So What is A Feminist Foreign Policy Anyway?

So What is a Feminist Foreign Policy Anyway?

There’s been a slow, steady buzz building around ‘feminist foreign policy’.  The most obvious example, of course, hails from Sweden’s openly feminist approach to foreign policy which includes a focus on gender mainstreaming, ending gender-based violence, and including more women in peace processes.  Beyond this, there has been chatter about what a feminist foreign policy could mean in Southeast Asia, what it looks like through Gloria Steinem's activism, or what it might have been with Hillary Clinton at the helm of the US.  But there’s no primary platform or manifesto to consult when theorizing what, exactly, this rethinking of foreign policy might include.  It is here that Feminist Foreign Policy steps in.  Our goal is to provide such a collective to gather the inevitably diverse ideas about what this line of inquiry could uncover.  

But before we delve too deeply into the abyss that is feminist theory, let’s take a moment to consider the common thread which runs through each idea on this site: foreign policy.

There are many different definitions and ideas of what foreign policy can be.  Very broadly, we at FFP agree that foreign policy is a collection of strategies which guide a country's or government's interaction with other state and non-state actors.  Relying on political influence, which manifests in a variety of ways, the end game is to persuade other political bodies to act in a manner which protects national interests.

In other words, foreign policy is about control, power, hierarchies, and influence.  It’s intricately tied into personal identity, and though seemingly perhaps a cold and formidable institution at first glance, it is inherently bound up with the whims of human nature. Foreign policy largely relies on an understanding and negotiation of who ‘we’ are, and who ‘they’ are.  Gender, as a basic foundation to one’s societally shaped understanding of identity, holds a dramatic influence over individuals, which in turn bleeds over into a collective envisioning of state identity and power relationships. This ‘us versus them’ mentality and gendered formation of personal and state identity is what feminism eagerly seeks to disrupt.

Again, this begs the question: so what is a feminist foreign policy? A feminist foreign policy would:

Consider and reflect upon its human impact in its policy decisions.
Include the people effected by a particular policy in the decision making process. 
Prioritize diplomacy and relationship building.
Take women’s voices and lives seriously, and understand how the daily lived experiences of women have international effects.
Actually, take seriously the voices of any who are still marginalized in political conversations.
Seek to understand how societal expectations around identity - gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc. - both at home and abroad influence how policy is crafted and understood.
Reflect on the ways that individual and state identity create bias towards certain actions, and actively work to explore and acknowledge that bias.
Insist upon a greater diversity in leadership to accurately represent the views of constituents.

As a citizen of the US and current resident of the UK, my understanding of what foreign policy can be is inevitably linked to my personal experience with these two systems of government. While I can offer up my vision of a feminist foreign policy, it is equally important to recognize that this vision will differ by region, by country, and by person.  So that’s what we at FFP want to hear - how to do you see a feminist foreign policy?  How can we collectively envision a foreign policy that embraces diversity?  Foreign policy desperately needs new people and fresh ideas to push forward towards positive change. So let us know - via TwitterInstagramFacebook, or in the comments here - what do you think a feminist foreign policy is?


Marissa Conway is the founder and CEO of FFP.  Follow her on Twitter: @marissakconway