Background Reader on Feminist Foreign Policy

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This document provides a quick overview of the topic of Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) and pointers to dive deeper. Feel free to add your resources in the comments section below!

Theoretical Background at a Glance

There is no universally accepted definition of feminist foreign policy, with several governments and organisations promoting different definitions and exhibiting different implementations. The variations in the definition, of course, partly stem from the lack of a universal definition of “feminism”. 

The International Research Center on Women (2019: 7) defines FFP comprehensively as:

the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states and movements in a manner that prioritizes gender equality and enshrines the human rights of women and traditionally marginalized groups, allocates significant resources to achieve that vision and seeks through its implementation to disrupt patriarchal and male-dominated power structures across all of its levers of influence (aid, trade, defense and diplomacy), informed by the voices of feminist activists, groups and movements

Accordingly, a FFP questions traditional foreign policy thinking and its focus on military force, security and, if necessary, war and domination. It  favours a bottom-up, people-centered approach instead of the conventional top-down, state and sovereignty-centered foreign policy discourse. Moreover, a FFP acknowledges that foreign policies are not neutral but gendered, affecting men, women, queer persons as well as political minorities in different ways. In this spirit, a FFP proactively contributes to overcoming global patterns of  oppression, discrimination and exclusion, such as white supremacy and patriarchy. Crucially, a FFP recognizes that it is not sufficient to merely include women and other marginalized groups to existing decision-making processes, representation bodies and government units implementing foreign policy. Instead, it challenges the underlying power structures and thereupon built systems in the political and economic sphere. A FFP promotes and implements international treaties and resolutions that strengthen the rights and participation of women and traditionally marginalized communities. To accomplish a truly FFP, a cultural and policy shift is required.

History of Feminist Foreign Policy

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Picture: Centre For Feminist Foreign Policy.

 

The discussion of gender equality is not new to international relations, and states and international organisations have sought to take into account gender aspects in foreign relations, security and especially development aid for a few decades now. Since the 1960s, feminist movements have been engaged from the start, pushing for women’s visibility as decision-makers in international relations, but also to highlight how foreign policies impact men and women and other gender identities in different ways. Amongst other, because of the tireless commitment of women’s organizations, the number of international frameworks, action plans and state commitments to achieve gender equality and women’s rights have been slowly steadily rising. Prominent examples are the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (1979), the Beijing Platform of Action (1995) or the UN Agenda on Women, Peace and Security, starting with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000). Within the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, gender equality and women’s empowerment is enshrined in Sustainable Development Goal 5. 

In addition, in the last three decades, most multilateral organizations, international development banks and financial institutions have committed to “gender mainstreaming”, meaning they consider and address gender equality issues so as to avoid gender-blind policies that, in the worst case, reinforce gender inequality on the ground.

At an early stage, gender-responsive policies largely focussed on women’s empowerment. Only more recently LGTBQI+ are considered in policy-making and gender equality frameworks; however, this remains the exception. Generally, the feminist narrative in foreign policy is rather new: as the first country, Sweden adopted a FFP in 2014 in line with their longstanding commitment to the gender equality agenda. Later, in 2017, Canada followed with a Feminist International Assistance Policy, and in 2019, France announced its own FFP. Finally, in January 2020, Mexico launched its FFP. Most recently, Luxembourg, Malaysia, and Spain have pledged to develop similar policies.

International Frameworks

The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) was adopted by the UN General assembly on 18 December 1979. The convention is the result of the decade-long advocacy of second-wave feminists and the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, established in 1946. As of today, it has been ratified by 189 states, making it one of the most broadly supported UN conventions. The Convention comprehensively addresses women's political, civil, cultural, economic, and social rights. It obliges states to follow the principle of non-discrimination of women, implement measures and affirmative action for substantive gender equality to fulfill the commitments under the CEDAW, and to regularly report progress to the CEDAW Committee.

In 1995, 189 states adopted the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which to this today is seen as the most comprehensive international framework for women’s rights. It identified twelve key areas in which urgent action is required for gender equality. Its agenda guides countries in their pursuit of ensuring that human rights are realized for all. Its key areas of action are: (1) Women and Poverty (2) Education and Training of Women (2) Women and Health (3) Violence Against Women (4) Women and Armed Conflict (5) Women and the economy (6) Women in Power and Decision-making, (7) Institutional Mechanisms for the Advancement of Women (8) Human Rights of Women (9) Women and the Media (10) Women and the Environment (11) the Girl Child. 

