Written by Cassandre Impagliazzo
Translated by Aurore Girardin Boisvert
Even though women are increasingly impacted by wars and climate change, they are also much less integrated into peace or environmental protection efforts in the current geopolitical context. Indeed, structural changes are needed to reduce these gender inequalities, including greater integration of gender into decision-making and political processes. This is actually one of the objectives of feminist foreign policies.
The concept of feminist foreign policy is defined by the International Women’s Research Centre (ICRW) as follows: “Feminist foreign policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states and movements in a way that prioritises gender equality and enshrines the human rights of women, and other traditionally marginalised groups, allocates significant resources to the realisation of this vision and seeks, through its implementation, informed by the voices of feminist activists and movements, to disrupt patriarchal and male power structures through all its levers of influence (aid, trade, defence and diplomacy)« La politique étrangère féministe est la politique d’un État qui définit ses interactions avec les autres États et mouvements d’une manière qui donne la priorité à l’égalité des … Continue reading [loose translation]”. Could feminist foreign policies have such transformative power as to lead to a paradigm shift in favour of gender equality?
Diverging feminist foreign policies
According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Group (UNSDG), “Gender equality and women’s participation are catalysts for social, economic and environmental resilience, as well as strategies for risk reduction and sustainability, and sustainable peacebuilding« L’égalité des sexes et la participation des femmes constituent des éléments catalyseurs de la résilience sociale, économique et environnementale ainsi que des stratégies de réduction des … Continue reading [loose translation]”. While gender equality is essential to a stable society, it is still far from being achieved; it is estimated that about 42% of women are prevented by domestic work and care from having paid work, two-thirds of illiterate people are women, and one-third of women have experienced physical or sexual abuse in their lifetimeOxfam France (2021, June 14). Gender inequality in the world: key figures. (n.d.) Oxfam France. … Continue reading. Beyond this non-exhaustive list, gender inequalities at the expense of women are present in all fields, the private and public spheres: remuneration, employment rates, school enrolment and poverty rates, female presence in international institutions or governments.
Everything remains to be done in this area, and in a globalised society, in which countries are more interconnected than ever, the concept of feminist foreign policy seems to be one of the most promising solutions. However, this concept does not have a universal definition, which could prevent the achievement of the common goal of gender mainstreaming, because the views of the different states differ. This is already the case with the few foreign policies in place, such as those of France, Canada or Spain.
On the other hand, these policies follow different principles. On the Spanish side, feminist foreign policy focuses on a transformative approach, committed leadership, ownership, inclusive participation and development of national and international partnerships, diversity and intersectionalityFeminist foreign policy. (n.d.). https://www.exteriores.gob.es/fr/PoliticaExterior/Paginas/PoliticaExteriorFeminista.aspx" data-wplink-url-error="true">Www.exteriores.gob.es. https://www.exteriores.gob.es/fr/PoliticaExterior/Paginas/PoliticaExteriorFeminista.aspx. The Mexican feminist foreign policy is rather based on gender equality and an external feminist agenda, a Foreign Office free of violence for all with visible equality, and a multidisciplinary Feminist Foreign OfficeThe Mexican feminist foreign policy among the top three in the world. (n.d.). Embamex.sre.gob.mx. … Continue reading. Canada’s feminist foreign policy focuses on gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, human dignity, growth that benefits everyone, climate and environmental actions, inclusive governance, and peace and securityCanada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. (2017, February 21). GAC. … Continue reading. While some differences are inevitable, given the political and geopolitical context specific to each country, a lack of cohesion and definition could be an obstacle for the expansion of feminist values that this foreign policy is supposed to embody. Giving feminist foreign policy a clearer definition would be ideal to achieve the sustainable development goals more efficientlyStella Reminy-Elizor, Julia Ricci, Héloïse Versavel, Feminist foreign policy to achieve the sustainable development goals, (2023), Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, https://igg-geo.org/?p=11383.
