On 1 March, Germany’s first female and feminist Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock launched the guidelines of the German Federal Foreign Office on “Shaping Feminist Foreign Policy”. Already in late 2021, the German government committed to a Feminist Foreign Policy and, thus, to follow in the footsteps of countries such as Mexico, Canada, France, Netherlands, and Spain.
Whilst Minister Baerbock repeatedly emphasised last week that these guidelines are not a revolution, the adoption of the guidelines should not be underestimated. In roughly 80 pages, the Foreign Ministry commits to overcome entrenched power inequalities and discrimination, and to work towards equality of women and other marginalised groups, both bilaterally as well as multilaterally. These guidelines centre the fact that if women are not safe – no one is safe.
The guidelines themselves stand out as they are the most comprehensive outline of a country’s Feminist Foreign Policy so far. Moreover, by recognizing that Feminist Foreign Policy strives for arms control and disarmament, requires an approach that is intersectional and reflects post-colonial realities – the German Federal Foreign Office is going further than many of the other governments committed to a Feminist Foreign Policy.
The guidelines explicitly acknowledge that “every budget, every promotion of foreign trade and investment and every climate package has a gender-specific impact”, clearing up with the ridiculous notion that actions that do not consider the needs and perspectives of all genders are gender-neutral. However, while discrimination because of skin color and origins are mentioned, we miss a strong commitment to driving an anti-racist foreign policy. This is particularly relevant as Germany is now one of the few governments committed to a Feminist Foreign Policy that assumes historic responsibility for its colonial past – even if details on how to do so remain vague.
Money is power. Thus, we welcome the commitment to “allocate 85% of project funding on a gender-sensitive basis and 8% on a gender-transformative basis by 2025, taking the OECD criteria as a guide”. However, we would have liked to also see the commitment to increasingly fund feminist organisations – those who are directly impacted by discrimination and at the same time the most effective drivers of change – instead of multilateral organisations. Because, between 2014-2020, Germany’s commitment to funding for women’s equality organisations and institutions only amounted to 0.4 percent of Germany’s overall gender-focused aid.
The guidelines further acknowledge that disarmament and arms control need to be a part of a Feminist Foreign Policy. This is an important step. In particular, we welcome the support of efforts to recognise and compensate the victims of nuclear testing and to strengthen Germany’s arms export control regime by also taking into account “the risk of (…) arms being used for serious acts of sexual and gender-based violence, or violence against women and girls, as stipulated in the Arms Trade Treaty” when deciding on arms export applications. However, what is lacking is any mention that the risks of arms facilitating serious acts of sexual and gender-based violence or violence against women and girls – as also stipulated in the Arms Trade Treaty – is not being explicitly accounted for. Nor is specified that this risk assessment is mandatory ahead of exports in EU, NATO, and NATO-equivalent countries. Most importantly, however, with Germany still being the fifth biggest arms exporter, a German Feminist Foreign Policy would have required a commitment to drastically reduce its arms exports, and to address the increasing militarisation of our international system.
We further appreciate the focus of the guidelines to counter the efforts of anti-feminist states and networks to undermine the international framework to safeguard and advance the rights of women and LGBTQI* individuals, and the commitment by the German Federal Foreign Office to use the guidelines to drive a discussion amongst Foreign Ministers within the EU towards an EU Feminist Foreign Policy. We strongly recommend including feminist civil society in this process as well.
Feminist Foreign Policy is a concept developed and coined by feminist civil society, with roots in the International Congress of Women in 1915 in The Hague. The German Federal Foreign Office would have done well in recognizing that. Nevertheless, we appreciate the creation of a “high-ranking steering committee in the Federal Foreign Office which will oversee these guidelines’ implementation, soliciting input and feedback from representatives of civil society” and the commitment to listen to and learn from civil society. We are eager to see what this will exactly look like. We strongly advocate for institutionalizing the exchange both with feminist civil society in Germany and abroad.
As with any guidelines, we will need to see how they are implemented. And while important criticism remains, the guidelines do have the potential to seriously transform German foreign policy.
Nina Bernarding is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of CFFP, leading our work on Peace and Security.