A Feminist Approach 

Global Affairs Canada’s policy on Civil Society Partnerships for International Assistance (referred to as the Civil Society Partnerships Policy or the Policy) sets out the Department’s approach to enhancing effective cooperation with Canadian, international and local civil society organizations (CSOs) to maximize the impact and results of Canada’s international assistance and foster a strong and vibrant civil society sector. To that effect, the Policy outlines the guiding principles for and overall objectives of Canada’s engagement with CSOs.

Canada’s objective is to reduce extreme poverty, and build a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world. Consistent with its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada sees the empowerment of women and girls and gender equality as the most effective way to achieve this objective. Fostering strong partnerships with civil society and a safe and enabling environment in which they can work are essential to achieving these objectives. Civil society organizations have their own diverse purposes, priorities, capacities and constraints. They bring valuable and unique experience, and they make important contributions to achieving more effective results, fostering new ideas, building local capacity and engaging with Canadians as global citizens. Global Affairs Canada will therefore work with CSOs and other actors to implement a feminist approach across all its international assistance programs, prioritizing those partnerships, innovations and advocacy activities that have the greatest potential to close gender gaps and advance the government’s priority objectives. Thus, during the lifespan of this policy, the Department commits to continuous dialogue with CSOs on what it means to have a feminist approach to partnerships. A feminist approach challenges us to assess how we do things and recognizes the many interconnected factors that affect women, men, girls and boys differently.

Canada’s commitment to advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, at home and abroad, is a key entry point for partnerships with CSOs. Canada views making progress under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5, Achieve gender equality and empowering all women and girls, as essential in driving progress on the other SDGs.

The Civil Society Partnerships Policy is built upon lessons from international best practices and a long history of partnership between the Government of Canada and CSOs involved in international assistance.

Guiding Principles

Global Affairs Canada’s engagement with CSOs in international assistance will be guided by its Feminist International Assistance Policy, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act (where applicable to Canada’s international assistance programming), a human rights-based approach and recognizing the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness.

Feminist International Assistance Policy: Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy identifies six action areas as drivers of transformative change to reduce poverty for everyone and build a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world:

  1. gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, which is the core action area;
  2. human dignity;
  3. growth that works for everyone;
  4. environment and climate action;
  5. inclusive governance; and
  6. peace and security.

In placing gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls at the heart of its international assistance priorities, Canada recognizes women and girls as powerful agents of change, driving stronger economic growth, encouraging greater peace and cooperation, and improving the quality of life for their families and communities.

2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: Canada recognizes that inclusive, multi-stakeholder partnerships are essential to achieving sustainable global development, and that resources from all sectors need to be mobilized to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. SDG 17, Partnerships for the goals, clearly articulates the importance of this critical element.

This commitment to partnerships builds upon previous commitments made by government and civil society, such as the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, the Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness, the New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States and the Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship. Canada recognizes CSOs as independent actors in their own right, acknowledges the importance of supporting an enabling environment for civil society and supports CSOs in achieving greater development effectiveness. The partnership principles of inclusivity, transparency and accountability, results and ownership, as well as mutual respect and a commitment for learning, will form a foundation to achieving these international commitments.

Official Development Assistance Accountability Act: The majority of Canada’s international assistance is composed of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and is subject to the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act. Where applicable, Global Affairs Canada’s engagement with CSOs will align with the Act’s requirements to contribute to poverty reduction, consider the perspectives of the poor and be consistent with international human rights standards. To ensure sustainability of results, Global Affairs Canada’s international assistance programming will continue to support CSO-led initiatives that produce enduring results, that is, results that can be locally sustained when external funding comes to an end.

Human rights-based and inclusive: Canada is committed to supporting international assistance policies and programs that are grounded in a human rights-based approach. Human rights principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation and inclusion, and transparency and accountability are integrated in Canada’s international assistance. These rights must be protected in both physical and online spaces, and Canada will continue to support CSO partnerships that advance these principles in all areas. Civil society promotes inclusion, protects human rights and provides a voice to hold governments accountable for delivering public services, defending the rule of law and promoting participation and inclusive decision-making at all levels.

Istanbul Principles for CSO Development Effectiveness: The Istanbul Principles form part of the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness. The eight principles, developed by and for civil society to assist organizations in achieving greater development effectiveness, address:

  1. a commitment to human rights and social justice;
  2. gender equality and equity;
  3. people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation;
  4. environmental sustainability;
  5. transparency and accountability;
  6. equitable partnerships and solidarity;
  7. creating and sharing knowledge and committing to mutual learning; and
  8. realizing positive sustainable change.


Global Affairs Canada’s civil society partners are recognized as essential actors in helping advance Canada’s feminist international assistance priorities. Guided by the above principles, Global Affairs Canada will work with CSOs in collaboration with national governments, the private sector, multilateral organizations, the research community and other actors to pursue the following policy objectives and achieve gender transformative change that reduces poverty and contributes to building a more inclusive, peaceful and prosperous world.

1. Empower women and girls, promote gender equality, and reach the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalized as the most effective means to reduce poverty: Recognizing that women and girls are diverse and powerful agents of change, Canada’s partnerships aim to support and build on their strength and innovative contributions to reduce poverty for all. Canada will work with CSOs, including local women’s organizations and other partners, to tackle the root causes of gender inequality and address the systemic discrimination that prevents women and girls from realizing their human rights and reaching their full potential, recognizing that inequalities exist along intersectional lines.

To reduce poverty and ensure sustainable and transformative change, all members of society must be empowered to reach their full potential and exercise their human rights. Greater gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls can deliver strong economic growth, reduce chronic hunger, help cut down extreme poverty, lead to longer-lasting peace, benefit entire families and help empower those who face discrimination. Men and boys must also be engaged in the fight for greater gender equality, take opportunities to advocate and lead by example by respecting the rights and interests of women and girls. Civil society provides a vehicle for the voices of the poorest, most vulnerable and most marginalized–including children and youth, seniors, persons with disabilities, refugees, internally displaced people, Indigenous peoples, religious groups, ethnic communities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit and intersex (LGBTQ2I) people–to be heard by their governments and for individuals to hold their leaders to account.

In support of its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada launched the Women’s Voice and Leadership Program. This targeted initiative allocates $150 million over a five-year period (2017 to 2022) to respond to the needs of local women’s organizations in developing countries that are working to advance the rights of women and girls, and promote gender equality.

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