Written by: Mariam Charara Ruiz
Translated by: Manon Picot
In 2014, a fundamental change left a mark on international diplomacy. Sweden, demonstrating a pioneering vision adopted the first feminist foreign policy in the world. The main difference with the former ones is that it places women’s role at the center of politicsAggestam, K., et Bergman-Rosamond, A. (2016). Swedish feminist foreign policy in the making: Ethics, politics, and gender. Ethics & International Affairs, 30(3), 323-334. … Continue reading.It is a foreign policy that formally recognized the differentiated impact of gender structures in violent conflicts, toward the access to basic resources and that offers major solution, taking into account the specific problems to which women are confronted only because they are womenGobierno de España. (2021). Política exterior feminista. Impulsando la igualdad en la acción exterior española. Feminist foreign policy may be defined as the “politics of a State that defines its interactions with other States and movement in a way that gives priority to gender equality and consecrate human rights of women and other marginalized groups”« Politique d’un État qui définit ses interactions avec d’autres États et mouvements d’une manière qui donne la priorité à l’égalité des sexes et consacre les droits humains des … Continue reading loose translation. Nevertheless, this new conception of international politics has not been firmly settled in normative framework. For that matter, it is also what attests Sweden – first country to promote this type of politics – as it was the first one to distance itself from this approach when more conservative political forces came to powerWalfridsson, H. (2022). Sweden’s new government abandons feminist foreign policy. Human Rights Watch, October, 31. … Continue reading. In the case of Sweden, the arrival of the Moderate Party at the government questioned the utility of the “feminist” label in its foreign policyBBC News. (2022). Sweden ditches ‘feminist foreign policy’. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63311743.
The movement in favor of a feminist foreign policy spread and aroused the adherence of several countries, including Canada, Mexico, Germany, France and Spain. Nevertheless, despite this positive evolution, which stands out from the classical conception of foreign policy in which gender has no space, it is crucial to define the orientation, strategies and the objectives of these politics to better understand the possibility of their potential consolidation at the international level.
It is then useful to use the cases of France and Spain. These two neighboring countries have been the standard-bearers of the promotion of feminist foreign policies in Europe. They both have clearly identified objectives, aligned with the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. The 2023 Agenda for Sustainable development, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, represents an ambitious engagement to improve human well-being, to preserve our environment and to promote economic progress, while strengthening world peace and guaranteeing equal access to justiceNations Unies. (2015, 25 septembre). L’Assemblée générale adopte l’Agenda 2030 pour le développement durable [Communiqué de presse]. https://press.un.org/fr/2015/ag11688.doc.htm. However, analyzing if these politics are still conditioned by traditional frame of patriarchal domination is essential to understand their limits, as well as to consider paths that can guarantee the consolidation of a gender perspective in international politics.
The gender dimension at the international level
The absence of recognition of the implication of power asymmetry existing between genders and its implications, present at all levels of everyday life, has a direct impact on the international dimension. Considering that the “personal” level has direct implications in international relations, dividing private and public spheres is actually ignoring the relational dimension of gender inequality. Indeed, ignoring the topic of gender in the academic sphere of international relations leads to theories and interpretations that are not only biased, but that also tacitly hide their bias undercover of universality preceptsadley, J. D. (2009). Gendering the State: performativity and protection in international security. In Gender and international security (pp. 38-58). Routledge.
Politics aiming at reaching the equality between women and men are based on a broad conception of security, peace and other subjects that should be included in this thematic. The truth is, feminist foreign policies do not rely on new precepts, but rather on a long history of norms aiming at promoting women’s rights and for fighting against the violence women suffer because of unequal power structures. As a matter of fact, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)Nations Unies (1979). Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes. … Continue reading, the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action for equality (1995) Déclaration et Programme d’action de Beijing (1995). https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Headquarters/Attachments/Sections/CSW/BPA_F_Final_WEB.pdf, or the Resolution 1325 of the Security Council of the Unites Nations (2000)Nations Unies (2000). Resolution 1325 du Conseil de Sécurité. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/ods/S-RES-1325(2000)-F.pdf can be mentioned. In the same way, European feminist foreign policies also are in line with the framework of the European Union, as the European Commission Strategy in favor of equality between women and menCommission européenne (2020). Stratégie en faveur de l’égalité hommes-femmes 2020-2025. … Continue reading, which aims at eradicating sexist violence and reaching equality with the participation of men and women in the spheres of political and economic power.