Beyond issues of definition, other aspects of the feminist foreign policies in place are questionable. They sometimes remain mainly focused on pure diplomacy, and are still not sufficiently transversal (especially in France). The budget dedicated to them is too low and therefore does not allow them to reach the objectives set (also in France). Women are under-represented in these institutions dedicated to the international relations of the concerned States and the assistance for development funds too few projects for gender equalityMid-term review of French feminist diplomacy: 2020 report of the High Council on Equality. (n.d.) France.
Finally, there is a real risk of “genderwashing” when governments claim to be working for gender equality but are carrying out actions well short of, or contrary to, what they announceEl-Alam D. et Berrutti P., (2022, November 3). The rise of gender washing. Altiorem. https://altiorem1.medium.com/the-rise-of-gender-washing-b257d96f66f, to the detriment of their feminist ambitions, as is the case in France, the World’s third largest arms exporter in 2019Vie-Publique.fr. (2023). https://www.vie-publique.fr/en-bref/286490-exportations-darmement-la-france-au-3e-rang-mondial-en-2021#:~:text=Le%20march%C3%A9%20mondial%20de%20l.
The emergence of feminist foreign policies in some states has already borne fruit, or at least given examples to follow. Sweden and Canada have understood the importance of the transversality of feminism in politics and have therefore applied it to all areas of foreign policy, from trade relations to defence and securityDiplomacy – Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, … Continue reading. The balance sheet of Swedish feminist foreign policy shows that the country has made it possible to carry out positive actions, with Sweden accompanying many countries towards more gender equality, notably through the cessation of female genital mutilation by more than ninety communitiesSweden and Canada fly Feminist Foreign Policy Flag. (n.d.). Apolitical. https://apolitical.co/solution-articles/fr/suede-canada-mouche-drapeau-feministe-politique-etrangere.
It is essential that the countries pursuing feminist foreign policy show strong leadership in multilateral organisations, such as Canada which supported the creation of a gender equality council in the G7 in 2018, or France, which made gender equality the Biarritz G7 guideline in 2019.
Similarly, civil society is an indispensable link in feminist foreign policy. It should therefore always be supported, as France is doing, through the funding of feminist associations thanks to the Feminist Organisations Support Fund (FSOF)France committed to the Colombian feminist organizations. (n.d.). Www.afd.fr. … Continue reading. FSOF, announced in 2019 and launched in 2020, supports feminist civil society in the partner countries of France’s feminist foreign policy on themes such as reproductive health, empowerment or access to education for girls and women.
Feminist diplomacy facing backlash
Similarly, in this period of major backlash, the implementation of a feminist foreign policy will have to be seen in the context of a possible return to the past. Indeed, the political decisions that will be made in favour of gender equality could be reversed in the coming months or years. The concept of backlash – first used by Susan Faludi in her sense of “revenge”, in reference to the American conservatives of the 1980s and 1990s, but which can also be translated as “blowback” today – alludes to the many setbacks in terms of women’s rightsClavaud, A., Daniel, L., Dereudre, C., & Zeller, L.-L. (2023). Women’s Rights: Fighting the backlash. Recommendations for French Foreign Policy. EQUIPOP et Fondation Jean Jaurès. … Continue reading. The revocation of abortion rights in the United States in 2022 is a particularly telling example, as is the ban on Afghan women studying and working, or the will of the South-Korean President Yoon Seok-youl to abolish the Ministry for Gender Equality and Family. This is also the case of Sweden, which, as a pioneer in the field of feminist foreign policy in 2014 thanks to Margot Wallström – Minister of Foreign Affairs – finally abandoned it in October 2022, after the far-right had been elected powerSweden gives up on its pioneering “feminist diplomacy”. (2022, October 18). Geo.fr. http://www.geo.fr/geopolitique/la-suede-abandonne-sa-diplomatie-feministe-dont-elle-etait-pionniere-212208. This backlash trend is a real scourge, threatening both gender equality around the world, but also the effectiveness and especially the sustainability of feminist foreign policies. Yet this is precisely in this instance that the full role of feminist foreign policies is played, to guarantee the rights of women and LGBTQI+ people in the long term.
