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This Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations' "Diplomacy: The Future is Female" article focuses on the existing foreign policies that are explicitly feminist, and raises critical questions on what further is needed to live up to the name. Truly feminist foreign policy should not limit itself simply to the realm of diplomacy but should encompass all auspices of foreign policy and international relations, including aid, trade, defense and diplomacy. Done right, this approach would ensure the use of all tools available in the foreign policy toolbox in order to advance a more equitable world.
Spring/Summer 2019
The Seton Hall
Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
Volume XX, Number 2
The Future is Female
Lyric ompson and Rachel Clement
In 2014, Swedens Foreign Minister Margot Wallström took the world
by storm when she launched the world’s rst explicitly feminist foreign
policy. e new policy would be a way of doing things dierently in Swedens
international aairs, organizing its approach to diplomacy, development,
and defense under a 3 Rs framework of women’s rights, resources, and
representation, the latter of which this journal issue seeks to explore.
How did this come to be? For Sweden, it was not just the future of
diplomacy that was female; it was the past and present as well. Swedens
parliamentary representation has hovered near parity for some time. It has
also boasted a long line of female foreign ministers dating back to the 1970s.
us, there was a strong historical precedent of womens leadership that had
normalized female power in such a way as to enable the country to oer
something unique to the world: a feminist foreign policy.
Swedens feminist foreign policy contribution gives us a window into
what a female future for diplomacy might look like. Looking back to the
Swedish example – and also examining a few subsequent, though not quite
as ambitious, case studies from Canada and France – we argue that a female
future of diplomacy should not be solely female but should be feminist in
name and content. In other words, a feminist foreign policy should not only
be produced by women and for women, but it should go beyond; carrying a
gendered lens that recognizes and seeks to correct historical and patriarchal,
as well as racist and/or colonialist imbalances of power. Irrespective of one’s
gender, this is an all-inclusive benet: feminism is an agenda everyone can
promote and one that seeks equity for all, not the dominance of one over
another. As U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stated, “I know many
women [who] are not feminists, and I know some men [who] are.1
Further, the feminist future we seek should not limit itself simply to the
realm of diplomacy but should encompass all auspices of foreign policy and
international relations. If done right, the approach will include aid, trade,
and defense, in addition to diplomacy, and it will ensure the use of all tools
available in the foreign policy toolbox in order to advance a more equitable
In the same vein, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals
(SDGs), 192 member states have agreed to achieve gender equality by 2030.
Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
e question that arises and which concerns us in this paper is: if this is
such a widely-accepted premise, why have so few governments adopted a
feminist approach to foreign policy?
D F F P
Over the past several years, we have been examining the global state of
aairs with regard to feminist foreign policy, and we have found a number of
explanations for the lack of a widespread uptake of the concept.
Governments may not be embracing the mantle of feminist foreign
policy because there is no universal denition. Although this is treacherous
ground to trod, we will attempt it here, if only for the sake of trying. Since
feminists themselves have diculty in dening feminist foreign policies
how can they expect governments to do so?
e Merriam-Webster dictionary denes foreign policy as, “the policy of
a sovereign state in its interaction with other sovereign states.2 e concept
of sovereignty is central to this denition, which has been a challenge for
the concept of universal human rights – womens, or otherwise – from the
very beginning. e United States, for instance, has consistently refused to
ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination
Against Women (CEDAW), the preeminent international treaty on womens
rights, citing sovereignty concerns, putting it in an ignominious minority of
only six other holdouts, such as Iran, Somalia, and Sudan.3 is American
reticence has also applied to treaties on disability, children, and other key
populations.4 is includes the most widely ratied human rights treaty in
history, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the United States
is the lone UN member state not to ratify.5 We will return to CEDAW and
the other historical precedents for feminist foreign policy later in this paper.
at is foreign policy. Dening feminist encounters even more diculty.
Again, consulting Merriam-Webster dictionary, which in 2017
determined its word of the year to be feminism owing to the largest spike
in searches of the word following the Women’s March on Washington.6
It denes feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social
equality of the sexes,” and “organized activity on behalf of womens rights
and interests.” As such, a composite denition of the two concepts taken
together could be:
Feminist foreign policy: the policy of a sovereign state in its
interaction with other sovereign states based on the theory
of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,
delivered to advance women’s rights and interests.
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at is a starting point for debate, but hardly responsive to interest in
enshrining a focus not just on women, but on gender equality more broadly.
Here Sweden’s rights, resources, and representation framework can help
us. In a July 2018 New York Times op-ed, Margot Wallström stated, “…it’s
as simple as that: feminism, or gender equality, is about making sure that
women have the same rights, representation, and resources as men.7
Borrowing from Wallströms framework, we propose the following
working denition of feminist foreign policy:
The policy of a state that denes its interactions with other
states and movements in a manner that prioritizes gender
equality and enshrines the human rights of women and other
traditionally marginalized groups, allocates signicant
resources to achieve that vision, undertakes robust and public
analysis to document the impacts of its implementation, and
seeks through its implementation and reection, to disrupt
male-dominated power structures across all of its levers of
inuence (aid, trade, defense, and diplomacy), informed by
the voices of feminist activists, groups and movements.
Having suggested the above working denition, we will now examine
historical precedents that shaped feminist foreign policy, and to the extent
possible, investigate the nature of their impact.