In parallel, at the NGO Forum in the Indigenous Women's Tent at the Beijing Conference, the Declaration of Indigenous Women was signed. This Declaration signifies a clear call to action in regard to indigenous women’s rights and elevates the voices of these activists. While some women at the Beijing Conference opposed the need for a specific declaration of indigenous women, this document highlights the need for recognition of the special (intersectional) circumstances of indigenous women in their struggle for self-determination (Sillet 1996:63).

The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed in 2000 and is known to be the first of 10 Security Council Resolutions on “Women, Peace and Security”, which was almost exclusively the work of civil society organisations around the globe (Cockburn 2008: 141). UNSCR 1325 calls for women’s participation in peace and security governance, protection from gender-based violence and the promotion of women’s rights as a prevention of violence against women. In addition, UNSCR 1325 calls for gender mainstreaming in peace operations. Many women’s rights groups advocate for an understanding of UNSCR 1325 that does not aim to make “war safe for women”, but that pursues demilitarization altogether. Following the ratification of UNSCR 1325, states are encouraged to implement a National Action Plan (NAP) as a compliance mechanism. By December 2019, only 43% of all UN Member States have developed NAPs (PeaceWomen. n.d.). Extensive resources on national action plans, can be found on WILPF’s resource webpage

  • SDG 5 within the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development

Endorsed in 2015 by the global community, the Agenda 2030 and specifically SDG 5 envision a prosperous and peaceful world where gender equality prevails. The 9 targets and indicators under SDG 5 aim at empowering women and eradicate gender gaps across all spheres of life. 

Gender-responsive policies have long been marginal to the EU’s policies. In 2015, the Gender Action Plan II replaced the previous Plan I, which only generated little impact due to a lack of leadership. With the introduction of a mandatory gender analysis for all new external actions and the appointment of gender focal points at the EU headquarter and in EU delegations, the EU aims to mainstream gender into its programs. The Gender Action Plan II seeks to transform institutional culture and focuses on three areas in external relations, namely girls’ and women’s physical and psychological integrity, economic and social rights, and voice and participation (ODI 2015).

 

Current Feminist Foreign Policies

Sweden was the first country to introduce a FFP in 2014, after its Prime Minister declared the Swedish overnment to be feminist. Its FFP agenda pledges to implement a gender equality perspective in all of its policies and is centered around the “three R’s” - rights, representation and resources - based on the fourth R, reality. Reality implies that policies require the prior analysis of the living conditions of women, acknowledging that women’s and girls’ realities differ from the ones of men and boys. Intersectionality is an important lense, implying the analysis of how gender might intersect with other social categories like age, race, class, sexual orientation, or disability and add further dimensions and variations of discrimination to their lives. Rights means ensuring that laws do not discriminate against and appropriately protect the human rights of women and girls. Representation calls upon the inclusion of women’s voices in policy discussions, peace processes and decision-making. Resources refers to the government’s commitment to allocate adequate financial resources to women’s rights and empowerment . Being the first country with an explicit FFP, Sweden also engages as a norms entrepreneur, aiming to spread feminist values to other countries. Read Sweden’s comprehensive FFP handbook here.

In 2017, Canada followed Sweden’s example, though limiting the feminist approach to its international development aid - the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). The FIAP primarily targets the eradication of poverty, with a focus on realizing human right and defending women’s and girls' rights in order to empower them to participate in society, while supporting local capacity building to make policies sustainable. With gender equality and women’s empowerment at its core, Canada’s FIAP also targets the areas of human dignity, economic growth that works for everybody, environment and climate action, inclusive governance and peace and security. The Canadian government believes that strengthening women’s rights effectively serves in eradicating poverty and establishing a more prosperous world. In comparison to Sweden’s FFP, the FIAP is considerably less “disruptive” and engaged in norms transformation (Global Affairs Canada 2017). 

