Disorganized foreign-aid reporting means Ottawa can’t track feminist outcomes: audit

By Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Global Affairs Canada has no sense of whether development aid meant to help women and girls abroad is actually advancing gender equity, according to an audit tabled in Parliament on Monday morning.

“It was highly problematic that critical information, such as project progress reports, could not be readily found,” reads a report by auditor general Karen Hogan.

“The department could not use that information to monitor overall progress toward gender-equality outcomes.”

Hogan found Ottawa does not track whether an annual $3.5 billion in bilateral aid is actually meeting the goals of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, and she noted that aid for Africa has been diverted to Ukraine.

The audit found the department struggled to provide information on projects because of a lack of standardized record keeping and forms not getting filled out.

“Some of the required information had been stored on computers of staff who had since left the department, so officials were unable to find the required information,” the report says.

“The department missed an opportunity to demonstrate the value of international assistance.”

Last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development ranked Canada and Iceland first for their spending on foreign aid that contributes to gender equality.

But the audit says Ottawa can’t track of whether money is helping improve the lives of women and girls.

Still, Hogan found that Global Affairs Canadatracks indicators — but not actual progress — on half of the projects covered by the audit. 

In one case, this saw the department assessing how many people received food but not whether their health had improved.

In another, programs meant to keep teen girls in school during menstruation did track whether Canada’s funding created separate bathrooms and handwashing facilities in schools, but did not assess whether this had improved school attendance. 

These difficulties with measuring outcomes applied for 24 out of 26 of the department’s stated policy indicators, in part due to poor data collection, Hogan found.

“While individual project files included useful information, because of the weaknesses in information management practices … this information was not being rolled up and used at the departmental level,” the audit says.

“Senior management did not, and were unable to, review the complete impact of programming. Without a full account of project outcomes, senior management could not respond to evolving conditions and make changes to improve policy implementation.”

However, the audit did find that Global Affairs Canada is generally successful at designing programs through an equity lens using the criteria set out under its gender-based analysis, with more than 80 per cent of spending going to projects that integrate gender.

Yet the auditor warns this is coming at the expense of meeting another target, which is to have at least 15 per cent of project funding directly target the empowerment of women and girls, instead of just including them in projects.

The report notes that academics generally say this is required in order to produce meaningful change that makes countries less reliant on foreign aid.

The department says it accepts the findings of the audit and is planning to shore up its data collection.

Auditors only looked at direct development aid, which excludes the one-third of Canada’s aid dollars that are sent to United Nations organizations or as humanitarian relief to emerging crises. 

The analysis examined records Ottawa created and assembled in the four years ending in March 2021, but not the actual activities of the foreign groups that get Canadian funding.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan will speak with reporters this afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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