P  P: H I  L 
G  F F P
A feminist foreign policy that meets our proposed denition is a tall
order. Nonetheless, the concept has antecedents in a number of international
agreements and foreign policies that have attempted to bring a gendered
lens to the eld.
First and foremost, gender equality is enshrined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948 and
following the brutal Second World War to articulate a universal, fundamental
body of rights held by all people, to form a global alliance to defend those
rights and, it was hoped, to prevent another bloody global conict. e
Universal Declaration of Human Rights holds that, “All human beings are
born free and equal in dignity and rights” and that “everyone is entitled to
all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction
of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, … birth or other
s t a t u s .” 8
Twenty-ve years later came the development and widespread adoption
Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
of a specic international standard on women’s human rights: CEDAW,
which was adopted by the UN in 1979.9 Another generation passed before a
series of new standards were developed in the early nineties: groundbreaking
content on gender-based violence and women’s human rights as articulated
in the Vienna Declaration and Platform for Action in 1993; new standards
the next year with respect to sexual and reproductive health and rights in
the Cairo Program of Action; and, nally, the pivotal Beijing Declaration
and Platform for Action in 1995, where First Lady Hilary Clinton famously
declared that human rights were womens rights. Although these new
standards together have advanced progress toward a common understanding
of and commitment to womens human rights, they are, sadly, still a topic of
enormous debate and there is substantial risk of backsliding.
With the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR
1325) on Women, Peace, and Security in October 2000, feminist foreign
policy had a watershed moment. For the rst time, the women’s rights agenda
was positioned solidly within the realms of national and global security.10
Prior to UNSCR 1325, the scholarly eld of international relations received
signicant critique for supporting a worldview in which all the critical players
are men playing typically masculine roles: statesmen, soldiers, despots, and
terrorists. In this framework, the role of women was reduced to abstract
concepts like “the mother country” and, if women were mentioned at all, it
was as potential victims who need protecting.11 UNSCR 1325 changed that,
and, to date, 79 countries have adopted national action plans on women,
peace, and security.12
On the development side, the rights and roles of women became a topic
of interest to the eld somewhat earlier than in the realms of diplomacy
and national security. As early as the 1960s, there was a recognition that
not all approaches benet all recipients equally or function equally well if
gender is not considered. e approach, now called Women in Development
(WID), is driven by the idea that women not only face unique challenges
compared to male counterparts, simply by virtue of being women, but also
that these specic challenges require tailored responses that take gender into
account. While well intentioned, these early responses oen had unintended
consequences, as they implemented interventions with women without fully
considering or mitigating the broader societal impact those interventions
would have or their gendered implications. For example, womens economic
empowerment programs that gave women access to nancial capital but
ignored social norms, which dictated that men were breadwinners and heads
of household, could result in spikes in domestic or intimate partner violence
as those power structures were disrupted.13 Many feminist academics also
Spring/Summer 2019
argued that in addition to these unintended consequences, a WID theory
or approach all-too-oen resulted in the instrumentalization of women that
prioritized the broad development outcomes of empowering women rather
than their individual human rights.14 A related feminist critique of the WID
approach is a disproportionate emphasis on women’s role as mothers or
homemakers as opposed to investing in the name of equality overall.
In the 1980s, a movement to not only address gender inequality but to
also address some of the critiques to a WID theory took shape. is new
approach was called Gender and Development (GAD), and began to shape
the way that countries give, receive, budget for, and implement foreign
assistance.15 e approach seeks not only to improve outcomes for women,
but also to promote broader social equity and inclusion by intervening in
ways that respond to gendered roles within households, communities, and
societies. GAD approaches place an emphasis on developing individual
capacity within a framework of gendered social norms.
is shi was signicant and predated the beginning of a similar pivot
for approaches in the rest of foreign policy. In the ensuing years, a number of
countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada,
Australia, and the Netherlands, have published development policies that
are grounded in this approach; although few have fully incorporated a non-
binary approach to gender and gendered social norms. More work needs to
be done to include a focus on LGBTQ people, or the ways in which gender
norms can impact men and boys, in this broader approach to gender.
If we are to map the evolution of this discipline as starting with roots
in the human rights and women in development movements, evolving
gradually to embrace broader concepts of gender equality and inclusion, one
could imagine the next frontier as the advent of the feminist foreign policy.
F W  A: W  F F P D
Absent a universal denition of what a feminist foreign policy is,
the question becomes what do the few examples of existing policies actually
do? All are relatively new, with Sweden’s eorts beginning in 2014, followed
by Canada’s Feminist Foreign Assistance Policy eorts in 2017, and a
rebranding of an existing gender policy in France as feminist foreign policy
in 2019.16 It is worth noting that in both Australia and the United Kingdom,
individual political parties have pledged to adopt feminist foreign policies,
so depending on the outcome of future elections we may someday have
additional policies to examine in our review. For now, these three countries
provide a case study through which we can begin to assess current eorts to
Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
dene and deliver feminist foreign policies globally.
Sweden published the world’s rst (and by our denition, only) feminist
foreign policy in 2014. is policy includes aid, trade, development, and
diplomacy within the scope of its framework. In fact, the Swedish feminist
approach to policy is broader still, extending to both foreign and domestic
policy. According to the Swedish Government, “gender equality is
central to the Government’s priorities – in decision-making and resource
allocation….e Governments most important tool for implementing
feminist policy is gender mainstreaming, of which gender-responsive
budgeting is an important component”17 Here we see the emphasis on
resources as paramount for the Swedish model, although unlike Canada and
France, the Swedish Government did not commit to earmarking a certain
percentage of its aid to gender equality. e decision to extend the focus of
the Swedish Government’s feminism to policies impacting people both at
home and abroad is an important one that is worthy of greater exploration
than we have room to accommodate in the scope of this article.