In 2019, France officially termed its 2018 International Strategy for Gender Equality a “FFP”. France seeks to advocate the importance of gender equality internationally in “all issues from inequality reduction to sustainable development, peace and security, defense and promotion of fundamental rights, and climate and economic issues” (Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs 2020). In addition, France has committed to budget 50% of its overseas development assistance (ODA) to programmes with gender equality objectives, as well as to increase female representation in its own foreign policy ranks and use feminine and masculine forms in all its communication (Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs 2018). A strong focus lies on promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights. Lastly, the French FFP also sets out a framework for tracking France’s progress, to be reviewed by working groups and in meetings with civil society actors (ibid.). Read the full International Strategy here.

In the same year, France also advanced its feminist diplomacy strategy upon taking the office of the presidency of the G7. During its one year presidency, it set out three goals for the G7: Economic empowerment of African women, eliminating sexual and gender-based violence and women’s education (Gouvernement 2019).

In 2020, Mexico announced its FFP based on a “set of principles that seek to promote government actions to reduce and eliminate structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities, in order to build a more just and prosperous society” (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores 2020). The policy’s pillars are the following: a foreign policy with a gender perspective and feminist agenda abroad, a Foreign Ministry with gender parity and that is free of violence and safe for all, visible equality of women in the Foreign Ministry, and feminism within all areas of the Foreign Ministry. Mexico has communicated deadlines to reach the goal of a FFP by 2024. While other FFP frameworks have been criticized as binary, México opts for a more inclusive terminology of gender equality, explicitly including queer persons in its framework (Thompson 2020). 

Further Reading Material 

  • The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) has compiled a wonderful reading list - go get it here.
  • Read about the few currently existing FFP approaches here
  • Dossier “Feminist Foreign Policy” of the Heinrich Böll Stiftung (in German) here.
  • The Best Foreign Policy Puts Women at the Center. Article in Foreign Affairs.

Sources:

 

Bernarding, N. & Lunz, K., 2019. Feminist foreign policy - imperative for a more secure and just world. [Blog post] Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Available at: https://www.boell.de/en/2019/01/30/feminist-foreign-policy-imperative-more-secure-and-just-world?dimension1=ds_femaupo.

Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, 2020. Feminist Foreign Policy. [online] Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy. Available at: https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/feminist-foreign-policy

Cockburn, C., 2007. From where we stand: War, women’s activism and feminist analysis. London: Zed Books.

Global Affairs Canada, 2017. Canada’s Feminist International Development Assistance Policy. Ottwawa: Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada. https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/assets/pdfs/iap2-eng.pdf?_ga=2.220908828.504507093.1587112421-484583639.1586610536

Gouvernement, 2019. Gender equality, a G7 priority. https://www.gouvernement.fr/en/gender-equality-a-g7-priority

O'Connell, H., 2015. The European Union's New Gender Action Plan 2016-2020: Gender Equality And Women's Empowerment In External Relations [online]. London: Overseas Development Institute. Available at: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/9926.pdf.

Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, 2018.  France’s International Strategy on Gender Equality (2018–2022). Directorate-General for Global Affairs, Culture, Education and International Development. Available at: https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/meae_strategie_-__en_cle076525.pdf.  

Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, n.d. Feminist Diplomacy [online]. France Diplomatie - Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs. Available at: https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/french-foreign-policy/feminist-diplomacy/

PeaceWomen. n.d. Member States. [online] Available at: https://www.peacewomen.org/member-states

PeaceWomen, n.d. The Resolutions [online]. PeaceWomen. Available at: http://www.peacewomen.org/why-WPS/solutions/resolutions.

Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, 2020. Mexico Adopts Feminist Foreign Policy [online]. Available at: https://www.gob.mx/sre/prensa/mexico-adopts-feminist-foreign-policy?idiom=en

Sillet, M., 2020. Ensuring Indigenous Women's Voices Are Heard: The Beijing Declaration of Indigenous Women. Canadian Women Studies, Vol. 16 (3), pp.62-64. Available at: http://pi.library.yorku.ca/ojs/index.php/cws/article/viewFile/12098/11181

Thompson, L. and Rachel, C., 2019. Defining Feminist Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women. Available at: https://n2r4h9b5.stackpathcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/ICRW_DefiningFeministForeignPolicy_Brief_Revised_v5_WebReady.pdf.

Thompson, L., 2020. Mexican Diplomacy Has Gone Feminist. Foreign Policy [online]. Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/14/mexican-diplomacy-feminist-foreign-policy/