The nature of conflict is gendered and gender equality is one of the most important indicators for peace. Advancing gender equality should therefore be considered one of the primary tools of conflict resolution. Likewise, feminist perspectives to foreign policy-making should help in the design of more comprehensive foreign policies. Foreign services need to put issues of gender equality high on their foreign policy agendas, improve the gender balance within their own ranks, and support grassroots feminist movements worldwide.
Since 2016, the Berlin-based research, advocacy, and consulting organisation Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) has been one of the main promoters of this idea of feminist foreign policy. The CFFP’s core policy proposal suggests that all states adopt a feminist foreign policy aimed at reducing structural inequalities in society. Eradicating sexual and gender-based violence as weapons of warfare should be at the core of conflict analysis and resolution.
In its proposals, the organisation follows the example set by Margot Wallström, the former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs. In 2014, Wallström became the first Minister to officially take a feminist approach to foreign policy-making. “Striving towards gender equality is not only a goal in itself, but also a precondition for achieving our wider foreign, development and security policy objectives”, Wallström told an audience in Washington D.C. in 2015.
Women as mediators
Research and statistics irrefutably show that peacemaking efforts involving female mediators tend to have better outcomes. According to their traditional, socially constructed gender roles, girls and women are principal responders in humanitarian emergencies: logically, they should be placed at the center of peace negotiations. Yet in reality this is rarely the case. Barely 1 in 33 peace talk mediation teams at the United Nations is led by a woman.
It is the aim of the UN’s Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda to change this imbalance. According to the UN itself, “women’s meaningful participation measurably strengthens protection efforts, accelerates economic recovery, deepens peacebuilding efforts, and leads to more sustainable peace.” Systemic subordination of women in the foreign service shall thus be challenged in order to prevent gender-blind programming of humanitarian, development and peace action.
As diplomacy largely remains a ‘boys’ club’ and society’s ideal version of a ‘career diplomat’ a white, cisgender man, a complete rethink of power structures within foreign ministries is urgently needed. Gender inequality (and with that, insufficient representativeness) in the diplomatic corps prevails. In Germany, for instance, since 1949, there were more Secretaries of State with the male name ‘Hans’ than there were women in this position. This trend persists throughout the entire German Foreign Ministry, where women hold less than 36% of senior positions.
The feminist approach to international politics does not stop with boosting female participation in discussion panels. Rather, it puts forward critical approaches to ‘white diplomacy’ at large. The CFFP has made intersectionality a core element of its feminist reform proposals. This is increasingly being put into practice, such as by the Federal Foreign Office’s initiative“Diplomats of Color”, established in 2016 by the young German diplomat Tiaji Sio.
Fertile ground for international feminism
Of course, the fight for gender equality does not only play on the level of foreign policy, but also in domestic policy-making. Investments in feminist organizations and cooperation projects worldwide should be central to the new feminist foreign policy. “The personal is political” is an expression often used in feminism. With those words in mind, grassroots feminist movements that put fundamental societal issues on top of a country’s political agenda deserve all international support possible.
An example of such a movement with domestic and regional impact is the Green Tide movement in Argentina. This movement campaigned for the legalization of abortion through pañuelazos (street protests) until the bill in question was eventually approved in December 2020. For many Argentine women, this was the end of a 30 year-long struggle for the abolition of misogynistic legislation that had cost many women their lives over the years.
In the Latin American region, feminist activism covers many divergent social struggles. The struggle for the right for abortion, for instance, is about women’s bodily autonomy and integrity, but also about who has access to abortion and how this interacts with structural socio-economic inequalities in society.
Other movements have been about overcoming machismo culture and stopping the massive killing of women and girls on account of their gender. Gender-based violence and the alarming rise of femicide are grey areas in society, and states are miserably failing to hold the perpetrators accountable and provide support to victims. To illustrate, in Argentina, even though femicide represents a criminal offense since 2012, almost every 23 hours a woman dies from the consequences of excessive violence. In this climate of endemic gender-based violence, the Argentine feminist movement Ni Una Menos (No One Less) against sexist gender-based violence, misogyny and femicide spread across Latin America in 2015, and called for rapid action across the continent.
Even if the pro-abortion ‘Green Tide’ movement and ‘Ni Una Menos’ are built on different feminist demands, both show the massive impact feminist activism can have across national borders. Another striking example of the interconnectedness of feminist branches is the movement ‘El violador eres tú’ (The Rapist is You!), a slogan taken from a protest chant originally performed by Chilean feminist collective Las Tesis. Their message went viral on social media, and the song was performed by thousands of women across the globe. Unique to this movement was that, unlike the #MeToo movement, it spread from the Global South to the Global North.
All in all, feminist mass mobilization can lead to significant challenges to patriarchal structures in society at the domestic level. These changes in domestic politics may eventually transcend in the design of a country’s foreign policy. Transnational feminist advocacy is at the essence of feminist foreign policy, and feminist organisations must be supported from above in order to put feminist reform proposals on the political agenda.
Change is yet to come. On the international stage, Canada and Sweden already rely at least partly on a feminist foreign policy. Although French foreign policy cannot be caracterised as ‘feminist’, France has begun using time-bond quota regulations to enhance women’s senior leadership. The German Federal Foreign Office received counseling by the CFFP, and created the women’s network UNIDAS, involving various stakeholders from Latin America and Germany, counting at least 240 members. The project aims at promoting transnational dialogue between feminist activists.
There is room for hope in these challenging times. It is time for all of us – women, men and gender non-conforming people alike – to take the fight for gender equality from local to global, by looking at the world through an intersectional feminist lens.