Within its feminist foreign policy framework, the Swedish policy covers
three domains: (1) foreign and security policy; (2) development cooperation;
and (3) trade and promotion policy. With regard to gender, the policy sees
gender equality as both a priority objective and a tool to advance other
foreign policy priorities. e FFP seeks to apply “a systematic gender equality
perspective throughout foreign policy… gender equality is an objective in
itself, but it is also essential for achieving the Government’s other overall
objectives, such as peace, security, and sustainable development.18
e Swedish approach is hence the most comprehensive, extending to
all domains of foreign policy and seeking to advance gender equality for
its own sake, as well as in service to other foreign policy priorities. It is also
the oldest of the policies and, although still relatively new, has at least one
publication outlining examples of the policy’s accomplishments in the rst
three years since it was introduced. e document predated elections and
as such reads as more propagandistic than independent evaluation, but it
is at least an eort to publicly document impact. e precise dollar amount
invested in implementing the agenda is unclear, apart from 200 million Krona
(approximately $22 million USD)19 that were committed towards the “She
Decides” initiative. While signicant, it is unclear what amount of funding
beyond “She Decides” and the new gender strategy went to implementing
the feminist foreign policy between 2014 and 2018.20 “She Decides” is a
Spring/Summer 2019
direct response to the U.S. reinstatement of the so-called Mexico City Policy,
which prohibits U.S. foreign assistance from supporting organizations that
provide access to safe abortion or even information about abortion, even in
countries where the practice is legal and even if they provide those services
or information using sources other than U.S. funding, and which some
have accused of forcing grassroots organizations to choose between US and
Nordic funding to survive.21
Financial aspects notwithstanding, there is no overarching mechanism
to monitor the implementation of the policy’s goals, objectives and activities.
While there are specic metrics to track progress against many of the goals
in the Feminist Foreign Policy under other strategies, such as Swedens
“National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security or the Strategy for
2016-2020” or Swedens “Development Cooperation for Global Gender
Equality and Women’s and Girls’ Rights for 2018-2022”, for example, the
policy itself lacks a monitoring and evaluation mechanism and the four year
report on progress appears to have been based on voluntary, rather than
mandated, reporting. As with the two examples just mentioned, comparison
across strategies is made somewhat more dicult due to the periods of
reporting. e women, peace and security strategy, for example, will have
much richer data aer three years of implementation in 2019, whereas the
gender equality strategy will have only been in eect for one year, making
comparison under dierent goals unreliable as a metric for the country’s
commitment to that objective.
For several years following the Swedish debut, there was not much of an
answer to Wallströms radical rst step. Indeed, rather than a rush of copycat
policies by other progressive governments, quite the opposite was true: in
interviews Wallström has recounted that her approach was initially met with
giggles.22 is is perhaps not surprising given that this was the world’s rst
feminist foreign policy and a radical disruption of the status quo.
At last, Canada responded with the June 2017 launch of a Feminist
International Assistance Policy (FIAP).23 Like the Swedish policy before
it, the policy couched itself in a commitment to rights, and espoused its
launch with a budget proposal that put new resources on the table for
Ocial Development Assistance (ODA), passing the “resources” test by
bringing overall aid levels up from a 50-year low – albeit not signicantly
– and embracing a benchmark of 95 percent of its foreign assistance budget
for gender equality as a primary or secondary goal. Canadian Prime
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Minister Justin Trudeau, a self-proclaimed feminist, has also modeled the
representation piece, with a female foreign minister, a female development
minister, and the most diverse cabinet in Canadian history.24 Unlike Sweden,
Canada fell short of embracing the full scope of foreign policy within its
feminist approach, limiting its focus exclusively to its foreign assistance. is
is an issue we will take up again later in the piece.
e Canadian model is much more limited, tackling solely international
assistance and couching its prioritization of gender equality primarily in the
service of broader economic and security goals. According to the Government
of Canada, “Canada is adopting a Feminist International Assistance Policy
that seeks to eradicate poverty and build a more peaceful, more inclusive
and more prosperous world. Canada rmly believes that promoting gender
equality and empowering women and girls is the most eective approach
to achieving this goal.25 Canada does prioritize resourcing, perhaps even
more so than Sweden. e accompanying budget Canada unveiled with the
FIAP ensures that 15 percent of all bilateral and development assistance
specically target gender equality, and an additional 80 percent of ODA will
include gender equality as a secondary goal by 2022. is is a signicant hike
from just 2.4 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 6.5 percent from 2016 to 2017
on the gender principle marker, and 68 percent and 75 percent on gender
secondary marker for the same years.26
e Feminist International Assistance Policy is organized thematically
and includes six priority areas: (1) gender equality and women’s and girls
empowerment; (2) human dignity, which is an umbrella term that includes
access to health care, education, nutrition, and the timely delivery of
humanitarian assistance; (3) womens economic empowerment, including
access and control over resources and services; (4) climate action; (5)
womens political participation; and (6) women, peace, and security. Canada
is the only country of the three to have a focus on the environment, and
this focus is not only as a stand-alone goal but included throughout in
discussions and examples of Canada’s work in other areas – for example
food and nutrition or child marriage – which are a result of the destabilizing
impacts and natural disasters due to climate change.
