PacNet #21 – How feminist is Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy – PART TWO: The ‘Needs Improvement’

In Part I of this series, we examined Canada’s 2022 Indo-Pacific strategy (CIPS or the Strategy) in terms of how well it aligned with the country’s Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), which is functionally Canada’s feminist foreign policy (FFP). In Part II we take a deeper dive to examine ways the strategy could improve to better reflect the country’s FFP aims on four issue areas: i) regional peace, resilience, and security, ii) boosting trade with and within the region, iii) norm-setting and commitment to rule of law, and iv) promoting people-to-people connections, and sustainable future. 

Promoting peace, resilience, and security

While the Strategy aligns with the FIAP in a call for an increased presence of women in peacekeepers, it does not include an expansion of Canada’s Elsie Initiative on Increasing the number of Women in Peace Operations, a policy that has already set Canada apart as a FFP leader, wherein women’s representation in roles includes their presence in positions of power.

More problematic is that CIPS, despite alluding to peace and conflict resolution, remains reliant on militarism, which is problematic for an already over-militarized region. For instance, it has a strong emphasis on bolstering Canada’s military and spy network, and, by aligning its language with other Western powers, the bulking up of Canada’s military could potentially make it part of a disruptive force that stokes greater regional tensions at a time when a fresh, gender-sensitive approach is needed. More distressing is the confrontational tone on the People’s Republic of China (more on this in the last section). The strategy brands China as a “disruptive global power,” using more strident language regarding China than previous foreign policy. This approach may also be contrary to the wishes of countries in the region that do not wish to be caught in the middle of a great power struggle and rapid military build-up that could potentially stir regional instability.

Essentially, through securitization of several aspects of Canada’s approach to the Indo-Pacific, the strategy is in tension with Canada’s FFP, which may pose a challenge to regional stability and tarnish Canada’s role as a global peacebuilder.

Boosting trade with and within the region

Canada’s announcement of the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), as well as working collaboratively within existing regional structures, is a good start in carrying out the country’s FFP in the economic arena. On the other hand, the trade section of the strategy isolates China by aligning with policies like the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), and others that bypass China, raising concerns of further antagonization of this regional competitor.

More importantly, the funding allocations within the strategy fail to tackle some anti-FFP aspects of existing trade policies. For instance, Canada has yet to remove its support for the Inclusive Trade Action Group’s investor-state dispute settlement process that supports multinational corporations’ penalization of countries introducing legitimate measures aimed at meeting human rights obligations and sustainable development goals, including those related to gender equality. The ISDS process has been used by Canadian mining companies to override the wishes of local communities related to water and land protection, and as such may inadvertently contribute to lowering of resilience and security of communities. Notably, gender-based violence (GBV) tends to increase when Canadian-owned extractive companies move into communities. In Indonesia, hundreds of Papua New Guinea women have alleged they have been raped by security personnel at these sites. Some argue that poorly designed trade policies like the ISDS allow Canadian companies to operate internationally with impunity, resulting in negative socio-economic consequences for impacted communities.

Furthermore, historically, trade policies have encouraged the privatization of public services such as healthcare, clean water, and education services. Such programs are consistent gender equalizers, and their loss can significantly undermine women’s stability. Yet CIPS does not address concerns related to these and other problematic trade policies already in place.

Norm-setting and international normative frameworks

While the strategy does mention the aim to work within existing frameworks, especially those that prioritize regional voices, CIPS ignores some important agreements, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes 15 East Asian and Pacific nations of different economic sizes and stages of development including China; or the Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement that has been operating for nearly 50 years. Instead, FinDev aligns itself with the US-sponsored IPEF which notably excludes China.

Furthermore, the FFP Dialogue text contains phrases such as, “dismantling persistent gender inequalities between women, men,” and “transforming social norms, power relations and discriminatory social, political, legal, and economic systems and institutions and structures that perpetuate, intentionally or unintentionally, inequality and exclusion.” Such activist language is a defining feature of Canada’s FIAP, yet this activist approach is toned down in the strategy. In a region with some of the widest gender disparities, CIPS makes no mention of transforming norms that perpetuate gender inequalities or challenging unequal power relations and systemic discrimination. Neither does CIPS define Canada’s foreign policy approach towards Indo-Pacific nations with more traditional gender roles, wherein, initiating a commitment to WPS would itself be a challenge. CIPS demonstrates awareness regarding Indo-Pacific diversity and state commitment to the WPS agenda. However, the document does not outline the significance of Canada’s FFP approach in its strategic engagement with Indo-Pacific states that do not have a dedicated WPS policy.

Connecting people and building a sustainable green future

As noted in Part I, the strategy does make important references to expanding the FIAP and creating and expanding sustainable investment programs. However, given how closely tied development and non-traditional challenges like climate change are to women’s empowerment, and how determinative women’s stability is in state stability, the strategy misses important opportunities to demonstrate Canada’s FFP objectives. If 2022 taught us anything, it was that extreme climate events have already and will continue to have enormous and adverse and costly impacts on human wellbeing. Moreover, climate and other disasters are expected to exacerbate existing fragilities and tensions, particularly for the vulnerable, threatening to roll back hard-one progress already made for the advancement of gender equality. So, a CIPS aligned with FFP principles on development and non-traditional security threats is more crucial now than ever before.

