development’s proclamation that the government will have a feminist approach to international assistance.

This plan to apply a feminist lens was announced last May by the Canadian government in a discussion paper which launched a major review of Canada’s international assistance. It was exciting to see the commitment to feminism named. Hearing the Minister and many others involved in the review speak about the importance of a feminist lens inspired us to engage with them on the details and to get concrete about what changes this would imply. As a feminist organization with over forty years of experience, we have seen the transformative results of a feminist approach and we are keen to see it widely used.

At the root of Inter Pares’ feminist approach is a power analysis. In my work on our Burma program, this entails looking at the structural causes of oppression, and ensuring that we are always working towards systemic change. In part because of its long history of military dictatorships and the dominant role the army still plays, Burma is an extremely patriarchal society. Over the past twenty years, the community groups with which we work have been helping to slowly shift this deep-rooted prejudice – through elevating grassroots women’s voices, challenging patriarchical values, and bringing principles of equality into the new community-based institutions they are building.

Our feminist approach has led to significant results across our Burma program, including: women advocates leading international campaigns; female journalists reporting in local languages on national issues; human rights and environmental researchers using a gender analysis; and ethnic civil society developing policies to be tabled at peace negotiations – policies which have been developed by and with women, and which address gender issues. Through a careful process of long-term collaboration, in which we are always learning from each other and from strategies explored in other contexts, our feminist programming in Burma has been, and will be, an important contribution to the country’s transition to a peaceful and democratic nation.

Knowing how important and successful a feminist approach can be, last summer Inter Pares worked with a small group of organizations to create our own consultation event within Canada’s international assistance review. We brought together 50 civil society and government representatives for a full-day dialogue to develop a common understanding of feminist approaches, an assessment of challenges and opportunities in the government’s current approach, and a set of practical recommendations. We then co-authored a submission, detailing our recommendations to the government for implementing a new feminist approach. We continue to engage civil servants to promote this approach, which we believe can profoundly change societies.

When we celebrate International Women’s Day 2017, I am confident there will yet again be a long list of highlights to celebrate and lowlights to motivate. At Inter Pares, we will take the time to reflect on both, to learn from these, and to continue to challenge systemic inequality through our feminist approach.


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