Feminist foreign policies play a key role in this context, by putting these issues on the international stage through their bilateral and multilateral relations with other States, and supporting civil society mobilised for gender equality.
The essential transversality of feminist foreign policies and their transformative power
While feminist foreign policies always deal with the diplomatic sphere stricto sensu, they must be cross-cutting, and lead to structural changes in all areas of diplomacy: within governments and international institutions, at the commercial and economic levels, at the level of security, conflict and peace, and on migration, climate change and digital issues in particular. Without transversality, the impact would be much more moderated.
States wishing to pursue a feminist foreign policy have the power to change things through their multilateral relations, mostly at international meetings such as G7 and G20, and COPs, or at gatherings within international institutions such as the United Nations or the European Union. Governments that pursue feminist foreign policies can thus conduct a genuine work of multilateral advocacy by highlighting gender equality issues at the heart of international meetings, as was the case for Canada and France when they chaired the 2018 and 2019 G7 respectively.
Similarly, feminist foreign policy has encouraged the feminisation of the Mexican government and diplomacy in general. In 2013, in Mexico, only 36.8% of the Parliament seats were occupied by women, i.e. 184 seats out of a total of 500. This figure gradually increases in subsequent years, reaching 42.6% in 2018World ranking. (n.d.). Archive.ipu.org. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-f/arc/classif010218.htm. After Mexico adopted a feminist foreign policy in 2019, the figure reached 48.2% in the same year. It finally achieved perfect parity in 2022 and continues to do so. However, the country’s government remains insufficiently feminised, with only 7 out of a total of 19 ministers being womenComposition of the government. (n.d.) France Diplomatie – Ministère de l’Europe et Des Affaires Étrangères. … Continue reading.
In a globalised society, in which trade and economy occupy a prominent place, feminist foreign policy has everything to play in these two sectors. Globalisation has a differentiated and unequal effect on the overall population, particularly on gender, but also on religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, race, age, or social class issues. As the first victims of this unequal distribution of wealth resulting from global economic growth, women are the most vulnerable in the world of employment, working more in the informal sector, in lower-paid jobs, part-time, or more often unemployed.
Feminist foreign policy must therefore aim to reduce these inequalities at their roots, to include women more in the labour market and enable them to take advantage as much as men from the benefits of globalisation and economic growth.
This action must also involve further analysis of investments abroad, in order to limit investments and decisions that could have negative consequences for womenCourage and ambition, recommendations for Canadian foreign policy. (January 2021). Feminist Working Group on Foreign Policy. … Continue reading. Economic sectors in which women are overrepresented have more limited access to foreign markets; for example, higher customs fees are applied in India for agricultural products, while the agriculture sector employs mainly womenWomen and trade, the role of trade in promoting gender equality, (2020). World Bank Group and World Trade Organization. https://www.wto.org/french/res_f/booksp_f/women_trade_pub2807_f.pdf. It is estimated that those fees are higher for female workers than for male workers in the whole world, as sectors employing more low-wage workers generally paid higher feesWomen and trade, the role of trade in promoting gender equality, (2020). World Bank Group and World Trade Organization. https://www.wto.org/french/res_f/booksp_f/women_trade_pub2807_f.pdf. This is an issue for the trade policy of each government that could be taken into account in the implementation of feminist foreign policies.
It is particularly possible and desirable for governments pursuing a feminist foreign policy to support women’s economic emancipation, as France is doing through the AFAWA initiative – Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa – promoting women’s access to finance in AfricaWomen’s Access to Finance Initiative in Africa (AFAWA). (16 avril 2019). African Development Bank – Building Today, for a better Africa Tomorrow. … Continue reading.
Moreover, in the context of their bilateral relations, States have the possibility to spread gender equality through special and specific clauses in trade agreements.