Additionally, while the Strategy acknowledges that “China’s sheer size and influence makes cooperation necessary to…address existential pressures, such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and global health,” the strident stance on China in the rest of the Strategy makes it much more challenging to build Canada-China cooperation regarding key issues such as climate change or health security. If such language derails future talks in the short- and long-term, it will embody another significant opportunity lost for making progress on these crucial issues.


Looking at Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy as a whole, it is heavy on the militaristic rhetoric and confrontational toward China. While like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific have commonly recognized the threat China poses to regional security, there is less consensus on how to address Beijing’s provocations. Though China poses a geopolitical challenge to norm-setting by the United States and other Indo-Pacific players, the region should not overlook the need to engage with Beijing for gender inclusive approaches to regional security, health, climate and growth through consistent cooperation and diplomatic dialogue. Canada, as a late entrant into the region, has the potential to play a larger role in promoting cooperation. Unfortunately, CIPS doesn’t offer many solutions. The strategy lacks the specificity, activism, and funding needed to tackle some of the most intransigent problems related to gender inequality, blunting its impact on regional peace and security.

How could future iterations of the policy improve? Canada should look to the Indo-Pacific people for how to approach China. More specifically, while there are many ASEAN voices expressing views on China’s role in the region, Canada should define future foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific based on greater consultation with Indo-Pacific women’s groups—who acutely understand security from a grassroots perspective—to gain their perspectives on China and other matters. Beyond this, updates to the strategy should include reflection on whether CIPS implementation has demonstrated an effective whole-of-government integration and coordination with other federal feminist policies and initiatives. Without such self-examination and consultations, Canada’s approach to the Indo-Pacific is likely to mirror existing approaches to the Indo-Pacific with regard to women, peace and security and be no better than any other strategy on offer.

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ( is the Director for Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Programs and a Senior Fellow at Pacific Forum International, holds a Harvard International Relations graduate degree, is a member of the Research Network on Women, Peace & Security in Canada, and a Teaching Fellow at Harvard Extension School. Maryruth researches at the intersection of gender and climate security.

Astha Chadha ( is a Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum, PhD Candidate at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, and a researcher at the university’s Democracy Promotion Center. She is a Japanese Government MEXT scholar, and her research focuses on Japan-India relations, Indo-Pacific security, South Asian affairs, and impact of religion on international relations.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the APEC Summit by Justin Trudeau on Twitter. 

PacNet #20 – How feminist is Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy – PART ONE: The Good

Canada’s Indo-Pacific strategy (hereafter, CIPS or “the strategy”), launched in late 2022, is a strong assertion of Ottawa’s mutual strategic interests, the aspirations of a middle power, and a Pacific state’s position in the Indo-Pacific that represents over $9 trillion in economic activity. Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy was aptly summed up by the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly:

“The future of the Indo-Pacific is our future; we have a role to play in shaping it. To do so, we need to be a true, reliable partner. Today, we are putting forward a truly Canadian strategy—one that involves every facet of our society. It sends a clear message to the region that Canada is here, and they can trust we are here to stay.”

Canada’s CIPS highlights the country’s commitment to making the free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific more inclusive through an emphasis on human rights, sustainable development goals (SDGs), and a feminist foreign policy (FFP)—defined as policy that rebalances power inequalities, and is informed by the everyday experiences of people who feel the consequences of such policies. While Canada has not developed an FFP, in 2017 the country launched its Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP), its international assistance programming policy centered on championing gender equality. The FIAP has become the country’s de facto FFP, making Canada the second nation in the world (after Sweden) to develop such a policy. Furthermore, since the launch of the FIAP, Global Affairs Canada (GAC) has announced and begun listening sessions for establishing a formal FFP. The FIAP centers on gender equality and women’s rights, and specifies that Canadian foreign policy—including diplomacy, trade, security, development, and consular services—builds on a series of sectoral feminist policies and initiatives developed in recent years.

The new CIPS makes clear references to Canada’s FIAP as a key focus of Canada’s approach to the Indo-Pacific. But has the FIAP informed CIPS enough to give it feminist credentials? Referring to both the FIAP and dialogue documents related to development of a formal FFP, the following analysis looks at how the strategy aligns with Canada’s own feminist principles. Part I of the discussion—covered in this article—begins by looking at how well CIPS aligns with Canada’s FFP in four topic areas foundational to a middle power like Canada and its aspirations in the Indo-Pacific. These include i) regional peace, resilience, and security, ii) boosting trade with and within the region, iii) norm-setting and commitment to rule of law, and iv) promoting people-to-people connections, and sustainable future.

Promoting peace, resilience, and security

To examine the Strategy’s peace and security pillar, we look at the FIAP, which references Canada’s National Action Plan (NAP) for Women, Peace and Security (WPS), a policy that addresses more than an increase in representation of women in the military. It takes a whole-of-government approach covering not only peace and security policies, but also development assistance and humanitarian action. Furthermore, the FIAP covers participation of women and girls in peacebuilding, women’s rights in post-conflict state-building, and sexual violence in conflict, wherein it specifically ties women’s (human) security to larger security challenges. With this in mind, it is reassuring to see that CIPS calls for the increase of women peacekeepers, though this is perhaps the only way the Strategy aligns with Canada’s FFP on these topics.

