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Let foreign policy be ‘feminist’ because more power to women improves the world

For a better world, a ‘feminist’ foreign policy is needed, an agenda that aims to dismantle male-dominated national interests. A few days after 8 March, this statement might seem like a sixty-eight regurgitation, but appearances can be deceiving. It is rather an observation, data in hand, of what many do not want to see, but which is there for all to see.

But proceed in order. It was 1995 when the first lady of the USA, Hillary Clinton, declared to the United Nations: “Women’s rights are human rights”. Five years later, in October 2000, the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) unanimously approved resolution 1325/2000, which established the need to adopt a gendered approach to peace operations which, from on the one hand, taking into account the devastating effects of conflicts on women’s lives and on the other, promoting the involvement of women in peacebuilding and peacekeeping operations.

When peace negotiations began in Colombia in 2016, for example, activists used Resolution 1325 to force the government and the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc) to equalize the negotiations. A real turning point, therefore, is Resolution 1325 which, over the years, has made gender equality one of the main dossiers on the tables of the international community, so much so as to inspire the creation of national action plans in about 66 countries around the world. as well as the Agenda for women, peace and security (DPS), that is the set of United Nations objectives on the subject and the plans drawn up to encourage women’s emancipation, represents the cornerstone of the promotion of gender equality in a world, that of foreign affairs, marked for a long time by male logics and personalities.

Before resolution 1325, women were invited to stone with respect to the many decisions that were being made. The ‘Mars approach’ – a concept recalled at the beginning of the Middle Eastern crises of the Bush junior era by Robert Kagan – which consisted of the use of threat, of force to successfully achieve the desired goals in foreign policy, was considered preferable. and not compatible with more ‘feminine’ methods, such as the search for dialogue, for mediation, seen as a vulnus.

In reality, according to the most accredited academic theories, the (female) biology that predisposes to acceptance and cooperation does not fully explain the diversity of the two approaches. Centuries of domination and exclusion imposed by patriarchy may have contributed to making women more flexible, not to seek leadership over the other with physical strength.

Nonetheless, over the years, women have become indispensable subjects, not to say protagonists, to maintain security and peace in operations to prevent war and, in the worst cases, reconstruction, helping to achieve lasting results over time. In other words, according to research, making women hold top positions in foreign policy and diplomacy does not only concern the need to guarantee gender equality, but also and above all the results: the inclusion of women, but also of organizations women of civil society in the negotiation processes would be strongly linked to the success of peace treaties, reducing the chances of failure of an international agreement by more than 64% and increasing the chances that the agreements reached guarantee stability in areas affected by tensions by 35% for at least fifteen years.

Not surprisingly, a 2015 research project by the Center on Conflict, Development and Peacebuilding at the Graduate Institute Geneva reported that the higher the role women play in negotiations, the higher the percentage of cases. where agreements are reached. Even when they were not well regarded by their male counterparts in the negotiations, as shown by the in-depth analysis conducted on the negotiations in Somalia, Northern Ireland or South Africa, women still managed to foster dialogue more intensely, strengthening mutual trust between the parties involved.

Countries with greater gender equality are less likely than other countries to suffer civil war. Gender equality is also linked to good governance: countries that exploit women are much more unstable. where women are most involved in civil society and in the legislative systems of their countries, the levels of violence employed by their states to face international clashes or conflicts droped drastically. Higher levels of female participation in parliament are directly associated with a decrease in the risk of a civil war outbreak and a reduction in the number of human rights violations perpetrated during intra and interstate conflicts, such as political deportations, torture and killings.

Given that bridging the gender gap in every aspect of associative life is not a question of ‘feminism’ but of civilization, the institutional disparity, unfortunately, despite the change has already begun and the presence of women in top positions is less rare, remains a scourge of modern societies: in 2017, only 15% of ambassadors worldwide were female; two years ago, in 2019, all over the world, the women who sat in a parliamentary assembly, on average, were only 24.3%. Looking at the data from Women in International Security, it is also clear that the gender disparity in everything related to foreign policy and international security is even more plastic in non-governmental circles, given that, for example, about 73% of the security experts in American think tanks are men.

In Europe the situation is no better. Last October, ‘Shecurity‘ was presented, the first index which, based on the statistics of European states and G20 members, examines female participation in politics, diplomacy, the armed forces and the economy. The authors are Hannah Neumann and Ernest Urtasun, respectively MEP and Vice-President of the Greens, and was approved with 112 votes against and 94 abstentions. Among the opponents, Caroline Nagtegaal and Miriam Lexmann, not at all convinced by the use of women’s quotas and subsidiarity.