While Canada’s policy is more limited in scope than Swedens, dealing
only with foreign assistance, it is more ambitious in the scale of resourcing
it has committed to the topic, with its pledge to commit 95 percent of ODA
to gender equality. Canada does not have an accountability framework
or a mandate to evaluate progress annually, although their Minister of
International Development promises in the strategy that she will “continue
to engage with Canadians and our stakeholders, because the launch of this
Spring/Summer 2019
policy is not the end of the process but rather a rst step in a longer journey
to achieving the best international assistance results.27 It also includes a
more detailed series of thematic priorities under its feminist approach. We
will explore commonalities and critiques in the following section.
France recently updated a gender in foreign assistance policy that it
launched at the Commission on the Status of Women in 2018, declaring
that “France is back and so is feminism” and pledging half of its foreign
assistance be devoted to achieving gender equality by 2022.28 A year later,
on International Women’s Day of March 2019, France went a step further
and declared that gender policy to be France’s Feminist Foreign Policy.29 A
little over a month later, the government announced that it would champion
feminist foreign policy as a core focus of its G7 presidency in 2019 as well,
signaling evangelical intent with regard to the model.
For France, feminist foreign policy – and feminist diplomacy before it –
is meant to cover all externally-facing action, including diplomacy with all
countries France engages with, not just emerging economies or aid recipients.
e stated aim is to include gender “in all French diplomatic priorities
and all political, economic, so diplomacy, cultural, educational and
development cooperation actions,” an approach that French had previously
referred to as “feminist diplomacy.30 ere is, however, a heavy focus on
aid in the practical application of France’s FFP, and much of the thematic
priorities that we can identify are elucidated in their International Strategy
on Gender Equality (rst promulgated in 2007, the version that was updated
and launched last year covers 2018-2022). According to the strategy, “gender
equality is a top priority of the president’s mandate. It will be a principal
and cross-cutting theme; it will underpin all of France’s external action and
specic measures will be undertaken to promote it.31 Unlike the Swedish and
Canadian strategies, Frances strategy is accompanied by an accountability
framework against which progress is to be tracked. Not only does it have
stated objectives and metrics, but France goes one step further and mandates
annual evaluation of progress against the strategy. For example, the strategy
sets out to increase bilateral and programmable ODA that contributes to
gender equality from a baseline of 30 percent in 2018 to a total of 50 percent
in 2022, with benchmark targets for each year.32 While it could be argued
that some of the French goals and metrics for measurement could be more
ambitious, it is notable that they are alone in their transparency.
It is in the International Strategy on Gender Equality that the French
articulate a number of their thematic priorities with regard to gender;
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Spring/Summer 2019
it contains ve thematic pillars and three priority actions. ematically,
the pillars are similar to Canadas, with a special emphasis on sexual and
reproductive health. ey include: (1) healthcare for women and girls,
including comprehensive family planning, access to sexual and reproductive
health, and reduced maternal mortality rates; (2) access to education,
including access to and improvement of comprehensive sexuality education;
(3) raising the legal age of marriage to age 18; (4) vocational training and
employment opportunities; and (5) improvements to infrastructure that
enable access to remote rural areas. e stated aim is to mainstream gender
in all external actions and to place womens empowerment and gender
equality at the heart of their international agenda.33
e three priority actions are of particular interest. According to the
strategy, France will prioritize approaches that are (1) comprehensive, (2)
rights-based, and (3) gender-based. e comprehensive approach extends
the scope of its focus on gender to apply beyond development, explicitly
stating that gender should be included in diplomatic priorities, including
a commitment to gender parity within the Ministry of Foreign Aairs and
International Development – a feminist diplomacy if you will. e rights-
based approach ensures that human rights principles, norms, and rules are
integrated into humanitarian and development policies and processes on
policies regarding violence against women. And the gender-based approach,
or gender mainstreaming, attempts to ensure that “a gender equality
perspective is incorporated in all policies at all levels and at all stages, by the
actors normally involved in policy making”34
Common Threads
Although none of the policies are exactly alike, there are a number of
commonalities among the three approaches. First, all contain a core focus
on structuring development assistance to advance more gender-equitable
societies, seeking to do this both as a goal in and of itself, and also as a means
to advance other development priorities.
Second, all share a commitment to the Women, Peace and Security
agenda. All three countries have National Action Plans outlining their
eorts to implement UNSCR 1325, and all four policies cite Resolution 1325
as foundational to their approach to feminist foreign policy or assistance.
All three of the strategies include an emphasis on healthcare and various
levels of reproductive health and/or sexual, reproductive health and rights.
