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The case for a feminist foreign policy

Posted By on March 8, 2022 @ 10:15

Sometimes a policy should be pursued not because it’s clear exactly where it will lead, but because it will lead in a positive direction. Feminist foreign policy is such a case.

Looking at the countries [1] that have adopted feminist foreign policies so far—Sweden, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, Libya, Germany and, most recently, Chile [2]—it’s clear that they didn’t have a detailed idea of what exactly would be involved in implementing this ambition.

Declarations were made by an individual minister, head of government or coalition with motivations [3] including personal values, the need for an announceable and the opportunity to appear on the world stage. Speaking to the Australia Institute, former Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström [4] recalled, ‘I took office as a foreign minister with a fresh experience of working on the issue of sexual violence in war and conflict. And that made a deep impression on me.’

Once a government has adopted a feminist foreign policy, it then has to work out how to implement and institutionalise it. That usually starts with a process of developing a policy to promote gender equality as a central goal of foreign policy. This can include consultations with civil society, formal planning processes and the creation accountability and reporting mechanisms [5].

Initiatives countries have pursued include programs on prevention of gender-based violence [6], women peace and security, women’s political participation, women’s economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health, and international assistance to women’s rights organisations. They have also prioritised internal processes to achieve gender equality, such as ensuring gender parity in their foreign affairs departments [6] and sending more female soldiers on international peacekeeping operations [7].

Interestingly, evidence suggests that governments have used discretion in how they apply feminist foreign policy. While there have been times when it has hurt—for example, in Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia [8]—there’s also evidence that in practice discretion is used [9] by individual diplomats to implement their country’s policy in a way that doesn’t damage relationships.

So, what are the positives for Australia of adopting a feminist foreign policy?

In some ways, it’s not that big a step. As the chief executive of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Leanne Smith, has noted, ‘Although the Australian government has yet to go so far as to call its foreign policy a feminist foreign policy, it’s getting pretty close [10], at least in relation to diplomacy and aid.’

Australia has long been a leader in gender equality through its international development programs [11]. It supports gender equality through its foreign policy and economic diplomacy in acknowledgement that increased gender equality correlates with increased peace and stability [12] and flourishing societies [1]. According to the 2017 foreign policy white paper: ‘Gender inequality undermines global prosperity, stability and security. It contributes to and often exacerbates a range of challenges, including poverty, weak governance and conflict and violent extremism. Australia’s foreign policy pursues the empowerment of women as a top priority [13].’

What adopting a feminist foreign policy does is elevate the goal.

Feminist foreign policy is ambitious in focusing on structures and systems of power and the way they create and perpetuate gender inequality. This opens up different kinds of questions and actions, emphasising structural [14] rather than individual solutions to inequality.

The benefits of adopting a feminist foreign policy include improved perceptions and soft power. For those who are concerned to differentiate Australia on values, a feminist foreign policy would provide a unique Australian contribution in our region [15]. For those who are concerned with the rules-based international order [16], a feminist foreign policy signals a commitment to fairness in the future, not just protection of the privileges of the past.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of formal adoption of a feminist foreign policy is in creating a target for Australia’s foreign policy machinery to work towards.

Once such a declaration is made, those in the policy space need to think about how their role and each of their initiatives promote gender equality. As the International Women’s Development Agency’s Jo Pradela and Alice Ridge put it, under a feminist foreign policy, ‘no action, project or program takes place without consideration of how it will, could or should affect women and girls [15], with the aim of increasing equality’.

This makes it everyone’s job.

Adopting a feminist foreign policy is the logical next step that would put Australia on a positive path. It’s a journey well worth taking.



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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-case-for-a-feminist-foreign-policy/

URLs in this post:

[1] countries: https://iwda.org.au/what-is-feminist-foreign-policy-and-why-is-it-the-right-move-for-australia/

[2] most recently, Chile: https://twitter.com/salaspat/status/1500454228644757505

[3] motivations: https://iwda.org.au/assets/files/IWDA_FFPTrajectoriesReport_Web_Updated0222.pdf

[4] Margot Wallström: https://australiainstitute.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/Feminist-Foreign-Policy-with-Margot-Wallstrom-former-foreign-minister-of-Sweden-transcript.pdf

[5] accountability and reporting mechanisms: https://iwda.org.au/assets/files/Feminist-Foreign-Policy-Discussion-Summary-IWDA-ICRW-NYU.pdf

[6] prevention of gender-based violence: https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2020/11/28/why-we-need-feminist-foreign-policy/160648200010787?utm_campaign=SharedArticle&utm_source=share&utm_medium=link&utm_term=VPQuJV0J&token=20pFeD4W

[7] more female soldiers on international peacekeeping operations: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/wps-2018-feminist-foreign-policy-australia/

[8] Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/saudis-try-block-canadas-feminist-foreign-policy

[9] discretion is used: https://mobile.twitter.com/AIIAVIC/status/1466298793079443460

[10] it’s getting pretty close: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australia-must-walk-talk-women-s-rights-globally-and-home

[11] leader in gender equality through its international development programs: https://acfid.asn.au/sites/site.acfid/files/20200214%20joint%20submission%20feminist%20foreign%20principles%20to%20aid%20development%20policy%20review.pdf

[12] increased peace and stability: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/australia-needs-feminist-foreign-policy

[13] pursues the empowerment of women as a top priority: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/julie-bishop-exits-how-far-have-women-come-world-affairs

[14] structural: https://www.wiisglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/WIIS-Policy-Brief-Feminist-Foriegn-Policy-February-2020.pdf

[15] unique Australian contribution in our region: https://www.lowyinstitute.org/the-interpreter/forgiveness-not-permission-feminist-foreign-policy

[16] rules-based international order: https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/opinion/topic/2020/11/28/why-we-need-feminist-foreign-policy/160648200010787?utm_campaign=SharedArticle&utm_source=share&utm_medium=link&utm_term=VPQuJV0J&token=20pFeD4W#shared-unlock

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