“Only three foreign affairs ministers (6 defense ministers) are women in Europe. More needs to be done, because diversity makes political decisions better,” said Hannah Neumann. The report, in particular, establishes that, to achieve gender equality in the armed forces, the best are Hungary, Australia and Slovenia while the Czech Republic is lagging behind. It took Mexico only one year, Spain three, South Africa five, to reduce gender inequality in Parliament. Negative reviews on the other hand for Malta, Japan and China.

The world could change for the better if more countries made a concerted effort to improve women’s rights abroad. Someone is moving in this direction: an example is Sweden which, since 2014, has placed support for gender equality in the world at the center of its diplomatic decisions. The Nordic country has become the first country to allocate 90% – against 28% USA – of the funds allocated to aid to organizations that work to reduce gender inequality. Swedish attention to the women’s issue and the inclusion of ‘pink’ skills also emerged on the occasion of the opening, in 2018, of the peace negotiations for the conflict in Yemen, when the then Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, requested the involvement of experts and the participation of a group of Yemeni activists.

On the same path, Canada, Mexico and France also began to move. In 2017, Canada first published the Feminist International Assistance Policy and a $ 150 million plan to assist women in developing countries. Camberra pledged to allocate $ 1.4 billion annually by 2023 to both governments and international organizations to strengthen access to nutrition, health services and education among women in developing countries About 700 millions of dollars of this money will go towards promoting sexual and reproductive health and rights and eliminating gender-based violence.

The Canadian government has pledged to use nearly all of its funds to aid in promoting gender equality by this year. Last year, however, the Trudeau government refused to appoint an international mediator to investigate the violation of human rights by its companies abroad.

Mexico, too, at the beginning of 2020, took its first steps, including among the priorities the issue of gender, minorities, migrants both at the national and international level, but not the fight against violence, as reproached to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador by the detractors, after the murder of Ingrid Escamilla. The South American country must also increase its foreign ministry staff to be at least 50% female by 2024 and ensure that it is a violence-free workplace.

Still on the subject of ‘feminist’ foreign policy, Paris also moved with Emmanuel Macron to the Elysée: in the first two years of presidency, the number of women in the French diplomatic corps actually increased and in 2019 France invested 120 million euro in favor of feminist NGOs, not renouncing to make the Istanbul Convention universal. Nonetheless, the end of gender inequalities is still not among the objectives of about 80% of the cooperation projects developed in the last years. A report by the Center for feminist foreign policy signed by Toni Haastrup also highlights how for Paris it would be necessary to give a concrete demonstration of her intentions by putting her hand to her nuclear policy.

And the United States, now led by Joe Biden? They seem to have started off on the right foot, as the new administration is 61% female and Biden has chosen two women, Kamala Harris and Janet Yellen as Vice-President and Secretary of Economics. In the past, it must be said, two women have led American diplomacy, Madeleine Albright and Hillary Clinton. The reallocation of financial resources in such a way as to create a level playing field for women is another crucial aspect of a ‘feminist’ foreign policy. Yet a test case for the Biden administration will be Afghanistan. With American help, a deal with Afghanistan could secure the gains women have made since the United States overthrew the Taliban in 2001, or it could sacrifice them for ‘peace’.

Italy, where even today a left-wing party, the PD, enters into crisis also on the lack of gender equality in its government delegation, something seems to be starting to change: a few days ago, the new Draghi government appointed once, a woman, Mariangela Zappia, Italian Ambassador to Washington. In the past, however, two women became Foreign Ministers, Susanna Agnelli and Emma Bonino.

Women are not yet the top foreign policy priority of any country, but something, also due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, is changing. At least in the first pandemic wave, countries led by women coped better with coronavirus. How can a country’s foreign policy be made ‘feminist’? And why could a ‘feminist’ foreign policy improve the world? These and many other questions were answered by Rollie Lal, Associate Professor of Security Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.

Can you explain the concept of ‘feminism’ applied to foreign policy and how can it be defined as a ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

Feminism advocates for equality of rights for women across social, political, and economic spheres. A feminist foreign policy is the use of government resources to reach this goal. A foreign policy that is feminist at its core tries to enable this equality for women who are affected by the policies. It centers the policies themselves so that the outcomes of policies should help move women towards equality in all these spheres.

Reducing the gender gap is a goal, but also a prerequisite. What are the principles and objectives of a ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

It is an international agenda that aims to dismantle the male-dominated systems of foreign aid, trade, defense, immigration and diplomacy that sideline women and other minority groups worldwide. A feminist foreign policy reenvisions a country’s national interests, moving them away from military security and global dominance to position equality as the basis of a healthy, peaceful world.

What are the main tools of a ‘feminist’ foreign policy? And can it be said that soft power prevails over hard power?

Sweden is a great example of the feminist foreign policy., They focus on “rights, representation, and resources.” Women need to have the same legal and human rights as men. Women need to have the same political representation, and women need to have the same resources in terms of budget, perhaps schooling and so on.

Is ‘feminist’ foreign policy the triumph of diplomacy, of dialogue?

