Updating International Interactions Through Feminist Foreign Policy

by Pankhuri Prasad
Staff Writer

Feminist foreign policy is often difficult to define and specific policy measures in the implementation exclusively within the contemporary field seem even more elusive. In most instances, the public commitment to include gender issues are emerging more so in the process of foreign policy-making. It is a new set of values that are held as important, if not crucial, for determining the interactions a country has on the international level. 

The International Center For Research on Women (ICRW) defines feminist foreign policy (FPP) as foreign policy that “prioritizes gender equality and enshrines the human rights of women and other traditionally marginalized groups, allocates significant resources to achieve that vision and seeks through its implementation to disrupt patriarchal and male-dominated power structures across all of its levers of influence (aid, trade, defense and diplomacy), informed by the voices of feminist activists, groups and movements.” This new approach to international interactions first emerged in 2014, when then Foreign Minister for Sweden, Margot Wallström, announced that the country would adopt a feminist foreign policy. The initial announcement was met with disbelief, laughter, and suspicion. Six years on, Sweden continues to illustrate a strong dedication to this campaign. In a recent interview, Wallström noted that, “[Feminist foreign policy] is based on the notion that more women means more peace.” Three years later in 2017, Canada became the second country to venture into FFP when it linked the elimination of poverty to gender equality through its Feminist International Assistance Policy. France followed suit in 2018 by establishing the International Strategy on Gender Equality. The French government dubbed these policies the “feminist diplomacy” that is established on principles of being comprehensive, rights-based, and gender-focused. 

The mutual commitments to equal rights and equal resources bring to light two concepts commonly associated within the strategy of all three nations. Canada’s feminist foreign policy is largely a blueprint for how a feminist approach can be incorporated into development assistance or providing foreign aid. In contrast, Sweden and France developed foreign policy that goes beyond international assistance. France seeks to expand policies on issues of violence against women and ensure gender parity at every level of policy making, while Sweden claims gender equality is a priority in its own right as well as a tool to advance other foreign policy priorities. However, Sweden’s version of feminist foreign policy has attracted criticism for largely ignoring the rights and needs of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community, with the  exception for a mention of LGBTQ sexual and reproductive health. 

This January, Mexico publicly committed its foreign policy to feminist principles. This marked the first country from the global south to adopt such a perspective. A press release made by the government stated that “Mexico’s feminist foreign policy is based on a set of principles that seek to promote government actions to reduce and eliminate structural differences, gender gaps and inequalities, in order to build a more just and prosperous society.” Mexico is no stranger to the challenges that accompany gender-based violence. Figures released by the Mexican government showed murders of women increased more than ten percent in 2019, with 809 women killed between January and October specifically because of their gender, compared with 726 in the same period last year. A 2017 report found about sixty-six percent of women over fifteen in Mexico had experienced some form of violence at least once. Mexico’s feminist foreign policy aims to bring the perspective of gender perspective to the heart of their foreign policy agenda. The government has outlined strategies such as workshops with key stakeholders, addressing labor inequality abroad, and extending support for existing programs. Experts predict pushback and resistance in the implementation of feminist foreign policy in Mexico. However, the country’s recent advance to a progressive foreign policy, such as the promotion of gender equality as a nonnegotiable component of any agreement on climate change at the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in December 2019, offer a counter to such fears.

Whether Mexico’s ambitious agenda for revamping its foreign policy will be successful or not remains to be seen. However, it does set an important precedent for the world. Although it is indeed commendable when Sweden, Canada, or France commits to a progressive and inclusive foreign policy, it is not surprising. It may seem like another publicity move and could even deter conversations about progressive foreign policies by making such initiatives seem like western imports. In contrast, it is worth talking about when a developing country such as Mexico makes such commitments. This is a country that does not give large sums of foreign aid or have a colonial legacy. Mexico has not only democratized foreign policy for minorities, but also showed the world that progressive policies are not a monopoly of the developed, largely Western world. An article in the daily Indian newspaper, Indian Express notes, “When a developing country adopts a feminist foreign policy, it suggests conviction that these values are worth any risks or isolation that might follow.” In a time when cooperation seems to be failing, these countries welcome change in the priorities of international affairs.

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