Building the way for Feminist Foreign Policies
Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom pioneered the first feminist foreign policy in 2014, which expectedly followed mixed responses across the world, wide acclamations along with backlashes for the bold use of quite controversial word ‘feminist’. However, the policy which was formulated to stand against the systematic and global subordination of women has resulted impeccable impacts in the last four years. Whilst rest of the world is still reluctant to embrace the word ‘feminism’ itself, the groundbreaking move of Sweden has definitely casted light on the importance of feminist approaches to its policies and actions. Its main focus on strengthening women’s and girls’ Rights, Representation and Resources, and ensuring gender equality in all public and private domains and challenging power structure has to be an inspiration for the nations across the world to integrate similar approaches in their respective national policies and agendas.
Launched in October 2014, the policy was implemented with six main objectives: Full enjoyment of Human Rights, freedom from violence, participation in peace efforts, political participation, economic empowerment, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. The follow up based on the Swedish Foreign Service action plan for feminist foreign policy 2015–2018 highlighted intensive implementation and wider level of impact in multilateral, bilateral and regional setting with significant achievements and actions contributing to the following objectives as well as Sweden’s wider foreign development and security policy objectives. Extracting from its publication on impact after 3 years of policy launch, it has successfully contributed in raising focus of women’s and girls’ issue by 150% in the United Security Council and UN General Assembly and human rights council. It has also advocated for strengthening and protecting human rights women and girls in refugee and migration setting. Further, Sweden also contributed in bringing Gender Equality Strategy of European Council and strengthening member states in developing action plans through gender mainstreaming trainings. Sweden also intensified discussions and political dialogues on purchase of sexual services as a form of violence and inspired other countries like Northern Ireland, France and Ireland for their respective legislation review. Likewise, the policy also contributed in giving visibility to and combating destructive masculine norms, and capacitating countries to handle perpetrators and securing numbers of commitments to fight against gender based violence in humanitarian crisis situations.
The feminist foreign policy intensely contributed towards promoting women’s participation in peace efforts as Sweden’s top priority of 2017-2018 and led towards development of new action plan for implementation of UN Security Council’s resolution related to women, peace and security. Sweden, as one of the leaders the EU member states cooperation, pushed for the implementation of agenda for women, peace and security through various studies and appointment of Principal Advisor for Gender at the EEAS. Similarly, the policy has led to successful advocacy of political participation of women and girls and of gender strategy in all areas of development including development banks, climate funds, energy policy and political parties. Sweden also supported governing financial bodies like International Monetary Fund and World Bank along with EU trade policy to ensure gender equality by stressing the importance of inclusive growth and women’s participation. It further highlighted gender issues in Corporate Social Responsibility as well as role of men in gender equality through HeforShe campaigns. The policy also strongly supported and advocated for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and pushed EU to include SRHR in implementation of gender equality and women’s empowerment agenda in its external relations. The ‘She Decides’ conference in Brussels co-organized by Sweden with Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark in March 2017 was also an iconic event which helped in ensuring broader political and financial support for SRHR with Sweden pledging to commit additional SEK 200 million to global SRHR efforts.
The feminist foreign policy has helped to address and improve wide numbers of women rights issues across the world. Sweden supported China on carrying out a study on employers’ knowledge on legislation against violence to combat domestic violence, as well as intensified its work to reduce unwanted pregnancies in East Africa. Sweden’s action plan for women, peace and security has focused 12 countries including Mali, Colombia, and Syria to strengthen women’s political participation for peace and security. In disarmament and non-proliferation sector as well, Sweden extended its support in local and multilateral level to ensure gender equality perspective in countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Further, Sweden’s contribution also led to ensure the share of women parliamentarians by mandatory 40% electable positions in Moldova and increased the participation in Somalia by 70%. The country also provided leadership trainings to Saudi Arabian women on entrepreneurship as well as trained women across 50 countries on editing Wikipedia to promote gender-equal internet. In order to advance the gender equality actions and spread across the world, Sweden released the Feminist foreign policy handbook in August 2018 which contains the selection of methods and experiences which has examples and inspiration for further work of the Swedish Foreign Service, other parts of the civil service and society as a whole.
The development of this policy has definitely ignited a momentum in gender development sector around the world. Following the progress, Canada announced its first Feminist International Assistance policy in June 2017 formulated after consultation with more than 15000 people across 65 countries. With the overarching objective of poverty eradication, Canadian policy strives to fight against inequality and empowerment of women and girls to reach their full potential. The three major issues highlighted by the policy are human dignity during humanitarian crisis situation, women and girls’ human rights defense and building local capacity for sustainable development. As the policy indicates, Canada will be dedicating 95% of aid initiatives in advancing gender equality, with particular attention in Sub-Saharan Africa with 50% of the country including conflict afflicted countries. However, unlike the Sweden’s policy, Canada approaches gender equality as an indirect goal and as means for reaching wider outcomes on better governance, health and economic empowerment and hence, the announced budget not contributing directly to gender equality, rather as a cross cutting agenda. The criticisms have followed in this regard; however, one cannot deny its significance towards the possible impact in gender equality and women and girls’ empowerment. The discussion on the policy was also a highlight in Female foreign ministers’ meeting in Montreal, co-organized by Canada and European Union in September 21-22, 2018.
In news of other countries, gender development and women empowerment are being increasingly and innovatively integrated in respective national agenda’s as they relate to goal 5 in Sustainable Development agenda 2030. Australia’s first female foreign minister has publicly committed to making gender equality central to global peace and security. Similarly, UK has also committed in making end of rape in war as priority. The United States somehow has been descending its efforts in the arena after Trump administration started. During Obama administration, the State Department, under Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, there were multiple policies addressing the issues of gender development- a U.S. Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Gender-Based Violence globally; a Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, and a National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, which were breakthrough policies for US back then. However, with the rise of Trump administration, the recognition of sexual and reproductive rights has been removed as a core commitment of international law accepted by Republicans and Democratic administrations since 1990 Cairo Conference, and strong refusal of supporting and advocating for lifesaving abortion has been done. In addition to government taking actions, there is rising level of awareness among public regarding feminist foreign policy, leading to start up of non-profits initiatives in the UK and Germany. The Center for Feminist Foreign Policy has been running its chapters in UK and Germany since 2016 and raising relevant issues in their respective zones.
Appreciable as every effort is, there still lie scopes for covering wider range of issues and gaps. As often, the problem lies in genuine implementation of the policies expanding beyond the aid programs for women. The policies itself should recognize and aim to disrupt the male-dominated power structures, enshrine women’s participation in politics and ensure enough funding resources for women empowerment. In days to follow, let’s look forward for policies to be more inclusive about gender issues, ensure every human right and provide strong evidence base with confrontations and improvements on the criticisms received.
Government Offices of Sweden (2017), Examples of what Sweden’s feminist foreign policy has contributed to, Retrieved from https://www.government.se/articles/2018/03/examples-of-what-swedens-feminist-foreign-policy-has-contributed-to/
Government Offices of Sweden (2017), Sweden’s feminist foreign policy, Examples from three years of implementation
Government Offices of Sweden (2018), Handbook of Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy
Thompson. L, Asquith. C (2018).One Small Step for Feminist Foreign Policy. Retrieved from https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/20/one-small-step-for-feminist-foreign-policy-women-canada/
Global Affairs Canada (June 2017), Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy
Center for Feminist foreign policy (2016) Retrieved from https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/