If it can be implemented around the world, it will be a triumph of diplomacy and dialogue.

And in the management of the economy, both nationally in each country and internationally? Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a woman, leads the WTO.

Women are key in the management of the economy. They are important players as workers, and as breadwinners for the family. Internationally, women are underrepresented in economic jobs. Altogether, just 22% of tenured and tenure-track faculty in economics are women, according to a survey the American Economic Association conducted last year. Women need a greater voice in the economic field.

Is feminist foreign policy right or left?

I believe that women on the right and left and center will benefit from a feminist foreign policy. Having said that, policies from the left tend to focus more on elevating those who are underprivileged. Women often fall into that category. And yet, when we implement a feminist foreign-policy, Women who gain positions of leader ship in business and parliaments may often have political affiliations on the right. So it is difficult to say that a feminist foreign-policy has a definite right or left to it.

“Women’s rights are human rights”. With these words Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations assembly in 1995, to sign the declaration that defined gender equality as a global priority. Twenty years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325 which provides for the involvement of women in conflict prevention, peace processes and security policy. What progress has been made in feminist foreign policy? And has Resolution 1325 really been enforced?

I do not have a list of the countries. However, since Clinton’s statement, more countries have paid attention to the issue. Pressure on countries to include women has improved participation of women in peace processes and in getting a seat at the table. However, it has been unevenly applied, and that is why it is important to emphasize the need for a feminist foreign policy today. Movement is still slow.

I ask you to comment on four examples of countries, two South American and two European, which have actually begun to take some steps towards a ‘feminist’ foreign policy: Canada, Mexico, France and Sweden.

Sweden has taken strong steps as I mentioned earlier. Canada is emphasizing women and feminist policy in its development initiatives. For France, feminist diplomacy revolves around human and women’s rights, with particular emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights, the fight against sexual and gender-based violence, the education of girls and women’s economic empowerment. I salute Mexico for making the effort and drawing attention to the issue. However, Mexico has a lot of work to do in its own house in terms of addressing violence towards women.

Is Donald Trump’s machismo the exact opposite of a ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

Yes, Donald Trump’s foreign and domestic policy was very machismo-centric, and was to the detriment of a feminist foreign policy ,as well as being opposed to woemn’s rights. Even domestically, fewer women were appointed to senior government positions and to military positions. Also, the laws were influenced by appointing conservative judges opposed to women’s reproductive rights.

Putin, Erdogan, Xi Jinping, Bolsonaro, Narendra Modi, all men, but also authoritarian leaders. Can it be said that their countries never pursue a ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

These countries do not pursue a feminist foreign policy.

In 2019, on average only 24.3% of parliamentarians worldwide were women, while in the Old Continent there were six defense ministers women and only three headed the ministries of foreign affairs. Would a greater number of women in political life and, above all, in the control room – at the helm of governments, but also in the leadership and cadres of ministries – help to pursue a ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

In general, yes, I believe so. Having said that, women are not always in support of a feminist foreign policy. In addition, there are many men who do support a feminist foreign policy. It is the policy that matters most here. Women at the helm are certainly more likely to consider the importance of a feminist foreign policy for the simple fact that many men have not been exposed to the ideas at all. Many men around the world cannot conceptualize the importance of women in a peace process or as an economic actor. To a large extent, these men and women need to be educated in this. Women in key positions can help bring attention to these issues.

Why is it very difficult, in many countries, to promote women’s skills and a feminist agenda in their diplomacies?

Many men (and women) are opposed to change. Giving resources and rights to women often feels to leaders as though resources are being taken away from men. This is not true. There are jobs for men and women. Women’s inclusion expands the economy and expands opportunity for everyone. In addition, there is a strong influence of conservative religious forces in all countries who say that women should stay at home and be second to the husband. This type of thinking can inhibit governments from moving forward with a feminist foreign agenda, and prevent them from tapping into the skilled women who are in their communities.

What can be done to have more women at the top of diplomacy and governments? 

Governments simply have to make it a priority to appoint women, and women need to demand this from their government.

Have the women in power shown that they are pursuing a strong ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

Margot Wallström, former minister for foreign affairs of Sweden was key in starting this movement.

Angela Merkel was the first female German Chancellor and she has led Germany for 16 years. Your political experience should end this year, but was your foreign policy a ‘feminist’?

The issue of Angela Merkel is complex. She has not been a leader who very openly talks about being a feminist leader. However, she has been a strong and powerful international leader who has brought Germany to the forefront of both Europe in the world. In doing so, she has shown that she is a female leaders and a powerful leader. In terms of her foreign policy, she has had a very principled foreign policy that has been effective. When we look at her refugee policy, we can see a strong commitment to human rights. She opposed the US policy on Guantanamo Bay and the torture of prisoners. Similarly, her policy towards Russia has been firm in its commitment to civil rights. Therefore, as we consider a feminist foreign-policy to be principled and supportive of equal rights for women and minorities, I would consider her foreign policy to be feminist.  Having said that, she could have improved her record by being tougher on Saudi Arabia and preventing the sale of arms for use in Yemen.