Beyond the business sector, feminist foreign policies have an important role to play in the peace and security process. Indeed, UN Resolution 1325 asserted this as early as the 2000s: the issues of gender inequality, and peace and security are intimately linked. It is considered, mainly within civil society, that the establishment of a feminist foreign policy requires demilitarisation and the promotion of non-violence, because feminism tends to question the motives of domination, oppression and the expression of violenceCourage and ambition, recommendations for Canadian foreign policy. (January 2021). Feminist Working Group on Foreign Policy. … Continue reading. Thus, the feminization of the military field would not be enough to act structurally on gender inequalities, particularly on the impact that conflicts can have on women. In addition, violence against women tends to increase after conflictsWomen’s human rights and gender related concerns in situations of conflict and instability.. (n.d.). OHCHR. … Continue reading.
While the countries that have implemented a feminist foreign policy are acting to further promote parity within their armies – such as France with its March 2019 gender-diversity plan for the Ministry of Armed ForcesFeminist diplomacy, From a mobilizing slogan to a real dynamic of change? (2020, September 22). High Council for Equality between Women and Men. … Continue reading – the issue is actually more complex. It would therefore be necessary to go further on the subject of demilitarisation or arms sales in particular.
Migration, a forgotten subject of feminist foreign policies
Often focused on pure diplomatic issues, feminist foreign policies tend to forget some major current issues such as migration. In a world of increasing conflicts, where it is estimated that climate change will lead to the migration of 260 million people by 2030, and 2.5 billion by 2050Jarry, C. (2022, September 15). Climate refugee: fleeing the consequences of climate change. Oxfam France. … Continue reading, feminist foreign policies must consider this dimension.
Gender and migration issues are closely linked, with gender influencing both the causes and consequences of migration for women, who account for about half of the world’s migrants and refugeesWhere is gender anyway? Gender impacts on international migration. (2019, November 20). Youmanity. https://www.youmanity.org/mais-ou-est-le-genre-les-impacts-du-genre-sur-la-migration-internationale/. Thus, the reasons for migration can vary ranging from poverty, which is largely feminised, to violence against women induced by conflicts, such as sexual violenceWhere is gender anyway? Gender impacts on international migration. (2019, November 20). Youmanity. https://www.youmanity.org/mais-ou-est-le-genre-les-impacts-du-genre-sur-la-migration-internationale/, climate change, which has a much greater impact on women than men, and the precarious situation of women in the labour market, where they are more likely to work informally.
Indeed, it is desirable that feminist foreign policies integrate the gender dimension into migration policies. They could take into account the fact that gender is a ground of persecution, especially for women who present other factors of discrimination, such as race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or social class, and could thus bring about a real structural change, in particular by changing the criteria for family reunification that currently benefit menWhere is gender anyway? Gender impacts on international migration. (2019, November 20). Youmanity. https://www.youmanity.org/mais-ou-est-le-genre-les-impacts-du-genre-sur-la-migration-internationale/, and by working on the causes and consequences of these migrations, so that women are no longer victims of human trafficking or precariousness.
The gendered impact of climate change
Economic, social and cultural factors make women more severely impacted by climate change than menWomen … in the context of climate change. (n.d.) United Nations. https://www.un.org/fr/chronicle/article/le-femmes-dans-le-contexte-des-changements-climatiques because they have less access to resources and their situation is more precarious. Gender mainstreaming in the fight against climate change is essential, especially in the context of feminist foreign policies. Germany, which introduced its feminist foreign policy in March 2023, is ensuring that the climate change projects it funds are inclusive, and that women or minorities participateFeminist German Foreign Policy: What Does This Mean? // Global Warming Threatens Ice Fishing in Canada (2023, March 8). Dw.com. … Continue reading. Governments pursuing a feminist foreign policy can bring about real structural change by including more women, LGBTQI+ and marginalized people, for example, in decision-making on climate change. The largely feminised civil society is another major player in this struggleCivil society is key to climate resilience, says Adesina. (2022, October 7). African Sustainable Development Bank. … Continue reading.
The impact of gender-sensitive policy decisions could be improved, by taking into account the needs of the population as a whole, and the special conditions women are faced with when it comes to climate change.
