Reflections on a Feminist Foreign Policy for the future

Photo: Flickr / Ithmus (CC)

Among the (many) elements highlighted by the COVID-19 are the facts that our societies are deeply unequal and that our governments have not succeed in tackle these inequalities exacerbated by the crisis. At a time when we are trying to imagine a world post-COVID, it is important to take this moment to reflect on how to build back better and achieve resilient, equal and just societies. Imagining big-picture system change is what many Quakers have been doing in recent centuries, and its no different for the Quaker Council for European Affairs imagining a time #AfterCOVID.

In this context, I have been following many conversations and reading on Feminist Foreign Policy and why it should be part of the solutions for the future. It is hard to find a single definition of Feminist Foreign Policy but I have decided to use the one by the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP), first because I find it very complete and second because I learnt a lot thanks to this organisation: “Feminist Foreign Policy is a political framework focused on rebalancing power inequalities in which meeting the needs of the most marginalised in a society becomes the primary goal of foreign and security policies. In doing so, a Feminist Foreign Policy firstly acknowledges that injustices and inequalities (…) exist interconnectedly across both the local and the global. Secondly, a Feminist Foreign Policy demands that all foreign and security policy tools are used to reduce those inequalities.” In 2014 Sweden was the first country to adopt a Feminist Foreign Policy, and was followed in 2017 by Canada and its Feminist International Assistance Policy. Then, France announced in December 2019 a feminist diplomacy, and finally Mexico adopted its Feminist Foreign Policy in January 2020, becoming the first country of the Global South with such policy.

“The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of women the very foundations of life are poisoned at source.”

Lucretia Mott (1793-1880) – Quaker, anti-slavery activist and proponent of women’s rights

Thanks to a series of events organised by the CFFP on this topic, I had a deeper reflection on the meaning of the implementation of a Feminist Foreign Policy, and more specifically on Foreign Policy. While a Feminist Foreign Policy framework seems to be a good framework for the future as it considers the issues of inequalities, exclusion and discrimination and has justice and human rights at its core, it appears to me that a Feminist Foreign Policy cannot truly achieve its goal if there is not a true reflection on the fact that Foreign Policy as it is implemented today has an important racist and colonial legacy that needs to be acknowledged and remedied. We do not have to ‘choose our battles’ between anti-racism and feminism, one is not more important than the other. Our work for peace, equality and justice requires to recognise the interconnections between all issues arising from inequality and oppression, and address these issues together.

Foreign Policy, as it is performed today, seems mostly to be a concept and practice that perpetuate a racialised domination system inherited from colonialism. Moreover the term ‘Foreign Policy’ itself distinguishes between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and can support a problematic domination system and power relations between the ‘donors’ and the ‘recipients’. The question here is Who is the Foreigner in Foreign Policy?

Moreover, when we have a closer look at the countries with a Feminist Foreign Policy they are in majority from the ‘Global North’, except for Mexico, whose policy is still too young to assess its impact. These countries, did not feel the need to call their domestic policy feminist, even if they made efforts in that direction at home, but it always is easier to tell others (the Foreigners?) what to do than do it at home.

In conclusion, a Feminist Foreign Policy seems quite ideal on paper, and of course we should go in that direction but clear thinking on the legacy of racism and colonialism legacy is needed in order not to do more harm than good. I truly hope for a real anti-racist, decolonised Feminist Foreign Policy for the future and of course hope that one day we will not need to call a policy feminist or anti-racist because it will have become the norm.

For many Quakers, both historical and contemporary, the inclusion of women is part of what is now called the “Testimony of Equality”. This sits alongside the Quaker Testimony Against War, later called the Quaker Peace Testimony. Leadership was open to women from the very beginnings of the Quaker movement in the 1650s. In stark contrast to the time, a large number – even possibly the majority – of leading Quakers were women, they travelled alone, and published – both very rare in Europe at that time.

Clémence Buchet–Couzy is QCEA’s Peace Programme Assistant.

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