Boosting trade with and within the region

On trade, the FIAP acknowledges that trade has “not always benefited everyone equally,” noting the importance of a progressive trade agenda that considers gender equality during trade negotiations, as well as strong environmental protections and labor rights. It calls out the importance of addressing sexual and gender-based violence, consultations with women’s organizations and movements, and the need to consider differential needs of women and men in Canada’s trade agenda.

So, how does CIPS stack up against these aspirational goals? It uses progressive rhetoric like emphasizing the need to support a trade system that is inclusive to create economic prosperity for everyone; enhances support for women entrepreneurs; and expands international partnerships through Canada’s Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES), designed to “help women grow their business through increased access to financing, talent, networks and mentorship.” It also hints at engaging in regional cooperation through a commitment to working within local economic systems by developing a Canada-ASEAN free trade agreement, a comprehensive economic partnership with Indonesia to launch a Canadian trade gateway in Southeast Asia, the Canada-India early progress trade agreement (EPTA). Prioritizing women, pluralism, and emphasizing collaboration over competition are all strategies that align well with the FFP.

Norm-setting and building a sustainable green future

An important element of Canada’s FIAP is the emphasis on “collaborating” in common causes and “learning” from partners. As such, engaging with existing regional frameworks is one way to put Canada’s FFP principles into practice. On this, the Strategy reinforces Canada’s multilateral missions to the United Nations, the European Union, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and of course reinforces Canada’s commitment to its WPS NAP. The strategy also notes plans to appoint a special envoy to coordinate a whole-of-government approach, espouses ASEAN centrality, and calls for advancing Canada’s relationship with ASEAN to the level of strategic partner. By these measures, CIPS demonstrates Canada’s willingness to prioritize the voices of the region.

Looking at objectives 3 (investing in and connecting people) and 4 (Building a sustainable and green future) of the Strategy allows us to examine both development and non-traditional challenges within Canada’s middle power tool chest. Canada’s FFP Dialogue has leaned into a development agenda focused on achieving the SDGs by 2030, in part through the full and equal participation of women, and a focus on resilience through environmental protection and climate change mitigation. The FIAP also notes the importance of education and business development opportunities for women, and the need to address the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and domestic work of women.

How does the strategy address these issues? First, and most promisingly, it references expansion of the FIAP, focuses on entrepreneurship through the WES, and connects to many other women-focused partner programs. The strategy also offers a host of green and sustainable investment programs, like FinDev sustainable infrastructure investments; the Dark Vessel Detection program (designed to halt IUU fishing); DRR expertise sharing; Expand Canada Climate Finance Commitment; Powering Past Coal & cleantech demonstrations; and Advancing Canada’s Global Carbon Pricing Challenge, among others.


Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy has many progressive elements, wherein it references Ottawa’s Feminist International Assistance Policy and other feminist principles in important aspects of Indo-Pacific growth, trade, connectivity, prosperity and inclusiveness. There is explicit recognition of the centrality of the Women, Peace and Security agenda which reflects a gender-sensitive awareness of Ottawa’s strategy towards the Indo-Pacific. These alone make Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy normatively progressive compared to other Indo-Pacific strategies. However, as Part II will suggest, the Strategy diverges from Canada’s previously stated feminist principles in some crucial ways.

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ( is the Director for Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Programs and a Senior Fellow at Pacific Forum International, holds a Harvard International Relations graduate degree, is a member of the Research Network on Women, Peace & Security in Canada, and a Teaching Fellow at Harvard Extension School. Maryruth researches at the intersection of gender and climate security.

Astha Chadha ( is a Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum, PhD Candidate at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, and a researcher at the university’s Democracy Promotion Center. She is a Japanese Government MEXT scholar, and her research focuses on Japan-India relations, Indo-Pacific security, South Asian affairs, and impact of religion on international relations.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly responds to questions at a news conference by Mélanie Joly on Facebook.

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, WP1 – Why Gender Balance Matters for Equity and Peace in the Indo-Pacific


Who shows up at events and conferences matters. Public and closed-door events are where successes and failures are analyzed; where conceptions about security, what it means, and how we can achieve it bump up against one another; and where problems are solved in novel ways. The greater the diversity of perspectives, the more powerful the outcomes. But within the security sector, predominantly all-male panels—or “manels”—suggest a lack of gender diversity, resulting in the exclusion of women, people of non-binary identities, or both. Manels represent a more serious lack of gender inclusion at leadership levels, making it difficult for women to gain recognition through promotion to senior decision-making positions. The following is a discussion of Pacific Forum’s work to study more than nine years of programming with a goal of understanding historical trends in order to implement and measure policies to increase the number of women attending and speaking at Pacific Forum events. The analysis identified room for improvement, and marks a jumping-off point for Pacific Forum’s work on mainstreaming gender within institutional programming.

Click here to download the full paper.

