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North Korea: Canada’s First Test of Its Feminist Foreign Policy

December 11, 2017

By Janis Alton and Christine Ahn*

With the spectre of North Korea aiming long-range nuclear-tipped missiles at its neighbor the United States, never has the time been more right for Canada to be re-embracing global diplomacy. In January, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and the U.S. Secretary of State will co-host an international meeting in Vancouver of foreign ministers from nations that fought in the Korean War on how to ease tensions and avert a global nuclear war.
It’s a tall order, and may well be the first real test of Canada’s commitment to its feminist foreign policy—one in which women are at the centre of peace and security efforts.

In announcing the upcoming summit, Canadian officials billed it as an opportunity to do things differently. Andrew Leslie, Minister Freeland’s Parliamentary Secretary noted that by listening to “local wisdom,” particularly those “who live a bit closer to Korea than we do, you can come up with some better ideas.”

We couldn’t agree more. As Canadian and Korean-American women peacemakers, we know first hand the importance of listening to North Korean and South Korean women to fully grasp the human costs of the unresolved war in developingdiplomatic solutions that improve shared security.

In 2015, with thirty women from fifteen countries, many from nations that fought in the Korean War, we marched with ten thousand Korean women on both sides of the Korean De-Militarized Zone (DMZ), the most fortified border in the world. Because Korean women couldn’t cross the DMZ, we did so on their behalf, drawing global attention to the urgent need for a Peace Treaty to end six decades of war. At symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul, Korean women shared how the unresolved Korean War has kept thousands of families separated and arrested progress towards healing, reconciliation and development.

We also know from conflicts around the globe that new ideas require women’s input, not just as those most impacted by war and conflict, but also because they bring a different perspective to resolving conflict and building peace. Women deepen the discussion on peace and security beyond the interest of combatting parties and are able to get community buy-in when an agreement is reached.

It turns out that women’s inclusion in peace processes not only leads to peace agreements, but also more durable ones. In a major study spanning three decades of 40 peace processes, of 182 signed peace accords, an agreement was reached in all but one case when women’s groups influenced the peace process. The peace deal had a 35 percent greater chance of lasting 15 years if women helped draft it.

How would the inclusion of women peacemakers and civil society actors in this meeting of foreign ministers lead to a better outcome? According to Minister Freeland, “The path to peace needs empowered women. Where women are included in peace processes, peace is more enduring; where women are included in the economy, economic growth is consistently higher; and where women are included in governance, states are more inclusive and more stable.”
Unlike most of the invited foreign ministers, civil society actors have deep knowledge and unique insights from their experience engaging with North Koreans. Canadian civil society has a long history of working on the ground to support reconciliation between the two Koreas and providing urgent humanitarian aid to North Korea during the 1990s famine. The University of British Columbia is the only program in the world that annually brings North Korean academics to study economics and business. Civil society actors—those who have engaged in citizen diplomacy, humanitarian aid, and educational exchanges—are vital bridges to help all sides understand each other and reach common ground.

The potential war between the United States and North Korea is the gravest threat facing our world. As North Korea perfects its ability to strike the U.S. mainland, U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster has said that the potential for war with North is “increasing every day.” The international community needs Canada to help resolve the dangerous standoff between Washington and Pyongyang, just as it helped resolves six decades of enmity between Washington and Havana. Prime Minister Trudeau has hinted that Ottawa can “play a role that the United States has chosen not to play this year.” By reactivating diplomatic ties with Pyongyang that have been dormant since 2010, Canada could expand its direct influence and credibility with both sides.

The real gamechanger, however, would be to invite women peacemakers and civil society actors to sit at the table at this hard security summit in Vancouver to resolve the longstanding Korean conflict. This is the moment for Canada to champion its commitment to its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security—signed and endorsed by five Ministers— and honor Canada’s commitment to UNSCR 1325 and put real legs on its feminist foreign policy.

* Janis Alton is the co-chair of Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, the oldest women’s peace organization in Canada. Christine Ahn is the International Coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, a movement of women mobilizing for peace in Korea.

For more information contact:
Janis Alton
Canadian Voice of Women for Peace
Phone: 905-274-6191

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