Feminist foreign policy: a powerful tool
Gender inequalities are complex and deeply embedded in our society. Multilateralism makes feminist foreign policy a necessary and appropriate response to gender inequalities. If this new type of policy takes gender into account in a cross-cutting and intersectional way, then it has the power to bring about structural changes, or even a paradigm shift in favour of gender equality.
It is not a question of “adding women and stirring up”, but rather of relying on transversality in order to take gender into account in all political sectors, from peace and security to climate change and migration. It is through this transversality that feminist foreign policy can express its full potential.
To quote this article: Cassandre Imagliazzo (2023). Feminist Foreign Policy: Towards Structural Change in Favour of Gender Equality? Gender in Geopolitics Institute. igg-geo.org/?p=13803&lang=en
The statements in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.
« La politique étrangère féministe est la politique d’un État qui définit ses interactions avec les autres États et mouvements d’une manière qui donne la priorité à l’égalité des sexes et consacre les droits humains de la femme et d’autres groupes traditionnellement marginalisés, alloue des ressources importantes à la réalisation de cette vision et cherche, par sa mise en œuvre, à perturber les structures de pouvoir patriarcales et masculines à travers tous ses leviers d’influence (aide, commerce, défense et diplomatie), éclairée par les voix d’activistes et de mouvements féministes». Thompson L., Clement R., Defining a feminist foreign policy (n.d.), ICRW www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Defining-Feminist-Foreign-Policy-Brief-French.pdf
|↑2||« L’égalité des sexes et la participation des femmes constituent des éléments catalyseurs de la résilience sociale, économique et environnementale ainsi que des stratégies de réduction des risques et de durabilité, et de consolidation durable de la paix ». Reference Manual for Gender Mainstreaming in Joint UN Programming at Country Level (January 2018), United Nations Sustainable Development Group https://unsdg.un.org/sites/default/files/Manuel-reference-integration-genre-programmation-conjointe-ONU.pdf|
|↑3||Oxfam France (2021, June 14). Gender inequality in the world: key figures. (n.d.) Oxfam France. http://www.oxfamfrance.org/inegalites-femmes-hommes/chiffres-cles-pour-mieux-comprendre-les-inegalites-entre-les-hommes-et-les-femmes-dans-le-monde/#:~:text=L|
|↑4||Feminist foreign policy. (n.d.). https://www.exteriores.gob.es/fr/PoliticaExterior/Paginas/PoliticaExteriorFeminista.aspx" data-wplink-url-error="true">Www.exteriores.gob.es. https://www.exteriores.gob.es/fr/PoliticaExterior/Paginas/PoliticaExteriorFeminista.aspx|
|↑5||The Mexican feminist foreign policy among the top three in the world. (n.d.). Embamex.sre.gob.mx. https://embamex.sre.gob.mx/francia/index.php/fr/communiques/889-la-politique-exterieure-feministe-mexicaine-au-nombre-des-trois-meilleures-au-monde|
|↑6||Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. (2017, February 21). GAC. http://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/issues_development-enjeux_developpement/priorities-priorites/policy-politique.aspx?lang=eng|
|↑7||Stella Reminy-Elizor, Julia Ricci, Héloïse Versavel, Feminist foreign policy to achieve the sustainable development goals, (2023), Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, https://igg-geo.org/?p=11383|
|↑8||Mid-term review of French feminist diplomacy: 2020 report of the High Council on Equality. (n.d.) France|
|↑9||El-Alam D. et Berrutti P., (2022, November 3). The rise of gender washing. Altiorem. https://altiorem1.medium.com/the-rise-of-gender-washing-b257d96f66f|
|↑10||Vie-Publique.fr. (2023). https://www.vie-publique.fr/en-bref/286490-exportations-darmement-la-france-au-3e-rang-mondial-en-2021#:~:text=Le%20march%C3%A9%20mondial%20de%20l|
