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Feminist foreign policy – ​​what exactly does that actually mean?

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Annalena Baerbock wants to establish a feminist foreign policy in Germany. But what exactly does “feminist foreign policy” mean?

“What do you think of feminist foreign policy?” Reza Pahlavi, son of the last Iranian shah, is asked on the sidelines of the 2023 Munich Security Conference. His answer is a question: “… What kind of foreign policy do you mean?”

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In Germany, “feminist foreign policy” has been a well-known buzzword since the 2021 federal election campaign and Annalena Baerbock’s appointment as foreign minister. Presumably many feel the same way as the son of Schas: Hardly anyone in Germany can put into words exactly what feminist foreign policy wants to achieve. On March 1st, a paper will be presented outlining the “principles of feminist foreign policy”. So what is feminist foreign policy and how exactly does the Foreign Ministry envisage it?

Feminist Foreign Policy

Feminist foreign policy comprises at its core five core values: intersectionality, peace engagement, accountability, reflexivity and representation.

1. Intersectional alignment

The mere assumption that a feminist foreign policy is primarily concerned with the interests of women is not entirely correct. Because the commitment of a feminist foreign policy primarily characterizes an intersectional orientation. Kimberlé Chrenshaw developed the concept of intersectionality. Borrowing from the English word crossroads (intersection) she described the discriminatory mechanisms of US law, which for a long time failed to recognize the double possibility of black women being discriminated against because of their skin color and gender.

Annalena Baerbock’s guidelines paper for feminist foreign policy follows precisely this intersectional thought. Future German foreign policy wants to stand up for everyone “who is pushed to the fringes of society because of gender identity, origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or other reasons”. So far so phrase.

In practical terms, an intersectional perspective would mean understanding the impact of foreign policy decisions on all groups involved. For example, the 2016 EU-Turkey deal could be examined to see how it respects the human rights of all groups of people. This question should be asked especially with regard to the migrant women concerned. At the same time, an intersectional foreign policy can also extend questions of climate protection to the groups of people most affected and allow indigenous interest groups to participate in the determination of nature conservation areas, for example.

2. Peace Engagement

In contrast to classic foreign policy approaches – which also maintain international security through the use of armed forces and militarization – a feminist foreign policy wants to concentrate on an active commitment to “peace through peaceful means”. Against the background of the war in Russia, this may at first sound like a tailwind for people who understand Russia and strive for peace, such as Sarah Wagenknecht and Alice Schwarzer. But this is not the case. On the contrary, the war in Ukraine shows that feminist foreign policy “is not synonymous with pacifism,” according to Baerbock’s ministry. Human life must also be protected by military means.

In terms of trade policy, an active commitment to peace also means working for economic structures that prioritize human rights and environmental protection. Feminist foreign policy thus sheds light on the effects of trade agreements on marginalized groups.

3. Empathic Reflexivity

When it comes to political decision-making, feminist foreign policy relies on a particularly high level of sensitivity to the following questions: Is there a dependency or hierarchy between the negotiating parties? Is there an asymmetrical hierarchy of power? And does the political approach possibly reinforce past or current trauma?

In practical terms, this means breaking down prejudices through political action. This should, for example, prevent stereotyping of different regions of the world. Speaking of West Asia as “Middle East” or of people as “Arabs”, which are by no means a homogeneous group, is to be avoided.

Baerbock’s guidelines paper wants to train this empathetic reflexivity in the State Department. The Foreign Ministry wants to create awareness of “prejudices and privileges” through mandatory training and “anti-bias training,” reports Der Spiegel. The “gender competence” of the diplomatic staff should also be strengthened and even become a “recruitment criterion”. All of this is aimed at a “feminist reflex” that is intended to enrich Germany’s foreign policy in the future.

4. Representation

The feminist objectives in the approach also relies on representation. The intersectionality presented at the beginning is particularly important at the level of representation. There is a lot of catching up to do here, as the Federal Foreign Office itself admits. Currently, just 27 percent of the diplomatic missions abroad are headed by women – less than every third embassy is staffed by a woman.

Baerbock’s office wants to change this and not only address the basic feminist attitude, but also concretely translate it into figures. The entire project budget should be revised through “gender budgeting”. What is meant by this is that more money should flow into women’s political projects in the future. A project for victims of sexual violence in Nepal and another to support Iraqi journalists are mentioned, for example.

5. Accountability

A feminist foreign policy also wants to assume a certain accountability for the effects and the reporting of one’s own actions. Central questions are: What is the actual goal of politics and who benefits from it in the end? What structural possibilities and obstacles are there for people to report on or evaluate whether foreign policy was designed in their interests? How do I ensure that my actions are implemented in the interests of the recipients and that my policies go beyond mere rhetoric?

A concrete example would be the World Cup in Qatar. The question of the benefits of the protests by foreign national football teams for the local members of the LGBTQI community (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex) was raised conspicuously late. Because a country like Qatar could intensify its discriminatory approach against minorities even more if it sees this as a sign of rejection of paternalism from abroad. A feminist foreign policy wants to weigh up the question of the actual benefits for local groups and give an account of it.

What exactly does Annalena Baerbock’s new paper say?

Probably the most concrete short-term plan in the paper for feminist foreign policy is the announcement of a new ambassador for feminist foreign policy. After all, “feminist foreign policy is a matter for the boss” and should be reflected in an office. Sweden is a role model, because the country has had an “ambassador for gender equality” since 2015. In Germany, the new ambassador will soon be assigned to the “Feminist Foreign Policy” task force, where she will be responsible for “mainstreaming feminist foreign policy”.

In addition, the following measures should be taken:

  • A major conference focusing on the rights of LGBTIQ* people in 2024
  • One million euros for queer cultural events organized by the diplomatic missions abroad
  • New posts in office to increase diversity
  • Protection of women in conflict zones and their participation in peace processes for a candidacy in the UN Security Council 2027/28
  • Introduction of the “Best Feminist Practice Award” as an incentive for engagement within the framework of feminist foreign policy

Feminist foreign policy can be understood as an approach to international politics that aims to grow globally. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs now wants to give an impetus for a feminist policy – if this project is successful, other ministries could soon follow. A “feminist foreign energy policy” and a “feminist foreign trade policy” are already planned projects. Annalena Baerbock recently wrote on Twitter: “We’re getting there!”. So the first step is imminent.

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