Militarisation and Feminist Foreign Policy: Our Workshop at Geneva Peace Week 2022

Our session at GPW 2022 “Increasing militarisation and feminist foreign policy: compatible or worlds apart?” – co-organised with the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, the Government of Mexico, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the German Mission to UNOG – shared some of the growing wealth of lessons from the experiences of governmental and non-governmental actors on the opportunities and challenges of applying a feminist foreign policy lens to policymaking efforts. It included insights on how to effectively implement and amplify feminist foreign policy, and how it can serve as a tool to counter increasing militarisation and catalyse more just and inclusive policymaking.

Over the past few decades, intersectional feminist perspectives have been increasingly incorporated in academia and activism, and significant multilateral gender-sensitive normative advances have been made, notably centred around the Women, Peace and Security Agenda and UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

Yet, until more recently, policy practice was behind this curve. In 2014, Sweden became the first country to launch a feminist foreign policy (FFP), with Luxembourg following suit in 2018, and Mexico in 2020. In May 2022, the Netherlands committed to pursuing an FFP, and the new coalition government in Germany has signalled its intention to adopt an FFP and is currently defining the shape it will take. In 2017, Canada created a feminist international assistance policy, with France adopting a similar feminist foreign aid policy in 2019. An FFP moves away from the traditional foreign policy lens of hierarchical global systems, reframing security in the perspectives and well-being of marginalised and vulnerable groups.

In parallel, the world is witnessing an ever-increasing degree of militarisation. All forms of organised violence and armed conflict have risen over the past decade. In 2021, global military expenditure surpassed the two trillion US dollar mark for the first time, and despite the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, military spending in 2021 was 0.7% higher than in 2020 and 12% higher than in 2012. The trend of heightened militarisation can be observed across multiple other domains, from policing to outer space. It has been sharply exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, – which prompted both Sweden and Finland to relinquish decades of military non-alignment and simultaneously apply to join NATO. Germany has also significantly increased military funding and agreed to arms transfers to Ukraine.

The workshop addressed whether doctrines such as FFP can help to assuage increasing militarisation, and explored whether increasing militarisation and feminist foreign policy can co-exist, both in the realm of international relations and even within individual governments’ foreign policymaking; and if so, how?

The discussion underlined how FFP can help to apply a gender lens – rooted in UNSCR 1325 and the WPS agenda – to conflict resolution and security challenges, such as disarmament and arms control, to minimise the harm caused by weapons, hold perpetrators accountable, help victims, and ensure that approaches to tackling security challenges address the needs of all people to build resilient and inclusive societies. It also showed that doctrines like feminist foreign policy can provide and help to promote alternative frames of reference as a counterpoint to traditional Realist IR paradigms, which are dominated by and perpetuate militarisatised narratives and frames of reference, from both a theoretical and practice-oriented perspective. This can help peacebuilders develop conceptual clarity and support their critical thinking and reflection on their work and the opportunities and challenges they face in order to contribute to sustainable peace in creative and innovative ways with a maximum level of effectiveness and impact.

Five key takeaways from the event were:

1. Feminist policymaking needs to be enacted both within and beyond borders, meaning FFP has to go hand in hand with feminist domestic policy. Coherence between domestic and foreign policy ensures not only more joined-up policymaking, but applying a feminist policymaking lens to all sectors can help societies become more inclusive and just. This does not mean that there is no room for a degree of pragmatism alongside an idealist goal; as is the case with some governments that have adopted FFP, feminist foreign policy can act as a catalyst for more gender-responsive domestic policy. The discussion also underlined the importance of countries “exporting” FFP committing to and achieving a degree of self-examination at home before carrying the torch elsewhere.

Caption: H.E. Francisca Elizabeth Méndez Escobar, Permanent Representative of Mexico to UNOG

2. At both national and international level, it is not enough for FFP to be a top-down project; it needs to be anchored in the wider societal context, with broad-based public consultations to ensure public buy-in and to collectively shape the agenda. The Swedish tradition of feminism from above and below that has defined a lot of public policy is a good example in this regard. As ever, grassroots movements are key; in the same way that women and young people drive many aspects of peacebuilding, women and youth at the grassroots level can help to apply intersectional approaches to defining domestic and foreign feminist policymaking that responds to the needs and demands of all members of society.

Caption: Annika Bergman Rosamond, Associate Professor (Docent) in Political Science and International Relations, Lund University

3. Gender equality is a fundamental part of FFP, but the doctrine goes further than that: at its heart is an intersectional approach that also addresses race, ethnicity, religion, disability, and sexual orientation. Above all FFP is about addressing unequal manifestations of power. To be a vehicle for intersectional policymaking and outcomes, FFP needs to continue to champion rights, representation, and resources. But it also needs to be more transformative and radical, going further than the “three r’s” to dovetail with other fundamental systemic transformation like adopting less extractive and exploitative economic growth models to reduce structural inequality and exclusion, and tackling climate change and reimagining our relationship with nature. In short, the three r’s should be joined by the three p’s: peace, people, and planet.

Caption: Kristina Lunz, Co-Executive Director, Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy

Africa more than anywhere has seen the use of foreign policy to advance power and acquire resources to benefit certain countries at the expense of others. Despite a first wave of decolonisation in the second half of the 20th century, the legacy of colonial foreign policy still presents a major challenge. Africa today is also still heavily influenced by external powers: it is one of the loci of the rivalry (and to some extent cooperation) between China and the US, one of the upshots of which is greater militarisation and securitisation of Africa, impelled by the war on terrorism and the need to protect vested political and economic interests. There is potentially a role for FFP to play in both counteracting militarisation in Africa and also breaking down the legacies of colonialism. But a fundamental barrier is the double standards of governments – both “exporters” and “importers” of FFP – addressing armed conflict with violence, while at the same time calling for peace. To reduce militarisation in Africa, African governments (like all governments) must first address gender inequalities inside their borders through African governments’ enactment of national plans to advance gender equality, such as 1325 National Action Plans.

Caption: Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Executive Director, Women’s International Peace Centre (WIPC, Kampala)

It is important to recognise that security without arms is not a reality that will materialise any time soon, if ever, and that – as with all political endeavours – unless the notion is backed up by tangible manifestations of political will, FFP is in danger of being just more empty rhetoric. However, FFP can help to assuage the rising trend of militarisation. It can do this in a number of ways, including by helping to diffuse tensions by furthering trust-building between more immediate neighbours, and also more broadly between the global north and global south. This needs to be based on exchanges in good faith to clarify any misconceptions around FFP and its relationship with the existing international peace and security agenda. This also means open and constructive exchanges about existing inherent contradictions, such as governments – including proponents of FFP – prioritising militarised or securitised remedies to instability and armed conflict while calling for peace. Above all, backed up by the necessary political will, FFP can be a catalyst for domestic and international policymaking with peace, people, and planet at its heart.

Last but by no means least, a big thank you to the speakers, co-organisers, our GPW virtual assistant, participants, and everyone else who contributed to the event.