As International Women’s Day comes around again, and the European Union is facing a historic situation with war at its borders, I’ve been mulling over, and talking with colleagues about, the merits of feminist foreign policy and wondering whether the EU should adopt one. Sweden announced the world’s first feminist foreign policy back in in 2014. The then Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström, admitted that the announcement was met with giggles and suspicion. Fast forward to now – eight years on – and many countries have changed their tune. Today, five other countries have pledged or are pursuing a feminist foreign policy: Canada, France, Luxembourg, Spain, and Mexico. And, just recently, Germany’s new government also announced its interest. It’s clear that the sample of and enthusiasm for feminist foreign policy is growing. But what makes any policy feminist? And what is a feminist policy trying to do? How does that differ to taking a gender equality approach to a policy?
For example, Sweden’s model is based on the three Rs of strengthening all women’s and girls’ Rights, their Representation in decision-making and Resources dedicated to them. But feminist policy goes even further than that as it inherently requires an intersectional approach, so also addressing other factors of discrimination such as race, class, age, sexuality etc. Indeed, as one author put it so well, an ‘add women and stir’ approach is limiting.
Applying a feminist approach necessarily aims to change practices as well as to change mindsets and social norms. It necessarily means disrupting current power imbalances, yes between women and men and girls and boys, but also more generally. It necessitates addressing root causes and systems, not just symptoms. As CONCORD, we would certainly support such a systemic approach.
However, the bedrock of EU foreign policy (or the EU Global Strategy, as the current one is called) is its neocolonial relations with other countries, followed shortly behind by the neoliberal, free market economic policies which prevail. These are intricately bound up together. Drawing up a feminist foreign policy would therefore not only require a whole new look at power relations between different people, but also between different countries and the international system which underpins current inequalities. Addressing one could not be successful without addressing the other.
A feminist foreign policy would require the EU to move away from self-interest and accumulation of power via geopolitical competition and towards strategic geopolitical collaboration and ensuring equal opportunities and outcomes for all.
That would, at last, set us on a path to achieving meaningful partnership from local to global level across the world. It may also be a surer means to avert war: more inclusion and participation by the spectrum of people concerned by decisions can only be positive.
But – and there is a last ‘but’ – were the EU to consider drawing up a feminist foreign policy, it would be key to take a comprehensive perspective, or else it would risk being seen – yet again – to be imposing its views on other countries. It would therefore need to be accompanied by a parallel, coherent set of feminist policies internally. As is the case in Sweden.
That is an outcome worth considering as we approach International Women’s Day.