Given that this is a body of human rights that is perhaps most under attack,
this is of particular importance. Sweden notes that they will ensure that
LGBTQ individuals are equally able to enjoy their sexual reproductive
health and rights. Sweden was one of the rst donors to “She Decides,
demonstrating its commitment to meeting the global need for commodities
and services related to sexual reproductive health and rights Launched in
February 2017 as a response to the reinstatement of the so-called Mexico
City Policy by the President of the United States, “She Decides” is a multi-
stakeholder partnership, which Canada and France also joined. e Swedish
commitment articulates support for access to safe abortion, comprehensive
sexuality education, contraceptives, and STI screenings; Canada promised
to double its commitment to sexual and reproductive health and rights in
three years’ time. France’s strategy includes an emphasis on encouraging
universal access to quality healthcare and for sexual and reproductive health
and rights but makes no nancial commitments in the strategy itself to this
end. Instead, they will monitor progress against increased partnerships with
civil society and the private sector and “encourage sectoral dialogue on
All three countries also include a focus on women’s economic
empowerment. Sweden France, and Canada all have areas of focus on
preventing and responding to gender-based violence Canada alone focuses
on the environment and climate action. Each of these areas of emphasis
are articulated with clear justications and ample evidence as to why these
thematic priorities are essential to a feminist approach.
C  E P
As we have begun to consider the substance of feminist foreign policy
in our research and expert consultations, at least three key elements have
emerged that form a basis upon which we can evaluate the strength of
feminist foreign policies: (1) resourcing, (2) comprehensiveness, and (3)
e rst is straightforward and based one of the only quantitative
indicators we have: level of investment. As has been said by Sweden from the
very beginning, resourcing is core to this agenda. Conversely, when such an
ambitious agenda is accompanied by insucient funds, it rings hollow. Here
both Sweden and Canada score well; both are among the nine Development
Assistance Committee (DAC) countries whose spending on gender equality
has reached or exceeded 50 percent of ODA (joined by Ireland, Iceland, the
Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Belgium, and Italy, perhaps prime candidates
to consider the penning of feminist foreign assistance policies moving
forward). Whether or not Sweden has embraced a precise benchmark, it
is in the top spot, with nearly 90 percent of its ODA dedicated to gender
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Spring/Summer 2019
equality as of the latest available data (2016-17). Canada is fourth in this
ranking, beaten out by Ireland and Iceland.36
Far behind the pack, France hovers around 30 percent (below the DAC
average of about 40 percent), although with the adoption of its gender and
international assistance policy, France has committed to reach the 50 percent
threshold by 2022.37
OECD analysis of spending on gender equality is an imperfect metric
for the resourcing element of feminist foreign policy, but the most readily
available. Most analysis focuses on the overall spending for gender equality
as either a principal or signicant objective; we propose that moving
forward, it should focus more on countries’ spending on gender equality
as a principle objective, which, at only four percent on average, is the area
where progress is most lacking.
Second, comprehensiveness. Even when policies focus on gender
equality, much of the literature critiquing existing feminist foreign policies
points to a lack of attention to intersectional forms of discrimination and
marginalization such as race, ethnicity, disability, class, or refugee status,
among others. Taken with historical issues such as the legacy of military
intervention and colonization, the intersectional lens becomes more
important. Sweden and France were both colonizers, each with brutal
legacies across the globe, which continue to play a role in how and where
they leverage diplomacy and foreign assistance abroad. France, for example,
continues to focus most of their foreign assistance in Africa in the areas
which were former colonies, and has a large military presence and many
business interests in the region. France ranks second in European Union
country exports to Africa (totaling 5.6 billion euros, or approximately 6.3
billion US dollars in the most recent year available).38 e French military
presence in Africa has mixed reviews; including the 2017 accusation
by the Rwandan government that French military was complicit in the
1994 Rwandan genocide.39 Still, in recent years, it has been reported that
Francophone Africa remits more money to France than France contributes
to the region through foreign assistance.40 President Macron has directly
acknowledged Frances colonial past: when campaigning for President of
France in February of 2017, he visited Algeria and stated that colonialism
was a part of French history, a crime against humanity and truly barbaric.
He said: “We must face up to this part of our history and apologize to those
who were at the receiving end,” but this was not well-received back in
France and the then-nominee changed his proposal to align more closely
with traditional policies with the continent.41 Since taking oce, however,
he appointed a panel of experts to investigate France’s role in the Rwandan
genocide,42 and pledged $ 2.8 billion US dollars in business investments on
the continent by 2022, benetting an estimated 10,000 enterprises.43
Sweden has similarly faced criticism. e decision of 11 female Swedish
foreign ministers to wear headscarves in Iran in 2017 was fraught back
home. Of the 15 ministers present on the trip, 11 were women, and faced a
tough choice: Iranian women are required to wear loose-tting clothing and
cover their hair in public, and international visitors to Iran are required by
law to dress modestly while in the country.44 e decision to interpret this
law in the form of a headscarf was critiqued both by those in Sweden and by
human rights activists in Iran. Sweden has also faced backlash for their arms
sales to countries with records of human rights abuses, including Yemen
and Saudi Arabia, and the disconnect between promoting human rights and
providing human rights abusers with weapons of war.45
Canada, on the other hand, is haunted less by colonialism and more
by a domestic legacy of abuse – and recently, ocially declared genocide–
waged against some indigenous populations.46 In June of 2019, Canadas
Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau acknowledged the ndings of e Canadian
National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls,
and that the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women and girls
across Canada in recent decades amount to an act of “genocide.47 e
report highlighted that “Colonialist structures and violence, racism, sexism,
homophobia and transphobia” that led to this genocide.48 He stopped
short, however, of acknowledging the full history of Canadas treatment of
Indigenous peoples as a cultural genocide. is history includes forcibly
removing children from their families to place them in remote schools from
which they could not escape and where they were oen denied medical
treatment – in an attempt to destroy their cultures and over the course of
decades.49 Canada has also come under re for its support for Canadian
extractives industries that have decimated local ecosystems and indigenous
populations, including reports of targeting women’s rights defenders.
