Feminist philanthropy took shape in recent decades as a worldview and praxis as feminists around the world mobilized to demand gender equality in financing for development in support of women’s empowerment and advancement. There are two dimensions to feminist philanthropy (FP), as discussed below. One is due to the existence of feminism in philanthropy and the second to it being inseparable from women’s social movements by its very nature. Feminist philanthropy cannot exist without its ties to feminist movements, which are growing across Canada. Therefore, both the government and the public should be giving it thoughtful attention, which includes social economy and philanthropic organizations. This is a women-initiated mobilization of commitments to women’s rights and agency within a broad-based strategy against human trafficking, especially for the purpose of sexual exploitation, which often overwhelmingly affects the lives of women and girls. The media has recognized the growing risks faced by women and girls, and has managed to galvanize government attention.
The rising occurrences of domestic trafficking in Canada have led to public awareness campaigns. However, posters against human trafficking often depict images of foreign women and girls, which is misleading and no longer accurately captures reality, as it is Indigenous women and girls who are disproportionately represented in the domestic trafficking cases known to the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police), not foreigners.[i] Moreover, given the complexity of human trafficking, each lived experience with trafficking is different in terms of not only urban versus rural settings but also people, such as family members, and institutions including police and welfare agencies that are involved as the experiences unfold. Resorting to a single blanket perspective that treats all women with lived experience as victims is dangerous. This “victim language as well as attitude” is harmful because it could result in re-victimizing women with lived experience by limiting their choices through increased policing and surveillance, perpetuating stereotypes. From the very start, the feminist movement has been about women gaining the right to choose: from choosing to be independent or with whom to marry to choosing when and whether to have children. The demand for giving women the choice is heightened in the fight against human trafficking because any position or attitude short of respecting women’s’ right to choose negates the fact that women have agency and the ability to exercise self-determination. Even more so when there is an enabling environment for them to pursue their chosen course of action. This article proposes that aligning feminist philanthropy with the feminist movement results in a commitment to women’s exercise of self-determination, key to their empowerment, which in turn is a potent strategy in the fight against human trafficking. Following a historical review of feminist philanthropy and its commitment to self-determination a discussion of the feminist philanthropic approach will follow, represented by the Canadian Women’s Foundation, in comparison with the dominant “victim language and/or attitude” approach, still lingering in government action.
Uniting feminist philanthropy with a commitment to women’s self-determination begins with an understanding of feminism and its close relationship to social and political engagements. Feminism is, firstly, a worldview that is focused on achieving gender equality upon overcoming inequalities in society. Secondly, it has inspired feminists of different social and ideological standings to mobilize support for their claim of equality in praxis at different times in history. It was during the third wave of the feminist movement that feminists of underdeveloped countries and women from minority groups in the West demanded gender equality be a development goal across the globe. This is when feminism truly became a transnational movement. Through international conferences on women organized by the United Nations, culminating in the 4th World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, the mainstreaming of gender equality was affirmed as a strategy to be adopted in all processes of policymaking and evaluation. Feminism was further institutionalized as part of government’s responsibilities to not only turn women’s concerns into policies and programs, under the guidance of the Beijing Platform for Action, but also to make gender analysis a tool in the development and evaluation of policies and programs across all organizations.
During this period, not only did government-based institutions, known as state feminism, responsible for initiating policies and programs targeting women’s needs grow, women’s foundations and organizations at different levels from local, through national to international, arose in particular support of women’s movements against poverty and violence against women. Gender analysis is a tool in policy development and evaluation, by way of gender-based audits of the impacts of policy and programs on women, and the resource allocation rates in areas of women’s concerns. Its mainstreaming has encouraged its application in social science research. In recent decades, research has increasingly fueled efforts by governmental, public and private institutions, including philanthropic organizations, to undertake gender-based audits of their policies and programs.
Gender-based analysis and audits, however, may not entirely be anchored front and center on feminism as there has not been consistent recognition of the commitment to self-determination. Bob Mullaly explains that the progressive Code of Ethics adopted by the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) in 1994, for instance, highlighted a commitment to the values of acceptance, “self-determination and respect of individuality.”[ii] In the 2005 CASW Code of Ethics, however, the commitment to self-determination was no longer prominent, largely due to the increasing influence of neoliberalism, which privileges professional knowledge over lived experience. (For more information, consult PhiLab’s recent article on the subject: Feminist, Grassroots and Transformative Visions of Change in Neoliberal Re-structuring. The claim of self-determination is regaining ground recently as Indigenous resilience and the “Idle No More” movement have provided opportunities to allow feminism to join forces with decolonization projects, such as the effort to combat human trafficking in Canada. More importantly, more women have taken part in organizations and increased influence on them to directly embrace the principles of feminist movements. In Canada, this is exemplified by Jody Wilson-Raybould, who became the first Indigenous woman Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in 2015, and helped launch the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls in 2016. Moreover, the gender parity achieved within the cabinet of the Canadian federal government may have furthered the institutionalization of feminism and provided an enabling environment for the adoption of a national strategy to combat human trafficking.
