Feminist Foreign Policy- Submission to Global Affairs

  • Trade Justice Network
  • 08 Dec 2020
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“While gender equality, especially in education and employment, contributes to economic growth, the reverse is not true; economic growth does not contribute to gender equality nor to improvements in health, welfare or basic rights.”[i]


Ottawa- Monday, November 30, 2020

Dear Global Affairs Canada,

We are writing to you on behalf of the Trade Justice Network, a coalition of environmental, civil society, student, Indigenous, cultural, farming, labour and social justice organizations that came together in 2010 to call for a new global trade regime founded on social justice, human rights and environmental sustainability.

Our members include the Canadian Labour Congress, UNIFOR, Canadian Union of Public Employees, United Steelworkers, Climate Action Network Canada, Council of Canadians, National Union of Public and General Employees, Communication Workers of America (Canada), National Farmers Union and many other groups. We commend the Canadian government for committing to developing a feminist trade policy and feminist foreign policy.

Canada’s commitment to the liberalization of trade and investment across international borders has been a priority for decades and politicians across party lines regularly point to free trade agreements (FTAs) as the answer to economic growth. While there has been economic growth, these benefits have been unevenly distributed. Historically-rooted systemic inequalities mean that people are located in the global economy in complex and different ways. The impact of trade is felt differently depending on gender, class, race, location, family status and more.[ii]

Trade liberalization has had numerous negative impacts on women and other historically marginalized communities., Canadian trade and investment has not necessarily led to more or better jobs for women, domestically or abroad, because there is low level of female employment in economic activities dedicated to the export of goods. Further, trade liberalization has seen corporations reducing labour costs in order to maintain a competitive edge. This has meant a global trend of labor “flexibility,” leading to a decline in quality of work, an increase in informal work and precarious work. Women, particularly racialized women, make up the majority of people working in precarious and informal work and thus they are facing the brunt of the global trend. Women face more severe exploitation, lower wages, lower access to certain jobs, and face greater obstacles in efforts to secure their rights.

Research in Canada has shown that trade liberalization has led to the defunding and privatization of public services, consequently reducing access and contributing to a decline in quality.[iii] This has disproportionately impacted women and marginalized communities, as both users and providers of public services. Women, particularly poor and racialized women, have had to do more unpaid care work as public services no longer fill that need.[iv]

As capital moves to the Global South in search for lower wages, it is working class racialized communities that are most impacted across the world. While Canada’s trade policy allows for the free flow of capital, goods and products, racialized people are criminalized for trying to move here in search of a better life. Canada continuously criminalizes, detains and fails to support migrants, despite their role globally in displacing them. Very few racialized migrants have access to permanent residency and over 70% of migrants come to Canada on a temporary basis, which means they have limited rights and almost no labour protections. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought light to what has long been true: the immigration policy and economic system allow for extreme exploitation and abuse of migrant workers in Canada.[v] A feminist trade policy and foreign policy would mitigate the harm on workers abroad and provide permanent residency for all migrants.

Trade does not impact all people in the same way. Women, racialized people and poor people are not benefiting from Canada’s trade policy. If international trade is to truly serve as a way forward towards equality, Canada must take seriously the gendered and racialized nature of the globalized economy. Canada must intentionally shape their trade and investment policies and practices to address inequalities, not deepen them.

While there has been much discussion around “feminist foreign policy” and “gender equality” in trade discussions, the Trade Justice Network asserts it has not been sufficient or rendered meaningful results. In 2015, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns about how free trade and investment agreements “might aggravate the problem of extreme poverty, jeopardize fair and efficient foreign debt renegotiation, and affect the rights of indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, and other persons living in vulnerable situations.”[vi] The Commissioner asserts that trade liberalization may threaten “human rights that are enshrined in legally binding instruments, whether civil, cultural, economic, political or social.”[vii]

The Trade Justice Network believes this has not been rectified. For example, historically, trade agreements have been “gender blind,” with no gender analysis or specificity, despite the fact that they are intrinsically tied to global trade relations.[viii] In 2017, Canada signed its first trade and gender chapter as a part of the Canada-Chile FTA.[ix] Canada claims to want to ensure women get a greater share of the benefits of trade and growth. But we are concerned that these standalone chapters are not enough. They fail to address structural causes of gender inequalities, as well as how those inequalities intersect with other forms of inequality such as race, ethnicity, class, age, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, and others.