Thus, feminist foreign policies are presented as tools to obtain concrete changes. The inclusion of a gender perspective in the area of international relations is not only addressed to women, neither to the incorporation of women in patriarchal constructionsOtto, D. (2018). Women, peace and security: a critical analysis of the Security Council’s vision. The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Conflict. Oxford University Press. Security, as well as its reinterpretation, must bypass universalist conceptions. Soumita Basu – a specialist in security and international relations toward a gender perspective – underlines that “Security […] lies in the transformation of oppressive social relations that underpin structural violence”« la sécurité […] réside dans la transformation des relations sociales oppressives qui sous-tendent la violence structurelle ». Basu, S. (2011). Security as emancipation: A feminist … Continue reading loose translation. Thus, the examination of the international system’s norms through the filter of gendered relational structures makes it possible to bypass the ideological framework rooted in society, which represents specific and limited comprehension of masculinity and feminity. The promotion of feminist foreign policies paves the way for new manners to interpret international dynamics. It does so by highlighting precisely that perceptions of feminine and masculine “essence” led to biased interpretations in which the needs of both genders are supposedly related to their attributed characteristics.
Conceptualization of feminist foreign policy
Feminism places the fight against discrimination and violence continuum at the center of foreign policy. Adopting a feminist perspective means engaging to respect ethical ideals and gender justice principlesAggestam, K., Bergman Rosamond, A., & Kronsell, A. (2019). Theorising feminist foreign policy. International Relations, 33(1), 23-39. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047117818811892. Nonetheless, there is no common theoretical framework for feminist foreign policies among the countries that adopt this policy. If this absence of common definition at the multilateral level can appear like a problem, it actually eases the promotion of feminist foreign policies, without having the necessity to frame them through a Global-North vision.
Feminist foreign policies are really recent. It means that they have not yet been consecrated as norms. The heterogeneity of approach can lead to a reinterpretation of concepts in every country, with the aim of defending national interestsRouach D., Apostoly A. (dir), 2023, “La politique étrangère féministe pour atteindre les objectifs de développement durable”, février 2023, Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, … Continue reading.That is why it is important to identify common elements in the foreign strategies of France or Spain, to understand what the necessary elements are to categorize these foreign policies as feminist.
The French foreign policy is presented as promoting the women as an actress of sustainable development and well operation of societies, by adopting a sensitive approach to gender. For its part, Spain presents its foreign policy as a pioneer in the defense of gender equality and empowerment of women and girlsGobierno de España. (2021). Política exterior feminista. Impulsando la igualdad en la acción exterior española.
Feminist foreign policies in France and Spain
The Spanish strategy underlines the importance of parity as a distinctive element, as a central and guiding principle of foreign policy, by explicitly recognizing the feminist nature of this policy (as well as development cooperation) and by positioning feminism, among other factors, as a fundamental principle on which external projections relied. Indeed, it shows how Spain agrees with the view that “the personal is international and the international is personal” « Le personnel est international et l’international est personnel ». Enloe, C. (2014). Bananas, beaches and bases: Making feminist sense of international politics. Univ of California Press.loose translation. The construction of the normative framework does not escape from the influence of specific dynamics. Thus, there is an interaction in which the structure of society prescribes personal experiences. Simultaneously, the intersectionality that the Spanish feminist foreign policy advises should be noted. This intersectionality is reflected in the guiding principles of the “feminist foreign policy: promoting equality in Spanish foreign actions” documentMinisterio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación (2021). Política exterior feminista: Impulsando la Igualdad en la Acción Exterior española. … Continue reading. The Spanish approach highlights the fact that ethnicity, sexual orientation or economic status is intertwined factors with gender. In other terms, gender is not the only factor conditioning the inequality women experienced. It is an important aspect as it recognizes the diversity and refuse a unique and universal interpretation of what being a woman means.
