Feminist Foreign Policy: A Much Needed Step in The Right Direction
When I stumbled upon the words, feminist foreign policy, I had never heard or seen it before in my life.
But, in that moment, I had found gold. Foreign policy and feminism in one international political theory? Where do I sign up please? I saved it in my phone and vowed to come back to it, after exams. And, so here I am.
What is feminist foreign policy, and why is it so important?
According to the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy,
Feminist foreign policy is a framework which elevates the everyday lived experience of marginalized communities to the forefront and provides a broader and deeper analysis of global issues. It is a multidimensional policy framework that aims to elevate women’s and marginalised groups’ experiences and agency to scrutinise the destructive forces of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and militarism.
It takes a step outside the black box approach of traditional foreign policy thinking and its focus on military force, violence, and domination by offering an alternate and intersectional rethinking of security from the viewpoint of the most marginalised.
It is a simple yet, un-simplistic approach. It is saying, the conventional foreign policy approach hasn’t worked successfully for a while. So, we need to take a step back. Let’s look at international politics through the lens of minorities (women) too, because many of the persons we seek to protect with these policies are these minorities. Perhaps, within these sights, practical solutions may be founded.
We are a deeply troubled globe. 2019 and the years before it have reinforced this, and have rendered it an understatement even. Recognizing the nexus between gender equality and every other thing is a much needed leap to positively determine the world’s fate. Education? Economic growth? Healthcare? Climate Change? Poverty? International security? Most of these would be ‘covered’ with gender equality in the bag. The entirety of international development is linked to gender equality. This isn’t me just saying it, the United Nations Population Fund says it too. Concern has said as well, and so has McKinsey.
In fact, gender equality has been directly linked to international security. In 2010, Hillary Clinton stated in a Ted talk, that women’s rights are a national security issue. This is known as the Hillary Doctrine. In fact, the United Nations saw it fit to create Resolution 1325 and the other resolutions that came after it, to address women, peace and security.
Side Note: Did you know that men benefit from gender equality too? I mean, it’s pretty obvious but, if you were ever doubting it… click this.
So, if you’re like me and you’re wondering…. Why isn’t the world shifting towards feminist foreign policy? There’s certainly a place for it in this decade, and the next, and the next… You’re right.
While some countries have embraced feminist foreign policy such as Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom. Albeit with some controversy (Hey, Canada!) but you know what… we’ll take what we get. Most of the world won’t admit that it exists and when they do, they’re reluctant to do anything about it. Why? I imagine that it does not go in tandem with the patriarchal arm that has ruled houses of governments over centuries.
I think it’s important to examine the examples from at least, two of the three countries: Sweden and Canada.
The Swedish government calls itself a feminist government. Does anyone know what their immigration policies are like? Because, I’ve found my long lost soul country.
Sweden’s approach is premised on the realization that while gender equality is an objective, it is also essential to the achievement of other objectives of the government, such as peace, security and sustainable development. The policy is based on three Rs: Rights, Representation and Resources, and a recently added fourth R, Reality. So, Sweden’s goal is to promote the rights of women and girls worldwide; increase the participation of women and girls in decision making and leadership, in government and private sector; and allocate resources to promote equal opportunities for women and girls. (Let’s take this moment to give the Swedish government a well-deserved round of applause)
Being the pioneer of the feminist foreign policy and a real OG, Sweden has created an action plan to achieve all of the above. It recently completed its 2015 — 2018 commitments and has created another action plan for 2019 — 2022. I could tell you more about this but this isn’t a position paper. In summary, Sweden is telling the rest of the world, you made commitments at the Beijing Conference, you signed the UDHR, ICCPR and CEDAW, you need to do better. Remember, religion, culture and tradition can never make the infringements on the rights of women and girls okay or acceptable. Why? Because, they’re actual human beings, and it’s not okay! Thank you Sweden for your service to humanity! We are in awe of you.
If you’re a low-key cynic like I could be sometimes, you might ask… Yeah, how does this even work? You can read all about it here. Sweden has achieved its feminist foreign policy by creating country-level programs, directing foreign aid accordingly, promulgating positive legislations, through the work of its embassies in other countries and by walking the talk in its own internal affairs. Just take a look at this. Sweden also provides support to regional and international organizations such as the EU & UN towards this. For instance, Sweden has worked with UNCTAD to develop the Gender and Trade Toolbox.
Is Sweden’s feminist foreign policy perfect? Not really. Has it achieved every single thing it seeks to achieve? Not exactly. But, the wins certainly outshine whatever shortcomings it might have. This writer has exposited it carefully. And many Swedes, including the Swedish ambassador to the United States are proud of their country’s feminist foreign policy.
I am not Swedish but I am very, very proud too.
Now, let’s look at Canada.