Despite word service to sustainability, equality and justice, trade rules continue to be shaped around trade flows for economic growth through the expansion of merchandise and services trade and investment, regardless of the negative impacts they will have on the social goals Canada claims to strive for. Canada must prioritize equality, progressive social reproduction and sustainability over economic growth in both global and national macroeconomic policy.

The following are concrete steps the Canadian government can take towards developing a feminist trade policy:

  • Integrate a gender/feminist analysis throughout all trade policy and through the process of trade negotiations.
  • Gender mainstreaming: rather than a standalone gender chapter, entire trade agreements need a gender and feminist lens.
  • Develop analysis for gendered impacts of trade agreements after agreements are signed.
  • Gender provisions must be enforceable in trade agreements; this extends to the need for labour provisions to be enforceable, including addressing workplace sexual harassment and wage discrimination.
  • Trade agreements must adhere to international norms, covenants, and human rights agreements including: the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the UN Platform for Action from the UN Fourth Conference on Women, International Labour Organization Core Conventions and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Include women’s, trade unions and civil society participation in policy-making and trade negotiations; this will require a more fair and transparent trade agreement process.
  • Provide adjustment assistance and support to groups adversely impacted by trade and trade agreements.
  • Targeted government procurement policies to support for women-owned SMEs.
  • Negotiate a public service exemption from all current and future trade agreements, which currently encourage the market-supply of essential services and leave countries vulnerable to trade and investment disputes against the expansion and public delivery of public services.
  • Ensure that investment agreements do not restrict states’ authority to uphold their duty to protect Indigenous rights and ensure Indigenous Peoples’ self-determination and sovereignty.

We look forward to seeing Canada move towards a Feminist Trade Policy as an integral part of its White Paper and wider Feminist Foreign Policy.



Jesse Whattam, Co-ordinator

On behalf of the Trade Justice Network





[i] Atilano, M., Bárcena, L., Ibrahim, N., & Pin, C. (2019). Women’s Rights and Gender Equity. In Beyond NAFTA 2.0: Towards A Progressive Trade Agenda for People and Planet. (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), and Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung New York Office)

[ii] Roberts, A., Trommer, S., & Hannah, E. (2019). Gender impacts of trade and investment agreements. Policy briefing prepared for the UK Women’s Budget Group. https://wbg.org.uk/analysis/uk-policy-briefings/gender-impacts-of-trade-and-investment-agreements/

[iii] UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, “Political economy of women’s human rights.” (May 2009) Available at: ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/ Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

[iv] Elson, D., Grown, C., & Cağatay, N. (2007). Mainstream, heterodox and feminist trade theory. In I. van Staveren, C. G. Elson, & N. Çağatay (Eds.), The feminist economics of trade (pp. 33–52). London: Routledge; Hannah, E., Roberts, A., & Trommer, S. (2020). Towards a feminist global trade politics. Globalizations, 18(1), 70-85.

[v] The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, CCESO, CDWCR, The Caregivers’ Action Centre. (Oct 2020). Behind Closed Doors: Exposign Migrant Care Worker Exploitation During COVID-19. Available at: https://migrantrights.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Behind-Closed-Doors_Exposing-Migrant-Care-Worker-Exploitation-During-COVID19.pdf

[vi] OHCHR. (2015). UN experts voice concern over adverse impact of free trade and investment agreements on human rights. https://ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16031

[vii] Ibid 6.

[viii] Ibid 4.

[ix] Gov of Canada. Trade and gender in free trade agreements: The Canadian approach. Available at: https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/gender_equality-egalite_genres/trade_gender_fta-ale-commerce_genre.aspx?lang=eng