France does not explicitly include intersectionality in its strategy. It means that it does not categorize gender with other identities. The absence of intersectionality creates a unitary image of what being a woman means, excluding several structural power relations that are intertwined in communitiesCohn, C. (2017). Beyond the “Women, Peace and Security” agenda: Why we need a feminist roadmap for sustainable peace. Background Paper, Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace Project, Consortium … Continue reading. It leads to categorizations that do not encompass broader definitions that the ones established from hegemonic perspectives. In practice, it involves neglecting the different ways in which oppression and marginalization support powerSapiano, J., et True, J. (2022). Feminist peace: reimagining peace through a feminist lens. European Journal of Politics and Gender, 5(1), 3-6. https://doi.org/10.1332/251510821X16372396486217. Nonetheless, both politics explain that the change must come from the inside. This point should be highlighted as it represents an advantage for the promotion of feminist foreign policies, indeed, acting at home implies to recognize that violence based on gender is also a problem in the countries belonging to the liberal international order. Nevertheless, the limits of these politics come under several critics.
A feminist foreign policy without renouncing to militarism
Countries present in their programs the need to face the inequalities and discrimination to which women are exposed in the context of armed conflicts. In the same way, both countries are defenders or the Sustainable Development Goals, tightly linked to the struggle for gender equality and the promotion of just, pacific, and inclusive societies. However, it is necessary to examine their practical actions.
Two clear examples of the absence of a coherent application of their strategies into practice can be pointed. First, the pro-war storyline of both countries concerning the war in Ukraine should be noted. This war appears as a comeback toward the politics of “spheres of influence”. It is the perfect illustration of the contestation of the liberal international order beyond the normative framework. This context calls to a coherent and multilateral answer, advocating the protection of human rights and encompassing the differentiated impact of armed conflict according to gender. However, the French and Spanish positions – in line with the European union strategy – come back to a classical conception of security, reducing the precepts of human security and framing it in the defense of what is called “freedom from fear” Sjoberg, L. (2010). Gender and international security. Oxon: Routledge. This “freedom from fear” is based on the protection against physical violence in the contexts of conflict. Thus, this dimension leads to a restricted interpretation of security, in which individuals are subject to securitizing, but only toward the consequences of violent conflicts.
This evolution is characterized by a reinforcement of militarism, far away from the precepts historically defended by feminism. Spain and France probably don’t have the opportunity to detach themselves from the multilateral frame in which they are. However, the fact that this is in obvious contradiction with the precepts they defend in their national strategies can be pointed. Indeed, one of the major critics expressed by authors like Otto, Tickner and Sjoberg is the underestimation of conflict prevention and the tendance to the militarization through the integration of a gender dimension.
Secondly, France and Spain sold weapons to non-democratic countries, where human rights are not respected, and where, among others, women’s rights are scorned. The refusal of the Spanish government to suspend its weapons’ exportation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (two direct participant in the war in Yemen) or Israel is one of the positions opposed to its objectives of feminist foreign policyAmnesty International (2022). Análisis de las exportaciones españolas de material de defensa y otro material de 2021. https://www.es.amnesty.org/en-que-estamos/espana/armas/. France is the third weapons’ exporter worldwide, and in the list of its importer countries, there are some authoritarian States where women’s rights are threatened or do not even exist at the juridic levelInstitut du Genre en Géopolitique (IGG) (2023). La politique étrangère féministe pour atteindre les objectifs de développement durable. … Continue reading.