If there is the will, can men also pursue a ‘feminist’ foreign policy? And which male leaders did it?

Men can certainly pursue a feminist foreign policy. Justin Trudeau of Canada is doing so effectively. Swedish PM Stefan Lofven supports a feminist foreign policy. Joseph Biden appears willing to consider the idea..

Is the Covid-19 pandemic changing paradigm, making it clearer that a ‘feminist’ foreign policy would change the world for the better?

It certainly worked for New Zealand, with Jacinda Ardern.

What does the experience of Afghanistan teach us?

Neglecting women in foreign policy has led to a deterioration of stability in that country. When women were integrated in the political process, we saw increased representation, more women working outside the home, and more girls in school. We are talking about half of the population. It is critical that we consider the needs to women and girls when negotiating the peace in Afghanistan. What we are seeing, however, is a willingness of men on both sides of the table to throw women overboard in their haste to come to an agreement. That isn’t a negotiated agreement, it is capitulation to men who would like to keep women out of the public sphere and take away women’s rights. It is simply defeat by the Taliban. We should not accede to this type of negotiated defeat.

Where women are most involved in civil society and in the parliaments of their countries, the levels of violence used by their states to deal with international confrontations or conflicts drop dramatically as does the number of human rights violations perpetrated in intra and interstate conflicts and the probabilities of failure of the peace accords. Starting from the principle that women’s well-being is fundamental for the well-being of all, even globally, it is true that the added value of ‘many’ feminist ‘foreign policies is that they create a better world, less unstable and with less war? Why?

We already know that women are most influential in the education and health of their children. Women involved in these processes consider the needs of families. Women also have a strong sense of what is needed in a community. It is this long term vision of what is needed that may be influencing women in negotiations and decision-making. After the bombs have dropped, women are key players in securing safety and supplies for their families. They inevitably have a different perspective.

Does a ‘feminist’ foreign policy make the world even safer, given that, looking at the data, you can see how it reduces nuclear proliferation?

I believe so. No matter what, securing the economic stability and safety of half of the world’s population will by definition make the world safer.

Where is the United States in terms of ‘feminist’ foreign policy? And the new US President, Joe Biden, who has a deputy woman, Kamala Harris, and one at the Secretariat for the Economy, Janet Yellen, is setting up a ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

Joe Biden is certainly making correct moves in having a female vice president. Janet Yellen is also a key player. He recently had a photo op showing that women are also military generals. I believe that he is behind this concept.

A few months ago, ‘Shecurity’, the report by Hannah Neumann and Ernest Urtasun, two Vice-Presidents (Greens) of the European Parliament, analyzed the participation of women in politics, diplomacy, the military and business in Europe. Can we say that European countries do not excel in ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

I don’t think most countries excel in feminist foreign policy. This is an incipient project. We can hope to familiarize people to it until it has become something excellent everywhere. About a century ago (1919), women’s right to vote was considered strange and horrible in the US. And yet we don’t question it anymore. I hope this doesn’t take another 100 years.

And Italy?

I think Italy can move in this direction. Italy needs to build support for the policies, and have open discussions in society about its importance. Italy has a relatively good representation of women in parliament, so I believe that the possibilities are there.

The European Union has a woman at the helm of the EU Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, and one at the head of the ECB, Christine Lagarde. However, one man, Josep Borrell, leads community diplomacy. Is this EU implementing a sufficiently ‘feminist’ foreign policy?

Everyone does not have to be a woman. The real question will be what does Josep Borrell do for women? My impression is that he has a progressive vision. He was opposed to the appointment of theological conservative Rocco Buttiglione’s candidacy for the European Union as Commissioner for Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs because of his statements against homosexuals and single mothers. He has also spoken on women’s rights at public events. In contrast, Trump appointed a female supreme court justice who is against women’s reproductive rights. It is the policy more than the person.

On the subject of ‘feminist’ foreign policy, is something changing in Africa, the Middle East and Asia?

Very slowly. India is moving backwards under the Modi government. Saudi Arabia moves at a glacial pace where they think that driving rights are synonymous with female liberation, and the US has not been useful in pressuring the Saudi kingdom. Africa similarly needs more focus on women in education, employment, and protection against violence.

The change has just begun and the gender gaps in institutions are still very large. I am convinced that, however, women will change the world. Do you share?

I certainly do think so! We all need to do our part to help educate populations, and particularly little boys and girls about the possibilities and importance of equality for women. If we can do that, the possibilities are endless.

Emanuele Cuda
Emanuele Cuda
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