Before I am demonized, I will be the first to admit that Canada has a reputation for being somewhat of a paper tiger. It talks shop but doesn’t really do much. But, you know, I’ll rather have a government that looks like it’s doing something rather than one whose president says his wife belongs in the kitchen and the ‘other room’ (Yes, you…Nigeria)
According to Canada, it adopts a Feminist International Assistance Policy that seeks to eradicate poverty and build a more peaceful, more inclusive and more prosperous world. To do this, ‘it supports targeted investments, partnerships, innovation and advocacy efforts with the greatest potential to close gender gaps and improve everyone’s chance for success.’ I do like Canada’s version, a lot. More than that of the Swedes? I don’t know yet. Let’s keep going.
The goal of this policy is to focus financial resources and contributions on initiatives that fight poverty, promotes inclusivity and empower women and girls. The target areas of the policy include gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, human dignity, growth, environmental and climate action, inclusive governance and, peace and security. By 2021 — 2022, the government of Canada wants not less than 15% of its bilateral international development assistance to be targeted towards initiatives addressing gender equality. My favorite thing about Canada’s approach is how it takes cognizance of the role of men and boys in promoting gender equality.
Canada has applied these principles in Afghanistan, where it has invested heavily in empowering Afghan women and girls. In Iraq, Canada helped to set up over 29 community centers in refugee camps to provide physical and psychological healthcare for women and girls, who have been victims of sexual violence. Canada created the Elsie Initiative this year, to drive funding for increased participation of women in peace keeping. Recently, it announced the creation of a gender advisory council to ensure that gender equality is integrated into the themes of the G7.
This is becoming a position paper, sigh. You can just read more about it here.
I know what you are thinking. This whole thing is bogus, it’s a stretch. It won’t work. That’s what the colonialists said about giving independence to their former colonies too. Is feminist foreign policy perfect? Nope. We don’t even need it to be. But, it works so that must count for something. Conventional foreign policy isn’t perfect so why should feminist foreign policy be? Besides, the purport of feminist foreign policy is to work in tandem with conventional foreign policy.
Isn’t it just positive discrimination? Should we have a menimist foreign policy too? Okay, I have a small task for you. Kindly show me the men’s equivalent of 700 million girls and women who are currently child brides, worldwide. While you’re at it, show me the equivalent of the disproportionality of the effect of war and armed conflict on girls and women. And, show me the equivalent of the feminization of poverty and the prevention of females from going to school, having jobs or using contraceptives. Show me the male equivalent that matches up and we will have a conversation. You can’t deny the gender gaps, in all spheres of life especially politics, even if you tried.
I’ve read some criticisms leveled against feminist foreign policy. While a few of them actually have somewhat real points, many of them have no basis such as this one. There are no links between the alleged ‘increase’ in gender based violence and feminist foreign policy. The writer, clearly biased by their beliefs, makes it all about America and it’s failing democracy. But, why am I not surprised? Sweden has not been silent in its non-acceptance of Mr. Trump’s America. This writer is obviously looking for scores to settle.
Canada has been criticized, sometimes rightly if I dare say for failing to live up to its hype. However, just like Sweden’s, some of these arguments have been baseless, like this one. It only highlights that Canada has spent 0.26% of its national income on developmental assistance and how that is somewhat a fraud. I get the correlation but, it doesn’t really say much, if you ask me. It flies off at a delicate and rather unfortunate tangent. Some writers have even deemed the entire policy failed, already. On what basis? It’s been less than three years. That’s not enough time to dramatically claim that it has failed.
However, I do agree with this writer who takes a much more practical approach by critiquing Canada’s support and sale of arms to governments such as Israel and Saudi Arabia who have overtime subjugated and violated the rights of the very women the policy seeks to protect. Another writer has also summed up Sweden’s shortcomings in this regard, here. But is this enough to call the entire policy a big flop? I think not.
I’ll re-emphasize this… Feminist foreign policy isn’t perfect and it’s a tall order to expect it to be. This goes hand in hand, with the pressure of anything associated with women or anything remotely feminist to be perfect and pure, before it’s accepted. It’s a shame, really. Will feminist foreign policy solve all of the world’s problems? Yes, I could see it doing something of that in the very very long run. If it sticks out for long. I hope it does.
It still has quite some way to go. For instance, Gabriella Irsten has advised that feminist foreign policy should take into cognizance, the root causes of gender equality. I think this is valid even though I believe it already does that. With a few tweaks here and there, feminist foreign policy could be the game changer the world needs.
It’s important to remember that although feminist foreign policy isn’t perfect, it’s doing a whole lot of good. Every country should accept it, or if that’s asking for too much, recognize that it exists and take active steps to making it work.
If you’re still wondering why we need feminist foreign policy. Then, I’m sorry. I can not help you. But maybe this will.