About the Author

Maryruth Belsey Priebe is the Director for Women, Peace & Security (WPS) Programs and a Senior Fellow at Pacific Forum International, is the author of numerous articles on gender and sustainability, and holds a Harvard International Relations graduate degree (2023) for which her thesis, “Gender All the Way Down: Proposing a Feminist Framework for Analyzing Gendered Climate Security Risks” was nominated for the Deans Price for Outstanding ALM Thesis. Using social science, feminist foreign policy perspectives/analyses/theories, and data analysis, her research focuses on the nexus of gender, climate change, and peace and security in the Asia-Pacific. Maryruth’s circular food economy policy work has been selected for inclusion in the OpenIDEO Food Systems Game Changers Lab, and she has held several research and fellowship positions focused on women’s leadership. She is also a Teaching Fellow at Harvard Extension School, a member of the Research Network on Women, Peace & Security in Canada, and is a volunteer for multiple gender-climate causes. Maryruth tweets @greenwriting.

CSCAP Women, Peace and Security Expert Papers (February 2023)


The October 31, 2000 unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) was a ground-breaking step for women’s leadership and participation. The UNSCR 1325 marked the first time the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and recognized the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution, and peacebuilding. Over the years, significant efforts and progress have been made in this regard.

To date, 11 states in the Asia Pacific have adopted National Action Plans for the implementation of UNSCR 1325, including two of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) member states, namely, the Philippines and Indonesia. There have been several major efforts building towards a Regional Plan of Action on WPS for ASEAN. Three of note are the Joint Statement on Promoting WPS in ASEAN (2017), the soon-to-be-adopted Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace and Security (2022) and the Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Women (RPA on EVAW) (2015). The Joint Statement is the closest ASEAN has come to a consensus document on UNSCR 1325. The Joint Statement on Promoting the Women, Peace and Security Agenda at the ASEAN Regional Forum in 2019 reaffirmed that commitment and included stronger and more specific language on advancing the agenda in the region. Meanwhile, the RPA on EVAW is a comprehensive framework adopted throughout ASEAN for protecting women against physical, sexual, psychological and economic violence, which it recognizes is the result of historical and structural imbalances in power relations between genders. Inclusivity is also a pillar in the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC) Blueprint 2025, and is a key element of the people-oriented, people-centered concept based on international law enshrined in the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) Blueprint 2025. Under the APSC Blueprint, the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (ASEAN-IPR) is tasked with helping indoctrinate voices of moderation in the culture of ASEAN. ASEAN-IPR undertakes research, capacity-building, developing a pool of expertise, networking, and information dissemination in service of peace, conflict management, and conflict resolution. It also houses the ASEAN Women for Peace Registry (AWPR, est. Dec. 2018), a network of experts who contribute to the implementation of 2017 Joint Statement. In November 2020, the East Asia Summit signaled its own commitment to supporting the WPS agenda through its Leaders Statement on Women, Peace and Security.

While these are laudable achievements, still more needs to be done to make peace more durable and inclusive and, ultimately, transform international peace and security. The ongoing global pandemic has illustrated how the same event has drastically different effects on women and men. Eight ASEAN member states still lack UNSCR 1325 National Action Plans, while this group of countries works to adopt a regional action plan in 2022. Even with ASEAN, there are major divisions on the WPS agenda. For example, the APSC Blueprint 2025 makes limited mention of women’s rights; these items are siloed under the ASCC. Research has shown that when women’s priorities are at the heart of peace processes and decision-making, from planning to monitoring, prevention will be strengthened, and conflicts will be less likely to relapse so peace can last longer. Advancing women’s participation, leadership, and opportunities in all areas of society, not just in politics, strengthens national economies and societies.

To this end, the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP) that provides an informal mechanism for scholars, officials, and others in their private capacities to discuss political and security issues and challenges facing the region, saw the need to conduct a study to further the adoption of WPS agenda in the region. Thus, USCSCAP, represented by Pacific Forum, CSCAP Indonesia, represented by the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Indonesia, and CSCAP New Zealand, co-chaired a CSCAP Study Group focused on the advancement of the WPS agenda in the Asia Pacific, with a particular focus on Southeast Asia. By demonstrating the value and utility of a gender perspective, this study group propagates application of a gendered lens throughout CSCAP studies, providing timely and relevant insights on longstanding policy and security issues. Study group findings—derived from an inclusive Track-2 process consulting stakeholders from academia, civil society, government, and defense communities—are channeled into the Track-1 process as practical policy recommendations to advance the WPS agenda in the region. There is a great deal of interest in the WPS agenda in ASEAN through the ASEAN Socio Cultural Community (ASCC) and various related activities have already begun. The CSCAP study group, by linking Track-2 and Track-1 levels, as well as the ASCC and the APSC, would help channel ASEAN’s energy so it can emerge as a leader of WPS norms in the Asia-Pacific region; especially as they apply to the protection of women in armed conflict and in enhancing their role in the prevention, resolution, and post-conflict reconstruction of such conflicts.

This compilation of Expert Papers presented at the CSCAP Study Group on WPS is published with the aim to advance policy planning, implementation and evaluation that support meaningful participation of women in all parts of security and peace processes. There are four expert papers included in this compilation covering the topic of cybersecurity, disaster management, countering terrorism, and women in security forces. Realizing the myriad of issues on WPS, this compilation represents the laying of but one small paving stone as we seek to build the road to a more equal and inclusive security sector.

In making this compilation of Women, Peace and Security Expert Papers, the editors would like to thank David Capie, Bethan Greener, and Crystal Prior who assisted with the gathering of the experts; Nandita Putri Kusumawati who assisted with the layout and finalization of the report; as well as the experts on WPS, namely Steve Recca, Farlina Said, Keshab Giri, and Ruby Kholifah who contributed their writings to this compilation.

Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

PacNet #66 – Finally at the table, not on the menu: Canada launches its Indo-Pacific strategy

On Nov. 27 Canada released a long-delayed Indo-Pacific Strategy. The strategy has five interconnected strategic objectives:

  1. Promote peace, resilience, and security
  2. Expand trade, investment, and supply chain resilience
  3. Invest in and connect people
  4. Build a sustainable and green future
  5. Canada as an active and engaged partner to the Indo-Pacific

These priorities reflect the intersection of domestic politics and a convergence with other like-minded countries on strategic imperatives for the Indo-Pacific. This includes understandings of the challenges that China presents for the post-World War 2 rules-based order. It will potentially influence the evolution of the region away from a rules-based order to one that redefines well-established norms such as democracy, human rights, and rule of law, core values Canada and like-minded countries share.

Domestically, the Trudeau government has championed diversity, reconciliation, and environmentalism.  It has succeeded in assembling a Cabinet that represents Canadian diversity. Diversity has also been core to strengthening the quality of Canada’s bureaucracy and protecting the rights and representation at all levels of Canadian society.

Reconciliation with First Nations peoples following the revealing in 2021 of mass graves of First Nation children has taken a prominent place in national discourse. Transforming Canada’s environmental formula to help lead the fight against climate change has become central to domestic political priorities.

These priorities manifest in three pillars of Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy (CIPS): 1) Expanding trade, investment, and supply chain resilience; 2) Invest in and connecting people; and 3) Building a sustainable and green future pillar of CIPS.

Linking Canada’s domestic agenda to address injustices to First Nation peoples, CIPS aims to support the economic empowerment of Indigenous Peoples through the implementation of the Indigenous Peoples Economic and Trade Cooperation Arrangement (IPETCA) in cooperation with existing partners—Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan—and Indigenous Peoples from those participating economies. Canada is creating new formulas for mini-lateral cooperation with like-minded partners to address domestic and Indo-Pacific indigenous peoples’ developmental challenges and injustices. This includes the Pacific Islands, who faced a legacy of colonial neglect of their indigenous people but also existential environmental challenges.

CIPS envisions reconciliation with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis peoples through enhanced indigenous exchanges with regional partners and will support education and skills development for indigenous youth, continue the implementation of the IPETCA, and support the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These CIPS initiatives highlight Canada’s commitment to international institutions and the rules they have agreed upon; a rules-based order.

Recognizing the critical importance of diversity in governance, business, and society, the CIPS has outlined its commitment to enhanced support to women entrepreneurs to maximize opportunities in the Indo-Pacific by expanding international partnerships through the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy. It has also committed to increasing feminist international assistance programming based on partner needs and helping to protect the most vulnerable populations and support work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Furthermore, CIPS support efforts toward democracy, inclusivity, accountable governance, and sustained economic growth, helping key countries in the region and working with development partners to reduce inequality and contribute to their economic prosperity.

These formulations will receive traction as they are less value-oriented. This is in contrast to initiatives to strengthen dedicated Canadian funding and advocacy to support human rights across the Indo-Pacific, including for women and girls, religious minorities, 2SLGBTQI+ persons and persons with disabilities. Many states in the region do not share Canadian views on these issues and they may complicate our engagement in the region.

Connecting Canada’s domestic commitment to combating climate change, CIPS will expand the capacity for FinDev Canada to support high-quality, sustainable infrastructure in the Indo-Pacific and provide alternative options to developing economies exploring infrastructure development. This complements the Japan’s Partnership for High-quality Infrastructure Initiative, the Blue Dot Network and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad”) to provide developing nations with choices for their infrastructure and connectivity.

These come with enhancing commercial representation of Canadian clean technology in priority Indo-Pacific markets and help Canada’s clean technology small and medium-sized enterprises with financial support to break into markets in the region. This builds on the already allocated $1.26 billion out of the Canada Climate Finance Commitment toward the Indo-Pacific to assist partner countries with economic recovery and infrastructure needs and to catalyze inclusive and sustainable development through Canadian capital, technology, and policy expertise.

CIPS will prioritize the Indo-Pacific as part of the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which is working to help partners advance their transition from unabated coal power generation to clean energy. The collaboration with partners in the region, Canada hopes to support a transition to cleaner energy rapidly industrializing economies that will have a significant impact on our shared environment.

The convergence with other like-minded countries on strategic imperatives for the Indo-Pacific and concerns about China’s development trajectory reflect the internal debate within Canada of what kind of challenge China presents and the importance of seeing China as part of the Indo-Pacific rather than the reverse.

After a schizophrenic approach to China, CIPS recognizes China’s rapid and dramatic modernization of the People’s Liberation Army, including its offensive technological capabilities and geographic reach, its more assertive behavior and influence in the region.

To address these concerns, CIPS will promote security and stability across the region and at home by increasing military engagement and intelligence capacity as a means of mitigating coercive behavior and threats to regional security including the South and East China Sea and Taiwan Strait. Participation in the NEON Operations to enforce sanctions on North Korea, participation in Quad Sea Dragon 21 exercises, Keen Sword joint exercises, and the rotation of Canadian naval vessels in the region to contribute to naval diplomacy, maritime domain awareness activities, and transits through the Taiwan strait are all past and present activities to support a rulers-based order.