According to watchdog groups, Canada supported over $24 billion Canadian
dollars in the extractive business sector in 2017 via Export Development
Canada, their export credit agency, which seeks to reduce risks for Canadian
businesses looking to grow globally.50
To put it more directly: some question whether feminist foreign policies
are just the latest postcolonial export of northern countries – well intentioned
perhaps, but ultimately equally uninformed by the voices and perspectives
of those on the receiving end. is is particularly true for development
assistance. Annika Bergman Rosamond, a docent at Lund University in
Sweden, observes that “postcolonial feminists are also cautious in their
Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
Spring/Summer 2019
interpretation of feminist universalisms because they argue that such accounts
of moral duty undermine the distinct experiences and stories told by non-
western women.51 “Nothing about us, without us,” as the adage holds. Even
in progressive human rights discussions, women and particularly women
of multiply-marginalized identities are oen not included in the discourse
that developed and shaped policies about them. While well-intentioned,
such approaches can perpetuate, rather than dismantle, inequalities and
systems of oppression. Sweden in particular has been critiqued for being
anti-immigrant and Islamophobic, at least according to some critics.
Finally, coherence. One of the loudest critiques of both Swedens and
Canada’s eorts to promulgate feminist foreign policies has been their
simultaneous arms trade with non-democratic countries notorious for
womens human rights abuses. In 2018, Swedens military exports rose by
2 percent, with many of these exports going to non-democratic counties
accused of extensive human rights abuses,52 including the United Arab
Emirates, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, and Brazil. Following its publication
of its Feminist International Assistance Policy, Canada was the recipient of
similar accusations of hypocrisy due to its arms deals with Saudi Arabia.53
C: T  I F  F P
Although its roots are deep, with historical precedents dating as far back
as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, feminist foreign policy is
still an emerging discipline. As a result, it is dicult to fully measure its
impact. A considerable step forward will be dening feminist foreign policy
consistently, and, if we can add another “r” to Sweden’s rights, resources,
and representation frame – research – investing in and publishing progress
evaluations to document that impact will be critical.
is will also help feminist foreign policies to weather the inevitable
ebbs and ows of political cycles. In September 2018, Sweden held general
elections and the party of Margot Wallström, the Social Democratic Party,
lost. e Sweden Democrats, a party described as anti-immigration and in
whom critics see echoes of Nazism, made signicant gains, spelling trouble
for the continued implementation of Swedens feminist approach.54 e new
coalition government is still forming, but the vote eectively reduced the
power of the more centrist and le-leaning parties and boosted far-right and
populist ideology.55
Similarly, Canada will hold elections later this year (2019), and
Canadian ocials are already moderating the use of feminist language in
public appearances. e linguistic and branding issues associated with this
work are another topic for another paper but suce it to say, the question of
interrogating and documenting impact of these policies is urgently needed,
for this and a host of other reasons. Australia was one candidate for feminist
foreign policy – at least one political party was assembling a vision for what
an Australian FFP might look like – but recent elections favoring more
conservative government leave the fate of an Australian FFP unlikely in the
near term.
However, 2020 may well be a banner year for the renement,
improvement and expansion of feminist foreign policy. Next year will play
host to a number of important womens rights anniversaries – the Fourth
World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the twentieth anniversary
of UNSCR 1325, most importantly – and champion governments are likely to
embrace this growing trend, particularly with the global celebrations of the
former being held in France. A growing number of feminist academics and
activists are pushing for progressive visions of feminist foreign policy, and
their recommendations include going beyond gender parity in government
or in peace negotiations, but including intersections with climate, conict,
and greater levels of funding and accountability.56
is means foreign policy that is not only by women or for women, but
goes further, taking a nonbinary, gendered lens that recognizes and seeks
to correct for historical, patriarchal, and oen racist, and/or neocolonialist
imbalances of power as they play out on the world stage. Further, our vision
of feminist foreign policy is not limited to a single lever of international
relations – “feminist diplomacy” or “feminist international assistance” or the
like, nor, certainly, is any single assistance program or initiative a feminist
foreign policy. Rather, for us feminist foreign policy is a complete, consistent
and coherent approach to a body of work encompassing all auspices of
foreign policy and international relations. If done right, the approach will
include aid, trade and defense, in addition to diplomacy, using all the tools
in the foreign policy tool box to advance a more equitable world. And most
importantly, it will be informed by and amplifying the voices of the rights-
holders it seeks to celebrate and support. is is good news for people of all
genders: feminism is an agenda everyone can promote, an agenda that seeks
equity for all, not the dominance of one over another.
Lyric Thompson is the Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Cen-
ter for Research on Women.
Rachel Clement is a Policy Advocate for U.S. foreign policy at the International
Center for Research on Women.
Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
Spring/Summer 2019
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Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations
... This study focuses on the term "feminism," which is understood as the guiding ideological principle of Swedish foreign policy and as a way for Sweden to signal its international intentions to promote progressive gender norms. In the suggested working definition of FFP formulated by Thompson and Clement (2018), feminism is about prioritizing gender equality and enshrining "human rights of women and other traditionally marginalized groups" (p. 78). ...