An oversized protection : toward paternalism
Protection easily adapts to a militarized perspective of peace and security. In the end, it does not question the structures under which the hegemonic perspectives are built. Indeed, the implementation of protection measures fortifies the image of reliability and robustnessEngle, K. (2018). A genealogy of the centrality of sexual violence to gender and conflict (pp. 132-144). New York: Oxford University Press., corresponding to perceptions attributed to the masculine gender. Therefore, the possibility to fall into the trap of paternalism can be intensified in the context of development aid, one of the main points of both political strategies.
The absence of cooperation, far away from a unitary conception of what it means to be a woman, in other words, far away from the gender essentialism, made it difficult to identify the needs of the communities who benefit from the development aid. In this context, a feminist vision that takes into account all the inequalities created within the capitalist system must be created. This point is extremely important because the recognition of these oppressive systems is the first step for overcoming them. As Pierre Bourdieu recalled it:” Classification systems which reproduce, in their own logic, objective classes, that is to say division by sex, age or position in the relation of production, contributes precisely to the reproduction of the relation of power of which they are the product, by ensuring the ignorance and therefore the recognition of the arbitrariness on which they are based”« Les systèmes de classification qui reproduisent, dans leur logique propre, des classes objectives, c’est-à-dire des divisions par le sexe, l’âge ou la position dans les rapports de … Continue reading loose translation.
The value of the gender dimension at the international level
Feminist foreign policies are seen as instruments of change in the interest of the promotion of gender equality and the fight against discrimination. Without any doubts, this tendency goes beyond normative content presented in the national strategies of countries, here in France or Spain.
Feminist foreign policies are presented as a way to defend the liberal international order, that is to say that they appear as a logical and evolutive step in bigger frameworks such as the United nation Agenda for women, peace and security. In the current context of this normative struggle, the adoption of new narratives is required, and feminism is attacked.
Cases of France and Spain are useful because they allow us to observe the contradictions pursuing a feminist foreign policy without taking into account the innate limits of Global Northern States. However, the fact that feminism is recognized as an “ethical” necessity paves the way for the possibility of working in new frames that assure progress and equality for all genders should be noted.
To quote this article: CHARARA RUIZ M. (2023). Toward a feminist foreign policy: breaking dominant frames of thought for an inclusive approach. Gender in Geopolitics Institute. https://igg-geo.org/?p=16033&lang=en
The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author.
|↑1||Aggestam, K., et Bergman-Rosamond, A. (2016). Swedish feminist foreign policy in the making: Ethics, politics, and gender. Ethics & International Affairs, 30(3), 323-334. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0892679416000241|
|↑2, ↑18||Gobierno de España. (2021). Política exterior feminista. Impulsando la igualdad en la acción exterior española|
|↑3||« Politique d’un État qui définit ses interactions avec d’autres États et mouvements d’une manière qui donne la priorité à l’égalité des sexes et consacre les droits humains des femmes et d’autres groupes traditionnellement marginalisés». Thompson, L. et Clement, R. (2019). Définir une politique étrangère féministe. International Center for Research of Women. https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Defining-Feminist-Foreign-Policy-Brief-French.pdf|
|↑4, ↑15, ↑20, ↑29||loose translation|
|↑5||Walfridsson, H. (2022). Sweden’s new government abandons feminist foreign policy. Human Rights Watch, October, 31. https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/31/swedens-new-government-abandons-feminist-foreign-policy|