Concerns about the rise of coercive and irresponsible use of technology are reflected in CIPS. These include the spread of disinformation, ransomware, and other cyber security threats that directly affect Canadians, work to destabilize our democracy and our economy. CIPS stresses taking a leadership role in combatting these threats, investing in expertise and technology to better protect all Canadians.

Recognizing ASEAN Centrality as essential to a sustained Indo-Pacific presence, CIPS will stresses working with ASEAN and its member states to ensure full respect for international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in the South China Sea. Cooperation will stress boosting awareness of the region and enhance resilience and preparedness, as well as to protect against coercive tactics and the theft of sensitive data, technology.

Despite the significant resources that will be deployed to ensure that CIPS is impactful and sustainable, Canada will face credibility issues. First, the Trudeau government’s walk out of the initial TPP signing in Danang, Vietnam in 2017 created the impression that Trudeau’s government was not a reliable partner and did not understand the priorities of the region, trade, not progressive issues.

Second, naïve attempts to sign a FTA with China also including progressive issues and an ill-conceived visit to India with known Indian separatists has left the impression that amateurism, not pragmatism, lies at the heart of Canadian engagement with the region.

Third, the selection of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APFC) as the key organization to drive Indo-Pacific engagements seems contradictory. In May 2020, the Foundation released a high profile report entitled “Canada and the Indo-Pacific: ‘Diverse’ and ‘Inclusive,’ Not ‘Free’ and ‘Open’” followed by several high profile op-eds which rejected the idea of a free and open, rules-based Indo-Pacific order. Recently, APFC was recently a co-sponsor of the Nov. 1-2 East Asia Security Conference which invited a known denier of the cultural genocide of the Uyghurs in China and re-iterated the idea of like-minded countries and a rules-based order should not be the platforms for how Canada engages the region.

For Japan, the European Union, Australia, the United States, and ASEAN, this raises serious questions as to what will be the nature of CIPS engagement with an organization that has a track record of rejecting supporting a rules-based order in the region that has been the basis for post-WWII peace and stability and Canadian prosperity and values.

Dr. Stephen Nagy ( is a senior associate professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, a senior fellow with the MacDonald Laurier Institute (MLI), a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute (CGAI) and a visiting fellow with the Japan Institute for International Affairs (JIIA). Twitter handle: @nagystephen1

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #22 – Feminist foreign policy and Ukraine: For now, Japan leads the way

A gendered war is taking place in Ukraine, powered by patriarchal authoritarianism that thrives on unencumbered violence. Some women bravely serve in Ukraine’s military, the media, and in support roles on the front lines. Yet stereotypical gendered norms have been reinforced as most refugees are women, while Ukrainian men must stay and fight. Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) principles seem ignored by the security sector, as women are absent in peace talks, and reports of sexual- and gender-based violence abound. By applying a feminist foreign policy (FFP) lens—focused on a re-imagination of conflict resolution and human security—we consider how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has influenced Indo-Pacific foreign policies, particularly aid, defense, diplomacy, trade, and immigration. We find that Japan stands out as demonstrating alignment with some FFP principles, and may be ripe for formal FFP adoption. Given other Asian states’ mixed responses, however, the invasion of Ukraine may split the Indo-Pacific on this framework.

Aid, sanctions, and immigration

First, FFP principles recommend consideration of women, children, and minority communities in aid provision, with emphasis on humanitarian aid over military/defensive responses. Tokyo has provided ¥12 billion ($95 million) in emergency humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and promised more. This aid demonstrates consideration of women by including hygiene products alongside tents, winter clothing, and generators.

Japan is an above average official development assistance (ODA) contributor to gender equality as a member nation of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Assistance Committee. To build on this achievement, Japan could stipulate requirements similar to its Jordanian Palestinian Refugees ODA program for its aid to countries accepting Ukrainian refugees. This program included Alleviation of Social Gaps, which prioritized the empowerment of women refugees through vocational training and access to reproductive health education.

A second plank of FFP is prioritization and allocation of resources to peace over state security, including “gender equality [and] … the human rights of all.” As such, arms trade with non-democratic countries that abuse human rights and subjugate women, and Indo-Pacific military build-up would signal anti-feminist responses. Japan has generally set a positive example by supporting Ukraine without inflaming conflict. Its commitment to restricting military equipment exports has led to its supply of bulletproof vests and non-lethal equipment, but no weapons (though it recently announced the shipment of drones). Tokyo, while a recipient of US extended nuclear deterrence, has also warned against any use of nuclear weapons, acknowledging the painful history of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Third, emphasizing consultation with and equality of all impacted groups, an FFP perspective opposes neo-colonialism, the forceful control or influence of other states. Meanwhile, sanctions are not the preferred option because they typically hurt those already most vulnerable. Sanctions, however, are less militaristic than lethal support, and therefore more acceptable in FFP terms. Eight years ago, when Russia annexed Crimea, Japan failed to sanction Moscow in a bid to maintain diplomatic talks over islands both Russia and Japan claim as their own. By contrast, Japan has moved more decisively in 2022, following US and EU sanctions early on. To date, Japan has restricted Russian banks, and sanctioned oligarchs, companies, and military entities. While Japan still relies on Russian fuel, seafood, and various goods, it has revoked Russia’s most-favored nation trade status, impacting  ¥1.54 trillion ($12 billion) in imports.