... However, the concept of feminism is ambiguous in its meaning, which is why Sweden's public diplomacy practitioners face various obstacles when communicating the FFP. These include, for instance, an unclear conception of the term "feminism" or "feminist" (Thompson and Clement 2018;Rosén Sundström et al. 2021), addressing "highly controversial political issues" (Aggestam and Bergman-Rosamond 2016, p. 382), and an "uneasy relationship between the concept of feminism and media in many countries" (Rosén Sundström et al. 2021, p. 1). In some countries, where contestation of pro-gender and feminist norms is particularly apparent, the FFP seems to not be addressed at all in Sweden's digital diplomacy (Jezierska 2021). ...
Full-text available
This study examines how public diplomacy practitioners deal with gender dynamics as a form of ideological issue in foreign policy. Informed by the theory of discursive closure, this study focuses on understanding how Swedish public diplomacy practitioners make sense of the country’s feminist foreign policy in their daily work and what consequences this has for the communication of it. Based on semi-structured interviews and policy documents, the research finds that the practitioners discursively enact certain meanings of the feminist foreign policy. This is illustrated as downplaying and packaging feminism as entertainment, associating feminism with male practices and the terminology of “gender equality,” and subordinating feminism to an economic growth paradigm. Thus, the tension created by the issues raised in the feminist foreign policy is neutralized in Sweden's public diplomacy while a different meaning of these issues is created. The research contributes to a more practitioner-focused view on public diplomacy.
... Luxembourg has also expressed interest in adopting FFP . This policy aims to apply a gender equality lens to all spheres of foreign policyfrom diplomacy and development to trade and defensein bilateral relations with other countries (Thompson and Clement 2019). Its gender equality lens includes protection of women's rights; freedom from psychological, physical, and sexual violence; leadership and representation in public office; economic empowerment; participation in conflict resolution; and sexual and reproductive health and rights. ...
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Drawing on a postcolonial perspective and theories of strategic narratives and silences, this article looks at how Sweden's feminist foreign policy (FFP) was reported in the media of conflict-affected states. It improves our understanding of feminist foreign policy reception by showing that from twenty selected countries, only newspapers in ten states had content on the FFP. It is argued that this modest media coverage was guided by a lack of interest in the FFP expressed in silence as an indirect way of resistance to norm promotion. This lack of interest is conceptualised as a postcolonial disengagement with Sweden's strategic narratives. The article further demonstrates that in the remaining ten countries the media transmitted Sweden's strategic narratives without subjecting them to critical scrutiny. This lack of scrutiny is conceptualised as a postcolonial allowance of FFP narratives in conflict-affected states. The conceptualisation of norm reception through postcolonial disengagement and allowance advances our understanding of acceptance and rejection of gender equality norms advocated by ethical foreign policies in marginalised states. The article contributes to the emerging work on postcolonial FFP and Women, Peace and Security (WPS) by improving our knowledge on local actors' agency in countries affected by conflict.
... This discussion benefited from a research review of other countries' feminist foreign policies , 8 as well as insights gathered through a series of global consultations with more than 100 feminist activists from over 40 countries as to what a global template or gold standard for feminist foreign policy should entail. The group considered ideas for feminist approaches to American diplomacy, defense, foreign assistance and trade, as well as the cross-cutting thematic issues of climate change 9 and sexual and reproductive health and rights, 10 both of which had been identified in the course of global consultation as priority issues that must be addressed. Through months of extensive consultation, the group gathered new insights on topics that had been omitted or underdeveloped at the time of drafting: humanitarian assistance, immigration policy, nuclear policy and points of intersection between feminist agendas at home and abroad. ...
Technical Report
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Policy paper outlining definition, key principles and recommendations for a U.S. feminist foreign policy.
Full-text available
Drawing on the IR theories of norm translation and strategic narratives, this article focuses on how states translate international norms to their own advantage by producing strategic narratives to advance their soft power ambitions abroad. Using the example of feminist foreign policy (FFP), the article compares Sweden, Canada, France, and Mexico in their attempts to translate international feminist norms into their countries’ strategic narratives. This comparison is based on three strategic narrative types (issue, national, and international system narratives) and two types of feminism (liberal, intersectional). Issue narratives reveal that Sweden and Mexico give more priority to social policies, while France and Canada emphasise the role of the market in addressing gender inequality. International system narratives demonstrate that Sweden and Mexico perceive global challenges as drivers of gender inequality, while France and Canada see gender inequality as a cause of global problems. National narratives show that Sweden and Mexico refer to other FFP countries to ‘back up’ their feminist initiatives, while France and Canada do not relate to other states. Finally, while liberal feminism dominates all four FFPs, each state either prioritises particular aspects of it (legal, market, security, rights-based) or incorporates elements from intersectional feminism.
Full-text available
Since 2014, Sweden has pursued the world's first Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP). However, the effectiveness of its policy promotion depends on how Sweden's efforts to spread this norm-based policy are perceived and evaluated by other states. We argue that a policy promotion effort has to be perceived as legitimate, coherent and salient by target populations in order to be effective. We investigate the extent to which it is the case in national newspapers of 17 countries, representing world and regional powers. We demonstrate that most coverage of the FFP is rather modest, notably in non-Western countries. Further, we argue that the coverage of Sweden's FFP in foreign media is influenced by three challenges: (1) an absence of a universal definition of FFP; (2) a clash between ideals of FFP and Swedish "traditional" security and commercial interests; (3) an uneasy relationship between the concept of feminism and media in many countries.