Human trafficking, as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada, involves the “recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring of a person” or exercise of “control, direction or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation.”[iii] As stated by the Ministry of Public Security, it is a highly gendered crime because of its disproportionate effects on women and girls. Moreover, human trafficking is racialized, as Indigenous women are especially overrepresented in human trafficking cases due largely to their experiences with colonial policies and programs that have deprived them of their status as “Indian” and their entitlement to citizenship rights and resources.[iv] Historically, the Indian Act took away women and their children’s Indigenous status if they had non-Indigenous husbands and fathers. The Residential Schools programs of the past and the foster care child/youth services still operating today have created intergenerational trauma among Indigenous women and their communities. These communities are often in the remote north, isolated from the urban centers dominated by non-Indigenous settlers who are much better equipped with services and infrastructure. The Native Women’s Association of Canada points out that although “urban centres are considered hubs for human trafficking in Canada, with some large cities more prone to the act than others, Indigenous women are also recruited into human trafficking while residing in the Northern and rural communities.”[v] The recent report by the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA Persons explains how “the lack of infrastructure and services in northern and remote communities feeds the sex industry and further exploitation” as poor services in the North drive Indigenous women south, where they are more vulnerable to trafficking.[vi]
Human trafficking, also referred to as trafficking in persons, is “generally for sexual exploitation or labour exploitation” as observed by the Ministry of Public Security. Furthermore, it is complex and far-reaching because of its ties to “human vulnerabilities created by poverty, sexism, racism, wage inequality, and a lack of education, social support and employment opportunities.”[vii] Scholars have contested that given the complex and multilevel factors that are linked to human trafficking for the purpose of “sexual exploitation”, a clarification is required in relation to sex work, with the two not to be conflated.[viii] Sex work is an economic engagement based on the sale of sex services for livelihood and needs, while sexual exploitation means coercion and violence, which is often combined with the loss of freedom and dignity.[ix] Marginalization of sex workers in Canada means that Indigenous women, people who are transgender and/or otherwise gender-variant in particular are most often more negatively impacted in sex work. By the same token, treating women, especially Indigenous women, with lived experience as victims would not only reinforce their marginalization but also deprive them of their ability to exercise self-determination and choose their own course of action.[x] The recent report of the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA Persons found what amounts to a race-based genocide of Canada’s Indigenous women and girls, who remain under siege and tragically unprotected in front of “appalling apathy” and “colonialist structures.” Respect of Indigenous women’s right to self-determination is a first step in creating an enabling environment for addressing the “apathy” and decolonizing the “structures.”
While the above evidence-based analysis suggests demand for the government to act on its commitments to combating human trafficking, it also serves as a call for public and private organizations as well as philanthropic agencies to join forces with the feminist movement against human trafficking. On September 4, 2019, the federal government announced an investment of $57.22 million over five years and $10.28 million annually thereafter in the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking.[xi] This National Strategy, based on a whole-of-government approach, has recently added a new pillar, empowerment, in light of the Testimony from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls that has highlighted the strong linkage between human trafficking and the high rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls. However, it still falls short of recognizing self-determination, despite the newly added pillar of empowerment aimed at supporting “victims and survivors” to regain control and independence. This lack of commitment to self-determination, while remaining in the “victim language and attitude,” seems to have been carried over by the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline, which is part of the National Strategy. This Hotline is operated by a non-governmental charity organization, the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, and is considered the first of its kind in Canada, as it is a multilingual and confidential service that is in operation 24/7, 365 days a year and has a central response and referral mechanism.[xii] Looking through the publicly disseminated information on the Centre’s website, besides the reports by the Canadian Women’s Foundation and the Native Women’s Association of Canada on human trafficking and sexual exploitation that are included in the resources page, there is some indication, though not explicit, of a potential alignment with feminist demands of self-determination and women’s right to choose. While the Centre pursues a “victim-centred approach” in its Hotline’s provision of referrals, it is committed to privacy and to minimizing the potential for re-traumatization of the individual caller. It has also included in its Application Guidelines for Inclusion in the National Referral Directory a demonstration of the applying organization’s capacity to ensure inclusive and non-discriminatory practices in all staffing and service provision.[xiii]
In comparison, the Native Women’s Association of Canada has clearly set as part of its mandate the promotion of self-determination and women’s equal opportunities in programs and activities. As a national Indigenous women’s philanthropic organization, it assists Native women’s organizations and community initiatives in the development of their local projects.[xiv] As a political advocacy agency, it has been a leading voice on behalf of Indigenous women and girls in the fight against human trafficking. Another feminist philanthropic organization is the Canadian Women’s Foundation (CWF). The CWF adopted its Strategic Plan in 2018 in response to the #MeToo movement, an unprecedented public awareness campaign, and made inspiring feminist philanthropy one of its priorities.[xv] As one of the largest women’s foundations in the world, it has mobilized $90 million and provided support to 1900 programs. Empowerment via building on women’s strengths seems to be the first requirement in their Grant Guidelines including Anti-Trafficking grants.[xvi] Among the eight projects under Trafficking in the section of Programs We Fund by Programs Focus on the Foundation’s website, three projects are specifically focused on and/or managed by Indigenous women. Out of 12 projects listed under Sexual Exploitation, three projects have explicit descriptions of working with sex workers to prevent their experience of violence and increase their safety in their chosen course of action.[xvii] What other tools exist for grantmaking foundations, and other philanthropic organizations, to shift from a “victim-centred” approach to one that allows for empowerment and self-determination?
Overall, women’s organizations, many of which are essential service providers in upholding women’s right to self-determination or are community service organizations abiding by a feminist approach, are mobilizing across Canada, including the North, to form regional networks and coalitions to combat human trafficking.[xviii] Feminist philanthropy is a timely commitment that needs to heed the above comparisons in praxis so as to help end human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation in the North and across the country.
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