|↑11||Diplomacy – Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/politique-etrangere-de-la-france/diplomatie-feministe/actualites-et-evenements/article/bilan-a-mi-parcours-de-la-diplomatie-feministe-francaise-rapport-2020-du-haut|
|↑12||Sweden and Canada fly Feminist Foreign Policy Flag. (n.d.). Apolitical. https://apolitical.co/solution-articles/fr/suede-canada-mouche-drapeau-feministe-politique-etrangere|
|↑13||France committed to the Colombian feminist organizations. (n.d.). Www.afd.fr. http://www.afd.fr/fr/actualites/communique-de-presse/france-engagee-organisations-feministes-colombiennes#:~:text=Depuis%202020%2C%20le%20Fonds%20de|
|↑14||Clavaud, A., Daniel, L., Dereudre, C., & Zeller, L.-L. (2023). Women’s Rights: Fighting the backlash. Recommendations for French Foreign Policy. EQUIPOP et Fondation Jean Jaurès. https://equipop.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/rapport_backlash_Equipop_FondationJeanJaures.pdf|
|↑15||Sweden gives up on its pioneering “feminist diplomacy”. (2022, October 18). Geo.fr. http://www.geo.fr/geopolitique/la-suede-abandonne-sa-diplomatie-feministe-dont-elle-etait-pionniere-212208|
|↑16||World ranking. (n.d.). Archive.ipu.org. Retrieved April 21, 2023, from http://archive.ipu.org/wmn-f/arc/classif010218.htm|
|↑17||Composition of the government. (n.d.) France Diplomatie – Ministère de l’Europe et Des Affaires Étrangères. https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/dossiers-pays/mexique/presentation-du-mexique/article/composition-du-gouvernement|
|↑18, ↑22||Courage and ambition, recommendations for Canadian foreign policy. (January 2021). Feminist Working Group on Foreign Policy. https://www.actioncanadashr.org/sites/default/files/2021-02/FFP%20Brave%20Bold%20FR_2.pdf|
|↑19, ↑20||Women and trade, the role of trade in promoting gender equality, (2020). World Bank Group and World Trade Organization. https://www.wto.org/french/res_f/booksp_f/women_trade_pub2807_f.pdf|
|↑21||Women’s Access to Finance Initiative in Africa (AFAWA). (16 avril 2019). African Development Bank – Building Today, for a better Africa Tomorrow. http://www.afdb.org/fr/themes-et-secteurs/initiatives-et-partenariats/initiative-pour-favoriser-lacces-des-femmes-au-financement-en-afrique-afawa|
|↑23||Women’s human rights and gender related concerns in situations of conflict and instability.. (n.d.). OHCHR. https://www.ohchr.org/fr/women/womens-human-rights-and-gender-related-concerns-situations-conflict-and-instability#:~:text=Recrudescence%20de%20la%20violence%20fond%C3%A9e|
|↑24||Feminist diplomacy, From a mobilizing slogan to a real dynamic of change? (2020, September 22). High Council for Equality between Women and Men. www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/rapport-diplomatie_feministe-v4-2_cle8a99a1.pdf|
|↑25||Jarry, C. (2022, September 15). Climate refugee: fleeing the consequences of climate change. Oxfam France. https://www.oxfamfrance.org/migrations/vers-une-augmentation-croissante-du-nombre-de-refugies-climatiques/|
|↑26, ↑27, ↑28||Where is gender anyway? Gender impacts on international migration. (2019, November 20). Youmanity. https://www.youmanity.org/mais-ou-est-le-genre-les-impacts-du-genre-sur-la-migration-internationale/|
|↑29||Women … in the context of climate change. (n.d.) United Nations. https://www.un.org/fr/chronicle/article/le-femmes-dans-le-contexte-des-changements-climatiques|
|↑30||Feminist German Foreign Policy: What Does This Mean? // Global Warming Threatens Ice Fishing in Canada (2023, March 8). Dw.com. https://www.dw.com/fr/politique-etrangere-feministe-allemagne-vu-podcast-reportage-canada-peche-sur-glace/audio-64913013|
|↑31||Civil society is key to climate resilience, says Adesina. (2022, October 7). African Sustainable Development Bank. https://www.afdb.org/fr/news-and-events/la-societe-civile-est-un-element-cle-de-la-resilience-au-changement-climatique-declare-m-adesina-55351|