Full-text available
In 2015, the world's first self-defined feminist government was formed in Sweden with the explicit ambition of pursuing a feminist foreign policy. This essay seeks to unpack and highlight some of the substance and plausible future directions of a feminist foreign policy. The overarching ambition is three-fold: (1) to probe the normative contents of feminist foreign policy in theory and in practice; (2) to identify a number of potential challenges and ethical dilemmas that are detrimental to gender-sensitive global politics; and (3) to advance a research agenda that can deepen the normative and ethical notions of a feminist foreign policy. Sweden's feminist foreign policy is still in the making. Its conduct is mostly incremental and focused on international agenda setting and normative entrepreneurship, which is guided by an ethically informed framework of cosmopolitanism and human rights. Yet, this essay argues that this reorientation is distinct for two reasons: First, by adopting the “F-word” it elevates politics from a broadly consensual orientation of gender mainstreaming towards more controversial politics, which explicitly seeks to renegotiate and challenge power hierarchies and gendered institutions that hitherto defined global institutions and foreign and security policies. Second, it contains a normative reorientation of foreign policy, which is guided by an ethically informed framework based on broad cosmopolitan norms of global justice and peace. The article concludes by advancing a research agenda that draws upon feminist IR theory and enhances the ethical and transformative contents of the English School by making it more gender-sensitive and appropriate for the study of feminist foreign policy.
Full-text available
Economic empowerment of poor households is a key entry point for development organisations concerned with economic inequality. Over the decades, gender inequality has emerged as a key concern, and the result has been women's economic empowerment (WEE) programming. This article is a study of the impact of WEE programming on domestic violence (DV) against women. While this link has received some attention in gender and development literature, evaluations and impact assessments in development organisations have not consistently focused on the possibility of increased or decreased DV as a result of the challenge WEE represents to gender power relations. Drawing on the experience of Oxfam and other development organisations, we offer recommendations for practitioners aimed at better programme integration and more holistic empowerment. Aiming to challenge economic inequality between households involves better understanding of the impact of WEE programming on intra-household gender inequality, including rates of DV. This requires planning to anticipate these possible impacts and ensure women are able to gain from programming without placing themselves at risk.
Sweden's self-identity is that of a state sensitive to the protection of women's rights and security, within and across borders. This process is here defined as one of gender cosmopolitanism, which rests on a dual commitment to the protection of women. The piece is informed by an understanding of national borders as porous social constructs, the juridical significance of which can be set aside in consideration of the needs of distant other women. This thesis will be sustained through a deconstruction of the co-constitutive intertextual relationship between Sweden's dual commitment to the combat of gendered violence at home and abroad. The article is situated within thin cosmopolitan interpretations of global obligation across borders. However, such approaches frequently offer gender-blind analysis of global moral dilemmas and, given this, it is important to consider feminist scholarship on ethical obligation. Ethics of care scholarship provides useful insights into the benefits of adopting a relational ontology. However, to fully grasp the ethical underpinnings of gender cosmopolitanism, we need to engage with feminist scholarship that is sympathetic to universal claims. A key argument developed throughout the piece is that feminism provides a good basis for the problematisation of borders as sites of social, political and economic inclusion and exclusion. The last part of the article offers a discursive analysis of two sets of official documents on Sweden's protection of women from gendered violence, drawing upon broad feminist critical reflection. It is argued that Swedish gender cosmopolitanism is constituted within universalism, while being firmly grounded in typically national preferences for gender equality. This is indicative of the employability of cosmopolitanism as a moral platform for the analysis of specific states' problematising of borders as sites of inclusion and exclusion.
This paper provides an introduction to "women and development' by tracing the main trends in the way women's issues have been conceptualized in the development context. Part I of the paper explains the emergence of the concept of women in development (WID) in the early 1970s, highlighting in particular a dominant strand of thinking within WID that sought to make women's issues relevant to development by showing the benefits - in terms of economic growth - of investing in women. This approach tended to emphasize how women could contribute to development, rather than how development could improve the lives of women. Part II looks at the analytical and intellectual underpinnings of the shift from WID to GAD (gender and development). The authors highlight tensions that emerge from the different conceptualizations of gender. At the political level, the extent to which the goal of "gender-aware' development is to be linked to "top-down' or "bottom-up' strategies remains controversial. While women's NGOs and grassroots organizations have an important role to play in creating space for women to politicize their demands, there are serious limits to what institutions of civil society can achieve. The state still remains responsible for regulating macro-level forces in a more gender-equitable manner. -from Publisher
Information about women's experiences of development has been iterated to the development process in ways which reflect dominant development paradigms, and in ways which reflect the ambient gender politics and gendered interests of development bureaucracies. Consequently, the political content of feminist knowledge - information relating to women's interests in contexts of change - is often stripped away, leaving generalized information about women's needs for development bureaucracies to administer. This article argues that the dominant economistic paradigm for information classification, valuation, and analysis institutionalizes interpretations of the meaning of women's experience of development. Another consequence of gendered institutional politics in development bureaucracies is that information about women's different experience from men in development tends to encounter resistance from policy makers. -from Author
Secretary-General) with CSW61 Civil Society -Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61)
  • T V Un Web
UN Web TV, "António Guterres (U.N. Secretary-General) with CSW61 Civil Society -Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61), " March 17, 2017, accessed January 4, 2019,
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What a Feminist Foreign Policy Looks Like
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