|↑6||BBC News. (2022). Sweden ditches ‘feminist foreign policy’. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-63311743|
|↑7||Nations Unies. (2015, 25 septembre). L’Assemblée générale adopte l’Agenda 2030 pour le développement durable [Communiqué de presse]. https://press.un.org/fr/2015/ag11688.doc.htm|
|↑8||adley, J. D. (2009). Gendering the State: performativity and protection in international security. In Gender and international security (pp. 38-58). Routledge|
|↑9||Nations Unies (1979). Convention sur l’élimination de toutes les formes de discrimination à l’égard des femmes. https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%201249/volume-1249-I-20378-French.pdf|
|↑10||Déclaration et Programme d’action de Beijing (1995). https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Headquarters/Attachments/Sections/CSW/BPA_F_Final_WEB.pdf|
|↑11||Nations Unies (2000). Resolution 1325 du Conseil de Sécurité. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/ods/S-RES-1325(2000)-F.pdf|
|↑12||Commission européenne (2020). Stratégie en faveur de l’égalité hommes-femmes 2020-2025. https://commission.europa.eu/strategy-and-policy/policies/justice-and-fundamental-rights/gender-equality/gender-equality-strategy_fr|
|↑13||Otto, D. (2018). Women, peace and security: a critical analysis of the Security Council’s vision. The Oxford Handbook of Gender and Conflict. Oxford University Press|
|↑14||« la sécurité […] réside dans la transformation des relations sociales oppressives qui sous-tendent la violence structurelle ». Basu, S. (2011). Security as emancipation: A feminist perspective. In Feminism and International Relations: Conversations about the Past, Present and Future (pp. 98-114). Routledge.|
|↑16||Aggestam, K., Bergman Rosamond, A., & Kronsell, A. (2019). Theorising feminist foreign policy. International Relations, 33(1), 23-39. https://doi.org/10.1177/0047117818811892|
|↑17||Rouach D., Apostoly A. (dir), 2023, “La politique étrangère féministe pour atteindre les objectifs de développement durable”, février 2023, Institut du Genre en Géopolitique, https://igg-geo.org/?p=11383|
|↑19||« Le personnel est international et l’international est personnel ». Enloe, C. (2014). Bananas, beaches and bases: Making feminist sense of international politics. Univ of California Press.|
|↑21||Ministerio de Asuntos Exteriores, Unión Europea y Cooperación (2021). Política exterior feminista: Impulsando la Igualdad en la Acción Exterior española. https://www.exteriores.gob.es/es/PoliticaExterior/Documents/2021_02_POLITICA%20EXTERIOR%20FEMINISTA.pdf|
|↑22||Cohn, C. (2017). Beyond the “Women, Peace and Security” agenda: Why we need a feminist roadmap for sustainable peace. Background Paper, Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace Project, Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights. Boston. https://genderandsecurity.org/sites/default/files/Cohn_-_Beyond_the_Women_Peace_and_Security_Agenda_Why_We_Need_a_Feminist_Roadmap_for_Sustainable_Peace.pdf|
|↑23||Sapiano, J., et True, J. (2022). Feminist peace: reimagining peace through a feminist lens. European Journal of Politics and Gender, 5(1), 3-6. https://doi.org/10.1332/251510821X16372396486217|
|↑24||Sjoberg, L. (2010). Gender and international security. Oxon: Routledge|
|↑25||Amnesty International (2022). Análisis de las exportaciones españolas de material de defensa y otro material de 2021. https://www.es.amnesty.org/en-que-estamos/espana/armas/|
|↑26||Institut du Genre en Géopolitique (IGG) (2023). La politique étrangère féministe pour atteindre les objectifs de développement durable. https://igg-geo.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/La-politique-etrangere-feministe-pour-atteindre-les-objectifs-de-developpement-durable.pdf|
|↑27||Engle, K. (2018). A genealogy of the centrality of sexual violence to gender and conflict (pp. 132-144). New York: Oxford University Press.|
|↑28||« Les systèmes de classification qui reproduisent, dans leur logique propre, des classes objectives, c’est-à-dire des divisions par le sexe, l’âge ou la position dans les rapports de production, contribuent précisément à la reproduction des rapports de force dont ils sont le produit, en assurant la méconnaissance et donc la reconnaissance de l’arbitraire sur lequel ils reposent ». Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.|