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Release peace: the magazine

Release peace: the magazine

Analysis & Background Stories on International Affairs

An Explainer of Feminist Foreign Policy

This article is based on this article by Sabrine Dao and this article by Sofiia Shevchuk. This is part of a collaboration with the Foreign & Security Policy division of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. Sabrine and Sofiia both wrote their pieces while with the foundation in Washington, D.C.

A Novel Idea?

Many institutions and individuals increasingly seek more inclusive and thoughtful policies for women and girls. Some prominent ones include multilateral institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank, as well as such at national levels like the White House and State Department. Many research organizations, NGOs, and academia can likewise be added to the list. One approach gaining traction but also encountering obstacles is Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP).

FFP is a relatively new concept and is still being defined and formulated At the same time, it is already bearing some fruit from implementation. An increasing number of countries have looked to feminist foreign policy (FFP) as a way to address multi-layered challenges that include social, economic, security, and other concerns. By acknowledging these intersections, FFP is an approach often referred to as viewing foreign policy with an “intersectional lens.” While the concept of feminism has become mainstreamed in many societies, albeit in varying forms, the concept of FFP has yet to prove itself as a clear, sustainable, and inclusive movement. At its core, an FFP approach develops and implements policies not by a majority acting above all, but in concert with and by genuinely including, listening to, and empowering a range of stakeholders who have previously been silenced and underrepresented, such as minority groups. One of its key elements is therefore inclusion.

The Frontrunners

Feminist foreign policy (FFP) has gained popularity across the world. Since Sweden first adopted FFP in 2014 under Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, other countries have followed. As of July 2022, according to UN Women, they were: Canada (2017), France (2019), Mexico (2020), Spain (2021), Luxembourg (2021), Libya (2021), Germany (2021), and Chile (2022). The Netherlands “has put its feminist foreign policy into action,” according to a November 2022 explainer on the government’s website, with six specific points that include LGBTQ+ rights, interim evaluations of its policy results, the involvement of local civil society organizations in its development policy, and other factors.

Ongoing Discussions

FFP has had its setbacks as well. In 2022, the former frontrunner Sweden abandoned its landmark feminist foreign policy when a new government was elected. The European Union has not yet developed or implemented a feminist foreign policy. And there is disagreement about the feminist approach towards conflict – usually striving for demilitarization and peacebuilding – and how it may hold up against real-world conditions and politics. Although theorists and academics may criticize the increased inclusion of women in peacekeeping forces as missing the point of FFP, the reality of conflict is that it often leads to atrocities such as mass sexual violence. For example, Samantha Power, now administrator of the US Agency for International Development, spoke out much earlier in her career about global powers failing to intervene in atrocities such as the genocides in Rwanda in 1994 and in Bosnia in 1995. 

Different Wording, Same Meaning?

Some countries around the world that use the term “human security” may actually be incorporating key tenets of feminist foreign policy in their approaches without using the term FFP In some cases, this might be due to the history, misunderstandings, or negative connotations of ‘feminism’. There have been some discussions in international meetings on whether to limit using the term ‘feminism’ in order to effect greater changes and reach an audience that might have misperceptions of the term or find it fraught in their domestic political landscape. Many international institutions and individuals from both governmental and non-governmental organizations are conducting their work in line with FFP but avoid the term to reduce those challenges and to progress regardless.

According to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 66/290, which sought to articulate “a common understanding on the notion of human security” and its role, “human security calls for people-centered, comprehensive, context-specific and prevention-oriented responses that strengthen the protection and empowerment of all people.” Relatedly, FFP questions the traditional understanding of state security and calls for a people-centered approach to peace and security in domestic policies and in carrying out policies abroad, where a country’s decisions are likely to affect those of various communities.

A Case Study

The United States is one example for implementing FFP without giving it that term. It has never clearly and formally claimed a feminist foreign policy, but the Biden administration is funding measures to place women at the heart of security, defense, diplomacy, development, peacebuilding, and other foreign policy-related efforts. It does so under the umbrella of programs to advance Women, Peace and Security (WPS), as required under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in 2000. As just one example, the US government provides specific funding for women and children as part of its $4 billion relief fund to address the humanitarian crisis in Yemen. The administration also has applied the tenets of WPS to ensure the protection of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers coming from the Northern Triangle, where members of this community face persecution. 

The North-South Debate

To a large extent, FFP is still perceived primarily as a pursuit of the Global North, as the institutions in Europe and North America tend to be equipped with greater resources to focus on it. Yet, it is fundamental for policy formulation and implementation to provide an inclusive platform, supported with adequate and justly distributed resources for the implementation stage of FFP projects. This means that for FFP to work grassroots levels that have historically not always been fully engaged in policy implementation need to be reached. As a consequence, rather than making resources contingent on predefined ideas and frameworks. FFP argues that programs need to allow for alteration and adaptation depending on community needs.

Inclusion of Various Groups

Under FFP, a requirement for genuine cooperation is the building of equal and mutually beneficial partnerships, and an engagement of everyone on equal terms. Often times, advocates for FFP in the Global North tend to focus on theories, terms, strategies, and concepts, while Global South perspectives home in on lived experiences, consequences, and on-the-ground effects and feedback. These distinctions should not be interpreted as meaning that there is no policymaking, feminist theory, or conceptualization occurring in the South. Rather, methodological approaches of the South have been frequently ignored by the North. FFP means to present an approach centered on the global experiences of all women, irrespective of geographic location, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, culture, etc.

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