The Disruptor Series: Kristina Lunz

Kristina Lunz Feminist Foreign Policy

Our Disruptor Series highlights the work people are doing across the globe to challenge the status quo and make the world a more equitable place. Today we’re in conversation with Kristina Lunz, a fellow of the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs focusing on feminist foreign policy and currently working at UN Development Programme in Myanmar.  In the past, she was also the campaign advisor for UN Women National Committee Germany on the ‘No Means No’ campaign to change the German rape law. On the side, she is a writer and activist.


Among her many achievements, Lunz was selected for the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs, with 23 other German-speaking individuals, out of hundreds of applicants. The Fellowship allows those selected to focus on an area of international affairs that they are passionate about for the following year, thus concretising her interest in a female-centred foreign policy. After receiving a full scholarship from Oxford to study an MSc in Global Governance and Diplomacy at the Department of International Development, she, as a first generation student, was struck by the predominantly western and male professors, but also the androcentrism of the politics and issues being taught as standard. One class on security issues and diplomacy did not discuss gender issues or sexualised violence, despite its overwhelming occurrence in conflict. Lunz tell us: “I was sitting in class thinking – wait. Do experiences of women not matter?”   

It’s crucial, she continues, that we understand gender and feminist agendas not as a side topic for governments to incorporate into foreign policy, but rather as key to the way systems work and infiltrate every part of our daily lives. Once the connections are established, you cannot exclude these topics from any course or class. “We have to understand how gender fits into diplomacy and conflict,” Lunz emphasises.

The shock and exclusion Lunz felt when recognising the “patriarchal, colonial package” inherent in contemporary foreign policy, upheld by global actors like the Security Council and G20, spurred her towards a career in policy and particpation in activism. During her time at Oxford, she launched her first campaign against the German newspaper Bild, one of the most read in Europe. Inspired by the UK-based No More Page 3 campaign, Lunz started Stop Bild Sexism in order to protest its derogatory depictions of women. Reflecting on the campaign, she recalls, “It was an interesting experience, but not always a pleasant one. But that’s how it works when you want to change something.”

Kristina Lunz Feminist Foreign Policy

While studying for her first master's degree in London, Lunz focused on human rights in order to understand the root causes of discrimination and how it affects both society and the individual. She emphasises that though she wasn’t raised a feminist, and grew up with a conservative family in a rural area, her studies enabled her to understand what feminism is and why it is important. She comments, “It was a late start, but a kick start.”

At university, Lunz began to study the correlation between the sexualisation of men and women in the media and sexualised violence toward women as perpetuated by men. She returned home to Germany for the summer to see Bild’s front page asking readers to rate the cleavage of female artists and celebrities. After thinking - “how is this possible?” - she wrote a letter, which turned into a petition, and quickly gained traction. However, the backlash from Bild's editor-in-chief and his 80,000 Twitter followers meant Lunz experienced a strong wave of online abuse, ranging from misogynistic comments to rape threats. Looking back, her advice to fellow activists and change makers is that “you are not out there to please everyone; it shouldn’t be your first priority in life.”

Lunz emphasises there are many people benefiting from the current structures of society who do not necessarily experience discrimination, and so will be reticent to change it or hear alternatives. “Once you realise that, there is nothing that should hold you back,” she says. This determination fuelled the Bild campaign further. State secretaries, politicians, and celebrities became involved. Lunz organised a march and produced a series of articles to highlight the extent to which Bild degraded women. The campaign, ultimately successful, is now an important and well-known milestone in the German activist scene, and the team is currently in discussions with a German ministry for a potential collaboration.

You cannot fight one form of oppression without considering others.
— Kristina Lunz

Following this success, Lunz became involved in another campaign after the multiple sexual assaults that occurred on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, 2016. Alongside 20 German feminists, she highlighted the intersectional nature of sexual violence and racism, noting that “you cannot fight one form of oppression without considering others.” The campaign’s demands for a change in societal policies gained a strong response, particularly the call to change Germany’s law on sexualised violence. At the time, the laws intoned that rape was only considered rape if the victim physically fought the perpetrator, and that groping was no criminal offence. This meant that most of the incidences that happened in Cologne could not be prosecuted. Lunz approached UN Women National Committee in Germany for assistance, and together launched its #neinheißtnein campaign. Working in collaboration with other organisations and MPs, the rape law was changed last July.

These are just two examples of how a critical mass of women can make change to happen. Lunz emphasises that an important feminist issue is how women perceive other women. In an article she wrote for International Women’s Day, she reflected on how “society raises women to see other women as competitors and this attitude is very beneficial to those in power because they are not being threatened as long as we are fighting each other.” This attitude hasn’t affected Lunz’s experience of feminist foreign policy. During her time in Colombia, where she worked on gender within peace processes, she met Swedish and Colombian female diplomats who were fundamental in ensuring “the most inclusive peace process of all time, with women and LGBTQI mentioned in every chapter.” Local women’s rights organisations and NGOs also played a key part in this positive collaboration.

Towards the close of our conversation, Lunz emphasizes that “I do not want gender equality in the current structures.” Commenting on the military, she notes that gender parity is not beneficial when countries mainly utilise their armies to further their military industry. She surmises, “We need to understand how feminism fits in with colonisation, imperialism, and macroeconomic policies, which can be blind to race and gender. Fundamentally, it is about changing societal structures, not a little bit of feminism added on.”

We conclude with asking Lunz what she envisions for a feminist foreign policy. She cites Margot Wallstrom’s definition of extending gender equality as a matter of peace and security, and adds that a feminist foreign policy needs to be understood as a mechanism to rehabilitate how structures are currently working and to profoundly question how we are looking at things. “We need to start looking at intersections of oppression and who this leaves out.”

Read more about Kristina Lunz here. You can follow her on Twitter here.


Interview by Marissa Conway, article written by Jennifer Brough.