Fourth, a country’s FFP would also need to include a generous immigration policy, in this case focusing on the 4.2 million Ukrainian refugees rather than state security. Japan has considered amending its limited immigration policy and opened its doors to friends and family members of its Ukrainian population. The new policy would allow them to stay longer or work.

It won’t be an easy fix—Japan’s past hesitancy towards refugees will require complete immigration policy transformation to align with FFP principles. In 2020, Japan approved 47 out of 3,936 asylum applications (1.19% of the total). Though an improvement from 2019’s 0.42% acceptance rate, other countries are accepting more Ukrainians in response to the crisis. Still, Tokyo seems determined to lessen restrictions. To demonstrate national support for the consideration of individual refugees, Japanese Foreign Minister Hiyashi Yoshimasa returned to home from Poland personally escorting 20 Ukrainian refugees.

A divided Indo-Pacific?

The provision of military aid is essential for FFP precedent. While Japan is all-but-mandated to follow FFP-aligned guidelines due to Article 9 restrictions, other countries with fewer hurdles can more easily adapt their aid distribution.

What precedent, then, does Japan’s restriction of military aid to Ukraine set for its future responses to a conflict in Asia? Furthermore, in case of a contingency—such as China invading Taiwan—how might the reactions of Indo-Pacific countries to the Ukraine crisis predict alignment with feminist values? There has been debate about whether comparing Taiwan to the invasion of Ukraine makes sense, but in either case we are likely to see both adhesion to and straying from FFP principles.

The Indo-Pacific is split on Ukraine. The only other Indo-Pacific nation to demonstrate a feminist-aligned response to Ukraine is New Zealand, which sanctioned Russia and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine instead of weapons. Australiadid all that and sent military aid. South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have been moderately aligned in their responses, with offers to support other countries’ refugee intakes financially and cut trade ties with Russia and implement sanctions, but refusing to accept Ukrainian refugees.

Most states, however, have been quiet on Russian sanctions and avoided direct criticism. Vietnam has vaguely condemned Russia, but abstained from voting on the March 2 UN Security Council resolution deploring the invasion. India has worked around Western sanctions, while China has criticized sanctions amid misogynistic remarks about Ukrainian women. Smaller countries like the Federated States of Micronesia have cut diplomatic relations with Russia without imposing sanctions. The Philippines offered military bases to the United States if the war spreads to Asia, but moved ahead with the purchase of Russian defense equipment. Similarly, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Malaysia have chosen to protect Russian arms trade over supporting Ukraine. Given anti-colonialist affinities between Indo-Pacific nations and Ukraine, failing to offer stronger, clearer alignment with the West’s rules-based order and with feminist principles may be a lost opportunity for smaller Indo-Pacific states.

It is unclear if Japan’s response is what Ukrainian feminists want. Japan, however, has taken what might be considered feminist approaches to foreign policy, offering humanitarian aid, resisting calls to provide military support, sanctioning Russia, and even increasing its intake of refugees. In so doing, Japan has modeled a foreign policy that other nations should emulate, especially smaller states, which could face similar threats in the future. Feminist foreign policy advocates hope that it continues to do so, while also addressing domestic gender equality challenges faced by Japanese women and its LGBTQ community. Any attempt at formal adoption of a Japanese FFP should include self-reflection on where Japan stands internationally on domestic gender policies, especially if Tokyo wants to set an example for other Indo-Pacific countries.

Hannah Cole ( is Program & Publications Manager and Non-resident James A. Kelly Korea Fellow at Pacific Forum. Maryruth Belsey-Priebe ( is a Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Fellow at Pacific Forum and Harvard International Relations graduate student. Tevvi Bullock ( is a WPS Fellow at Pacific Forum and PhD candidate in Gender, Climate & Humanitarian Action at Monash University.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

PacNet #15 – Women, Peace and Security under a Biden-Harris Administration (Part Two: Prevention and Protection)

The following is the second in the three-part series on what the Biden-Harris administration means for the Women, Peace and Security agenda. For part one, click here. For part three, click here.

In their “Agenda for Women,” US President Biden and Vice President Harris promise to improve women’s financial security, protect their reproductive rights, and address gender-based violence (GBV)—all important elements of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, as codified in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325). UNSCR 1325 rests on four pillars: Participation, Prevention, Protection, and Relief and Recovery. Having explored the Participation pillar in PacNet #13, in this article, we examine Prevention and Protection. The Prevention pillar addresses the root causes of conflict and how to prevent it holistically with an emphasis on women as peacebuilders, while the Protection pillar focuses on shielding women from the harms inflicted during conflict, including sexual violence. The following analysis covers the potential impact that the Biden-Harris approach to foreign relations may have on the implementation of these core WPS objectives throughout the Indo-Pacific.

