Our vision for Feminist Foreign Policy

By Janna Lenders & Annika Dornow

Worldwide, the number of countries that have adopted a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) is increasing: after Mexico, France, Chile and Sweden, now also the Netherlands has pledged to implement a FFP and Germany recently launched their FFP next to a feminist development policy. With “Feminist” entering official policy language, the question of what this term means in foreign policy is being raised. In this article we dive into the question of what FFP would look like from an ecofeminist perspective. To this end, we conducted interviews with colleagues from the Dutch and German WECF office, and have particularly explored the relationship between FFP and the climate crisis. We asked Gina Cortés Valderrama, Gender and Climate Policy Manager (she/her), Sascha Gabizon, WECF’s Executive Director (she/her), Dr. Anke Stock, Leading Project Coordinator and Senior Specialist on Gender & Rights (she/her) and Johannes Baumann, Project Manager on Energy and Climate (he/him): what are your views on the recent developments in FFP? 

Feminist Foreign Policy and climate change 

On a starting note, we explore the relationship between FFP and the effect of the climate crisis on women and girls. One thing becomes clear: the climate crisis is a global issue that affects us all, but its impact is not equal. The interviewees agree that FFP must address these underlying structural, systemic inequalities and the historical responsibilities of the Global North. The climate crisis is leading to an increase of already existing inequalities, Sascha states, “and has a clear pattern of injustices against groups of populations which have least contributed to climate change”. This means that Indigenous peoples, Afro Descendants, and women and girls, in all their diversity, have the biggest burden and carry the biggest risks for their livelihoods; a risk that has been caused by industrialised polluters. Gina argues that FFP has to reframe the relationships between Northern and Southern countries and help in shifting power relations, in a truly transformative and structural manner.

How are countries going to respond to, for example, migration that will be caused by climate change? How are the Netherlands and Germany making sure the rights of migrants, the ones at the frontline of the climate crisis, will not be undermined? 

When we ask what the core policies of FFP should be, including its ambition in the long term, Sascha argues that FFP should not limit itself to “issues of war, military conflicts, and peace-making”, but should instead model itself as a sustainable development policy. On that note, Gina argues that a Foreign Policy “should not perpetuate colonial, destructive, oppressive and violent structures of power that have been mainly male constructed and dominated and that have been focused around extractivism and militarism.” In the long run, Johannes amplifies, FFP needs to be closely observed, implemented and enforced in order to reach its initial ambitions. 

How can we realise these ambitions? The first major point raised is that rather than being led by economic interests, FFP should aim for a structural transformation on eco-social and gender justice, which should go beyond merely awareness raising of gender aspects. Instrumental in this transformation, the interviewees agree that better access to resources is necessary, to increase resilience. Anke mentions that funding should especially be taken into consideration: through funding underprivileged groups, local and interalia feminist organisations, they are able to partake in decision-making processes and in creating policies. Sascha adds that understanding historic and continued subsidies to corporate investors that damage the climate and thus livelihoods should be core to these resources. It should not only be about making Official Development Assistance (ODA) more gender-transformative, it should aim to significantly reduce the burden of debt on Global South countries, debt often pushed on them for unsustainable investments via Multilateral Banks. Hence, A debt-cancelling strategy needs to be inherent to FFP.

Space for feminist civil society 

Civil society should play an important part in a policy‘s development and implementation. Nowadays, on an international level, space for feminist organisations is shrinking.  The interviewees agree that it should be a priority to engage with local, Southern feminist organisations. Anke notes that this could be the role of an organisation such as WECF; it could provide an intermediating role in supporting governments in reaching out to smaller, Southern organisations. Sascha notes that Women’s rights and feminist organisations have remained ignored in this process.

In order to truly have a transformative FFP, the engagement of feminist Southern organisations should be a priority for the Dutch and German governments.

Smaller (Southern) organisations themselves often lack resources or funding necessary for their work. For civil society to properly add their expertise to any process, it is crucial to be funded adequately. Johannes adds that civil society should not only contribute its views into the development process, but should also function as a control body, communicating publicly if intended goals are not properly achieved or if any red lines are being crossed. Aside from that, Gina adds that, “movements themselves, manifesting together and going to the streets can hold governments accountable”

The need for system change 

“A Feminist Foreign Policy cannot be successful if not all governments, departments and ministries are understanding their role in strengthening gender equality and women’s rights and have a feminist approach in their own work, be it at national- or international level.”, Sascha notes.  This approach needs to include reflection, analysis, monitoring and a set of specific targets, while also taking the synergy between different policies in consideration for them not to torpedo each other. This could have the form of a feminist action plan. Johannes adds that gender equality should be integrated into all policies to really move forward in a targeted manner. In order to be able to track the progress, Anke observes, ministries need “a monitoring and an evaluation system, a midterm review, you need to see how money, resources and budgets are allocated to the implementation, whether you have gender markers in those projects and programs”.  Constant involvement and ongoing consultations with civil society is key here, in order to keep track of institutional change.  

All in all, the interviewees are critical about the current state of Dutch and German FFP and state that gender mainstreaming makes no sense in a highly repressive unjust world; you need to clean up the system, you need to really change the power dimensions, you need to repair historic injustices. According to Sascha, this is a much broader activity than just adding “feminist” to foreign policy. Johannes adds that “feminist” should be the normative standard and goal. Hence, an important element of both Dutch and German Feminist Foreign Policy should be to be transformative in their core. WECF strongly encourages both the Dutch and the German ministry to have eco-social justice as the overarching aim of FFP, something that is only possible if all areas of politics will be permeated by feminist system change. And even though this may be a long and bumpy road, as a closing remark Gina stresses that “one of the reasons why we are doing what we‘re doing is because we do believe that another world is possible”.