Biden-Harris on the WPS Protection and Prevention Pillars

The domestic legislative histories of President Biden and Vice President Harris reveal a sensitivity and understanding of WPS issues and help to sketch out what kind of example they will set in the Indo-Pacific on women’s protection and prevention issues. In particular, the president has taken steps to advance the implementation of policies that align with the WPS Protection and Prevention pillars. In the early 1990s, he was disturbed by the fact that marital rape was virtually impossible to prosecute in most states, despite some 15% of American women experiencing marital rape annually. Consequently, he introduced a Senate Violence Against Women bill in 1990, supported by women’s rights groups and his Republican colleagues. Though it took several years, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law by President Clinton in September 1994, and has been characterized by Biden as his “proudest legislative accomplishment.” According to the US Department of Justice, the VAWA has been responsible for a 72% drop in intimate partner violence (IPV) rates from 1993 to 2011, and has been renewed and expanded several times since its enactment.

During Vice President Harris’ time as attorney general for California, she pursued “tough on crime” policies, some of which disproportionately affected low-income women. Commentators argue that as a black female prosecutor facing intersectional racial and gender prejudices, she had to prove her commitment to tackling crime. After obtaining greater national power in her role as Senator, Harris championed criminal justice reform and fought for women’s issues within and outside the justice system. In 2019, Harris co-sponsored the EMPOWER Act to protect workers on Capitol Hill from harassment. Harris also frequently positions violence against women as an economic issue, supporting the view  that  women’s economic empowerment is critical to preventing women from becoming  trapped in abusive relationships.

The VAWA expired in February 2019. Though the House of Representatives passed a 2019 VAWA Reauthorization Act supported by all Senate Democrats, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring the bill to a vote. Going forward, Biden and Harris have made VAWA reauthorization one of the top first-100-day priorities, and will expand it with clauses that provide greater justice and support for survivors of gender-based violence. Clauses added to the Act will aim to provide greater protection for young people experiencing sexual violence; curtail online harassment, abuse, and stalking; and put an end to the rape kit backlog.

WPS Protection and Prevention Pillars in the Indo-Pacific

On matters related to the WPS Protection and Prevention pillars in the Indo-Pacific, there are numerous opportunities for the Biden-Harris administration to push for greater implementation. Rates of violence against women vary widely among Indo-Pacific countries, but continue to be high in all: 37% of women encounter some form of violence in their lifetimes in South Asia, 40% in Southeast Asia, and 68% in the Pacific. While the percentage of women who have experienced some kind of physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes is lowest in Bhutan at 15%, 46% of women living in Timor-Leste experience gender-based violence (GBV), with the highest rates (68%) in Kiribati and Papua New Guinea. Asia also reported 20,000 intentional deaths of women and girls in 2017, more than any other region of the world. Importantly, data on violence against women is extremely difficult to collect, and most experts suggest the actual numbers are higher, especially in regions where GBV is culturally acceptable. Data collection challenges and the spike in GBV as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic make the implementation of the Protection and Prevention pillars all the more urgent.

Women’s inclusion as peacebuilders in formal conflict negotiations is also an important element of the WPS Prevention pillar. As mentioned in our previous installment, studies have shown that women’s involvement in formal peace processes increases by 35% the probability that a peace agreement will last over 15 years. However, global figures reveal that women represented only 13% of negotiators, 6% of mediators, and 6% of signatories in major peace processes between 1992 and 2019. Women’s contributions as peacebuilders in the Indo-Pacific continue to be outside formal efforts to achieve peace. Notable grassroots women’s movements in Myanmar, the Pacific Island countries and territories, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste have amplified women’s voices in conflict mitigation.

The Next Four Years for WPS in the Indo-Pacific

“End violence against women” and “Protect and empower women around the world” are the last of five planks of the Biden-Harris Agenda for Women (the first three planks covered women’s economic security, health care access and inequities, and work-family responsibilities), and includes support for confronting GBV and pursuing ratification of the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). (The only other countries to have failed to ratify CEDAW are Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.) These are important steps, yet aside from the indicators previously mentioned, and statements on supporting women’s leadership globally, it is highly recommended that the Biden-Harris administration go further to empower women as peacebuilders, a key approach to achieving and sustaining peace agreements. To effectively address this aspect of the WPS agenda, this new administration could outline specifics of their approach for the Prevention pillar and emphasize the need to keep women engaged in high-level talks and negotiations. The new administration could also encourage countries in the Indo-Pacific to take up the principles in the Protection pillar to shield women from the worst impacts of conflict. Read our full policy recommendations in our in-depth Issues & Insights article, in which we delve more deeply into the purpose of the Prevention and Protection pillars, the state of Indo-Pacific women’s rights, and how the Biden-Harris administration, US Indo-Pacific Command, and the State Department can act to continue their development in the Indo-Pacific. In the last part of this series, we will dive deeper into the Relief and Recovery pillar and the implications of Biden-Harris’ foreign policy on the status of women as the world moves into a period of pandemic recovery.

Maryruth Belsey Priebe ( is a WPS Research Advisor at the Pacific Forum. She is also a Harvard Extension School MA in International Relations student specializing in the nexus of WPS and climate security and has a manuscript under review entitled, “The News Media: A Catalyst for Women, Peace and Security in Qatar.”

Jennifer Howe ( is a resident Women, Peace and Security fellow at the Pacific Forum. She graduated from Durham University, UK with an MA in Politics and international Relations. Her publications include “Conflict and Coronavirus: How COVID-19 is Impacting Southeast Asia’s Conflicts,” in Issues & Insights and “The Impact of COVID-19 on Women in Hawaii and the Asia-Pacific” in COVID-19 Research & Perspectives.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.