The Disruptor Series: Christina Bache

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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 talking to Dr. Christina Bache, an Independent Consultant, based in Istanbul, Turkey. She is a Co-chair of the International Crisis Group’s Ambassador Council and a member of the United Nations Business for Peace/Principles for Responsible Management Education working group. In addition, she is Co-founder of the Women in Foreign Policy Turkey Initiative.

Growing up in Texas, Bache’s world was split between local politics and the American military (her father was in the Special Forces), with American football being the dominant community activity. Though she and her friends were on a female soccer team, an even gender distribution lessened in the other fields she was involved in. At age nine, she recalls arguing with her father and his colleagues about the lack of women serving in their operations, insisting that they were capable of performing the same tasks.   

This upbringing contributed to Bache developing an interest in foreign affairs at a young age, though she was not aware it was an area people could choose to go into. As part of his role, Bache’s father organised members of the military community to build houses in Mexico, along the Texas border. After the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed, the borderlands saw an influx of US companies seeking cheap labour. Bache describes growing up in this environment as a “rude awakening for me. My country had played a significant role in an economic policy which was devastating to so many people. When I started volunteering in Mexico, there were mainly small towns along the border area with Texas. Then within a year of NAFTA being passed, there was an explosion of US corporations and a significant number of Mexicans mainly from southern parts of the country migrated to the border to seek employment opportunities.” Despite the increased population of workers, the quality of jobs was substandard and infrastructure remained severely underdeveloped. There were no paved road networks, clean potable water, electrical grids, or schools near the factories, only shanty towns and canals full of contamination from nearby factories. She remembers seeing people with chemical burns resulting from bathing and washing their clothes in the water.

During high school Bache was deeply involved in local politics. She participated in an advocacy campaign to support Title IX funding to ensure gender equity in city sports programmes. She collected signatures in support of the campaign and spoke at city council meetings in favor of Title 9. She also worked as a campaign volunteer for a school board election candidate that reflected her beliefs and campaign concerns. Bache recently returned to her hometown in Texas, to speak about ‘Women, Peace and Security’ at the annual fundraising event for the Copperas Cove Education Foundation. Reflecting on her speech, Bache noted, “Usually, members of the military community have a comprehensive worldview and a deep understanding of domestic and foreign policy.” Situated next to one of the U.S. military’s largest bases, residents of Copperas Cove are fully aware of the oftentimes devastating consequences of war.

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Flash forward to moving to Turkey after graduate school and working with Associate Professor Zeynep Alemdar and Rana Birden to launch the Women In Foreign Policy initiative, an organisation that inspires young women to consider a career in foreign policy. Growing up, Bache was also involved in Texas Girls State, a similar civil society-coordinated programme which encourages girls to learn about the American government, their place within it and the impact of it on the wider world. She recalls “being exposed to programmes for girls growing up, where women could learn about politics and foreign affairs. But since living in Turkey, I saw that there was an absence of similar opportunities.” Even though Bache was involved in various political education programs for young women while she was in high school and university she notes that she did not learn about how to address the barriers that prevent inclusion of women in the political sphere, particularly as politics is still seen as a male domain in numerous cultures, until she was active in the foreign policy field.

Women in Foreign Policy offers informal mentoring and networking opportunities including events and programmes and an ongoing speaker series. The latter is a collaboration with different organisations in Istanbul and the founders’ own network of friends and colleagues. Parallel to this is an ongoing senior speaker series with mid to senior-level experts from various organisations, including the World Bank, UN Women and female consul generals in Istanbul. In 2016 thirteen women occupied positions as consul generals, the highest number recorded, with US Consul General, Jennifer Davies, hosting the last event. They also provide workshops on how to write policy briefs and reach out to the media, for women across the foreign policy field.

There are very few opportunities for people from different political perspectives to come together and discuss their positions in a safe and constructive environment.
— Christina Bache

Women in Foreign Policy also implemented a correlative strand on Security Council Resolution 1325, which encourages more inclusive peacebuilding practices. This filters into their organisation of speaking and roundtable activities, with a focus on active listening and providing a safe environment for discussion.The latter is a particularly important element in Turkey’s political situation as, Bache reports, “there are very few opportunities for people from different political perspectives to come together and discuss their positions in a safe and constructive environment." 

One difficulty faced by the organisation is engaging senior-level women and, if they are interested, getting them in one room at the same time. Bache noted that “some women are anti-women’s empowerment or inclusion of more women within the policy community. It’s not only about bringing men on board, but convincing women that having other women at the table doesn’t mean they will lose something.” Even in the networks she is part of, some women seem positive about women's empowerment at first, but then aren't open to making introductions for their female colleagues or highlighting professional opportunities that they’re aware of with their female counterparts. This is one of the ongoing obstacles in convincing people that it is crucial to have more women in the foreign policy community, especially because it is such a diverse field.

Bache mentions that mansplaining - when a man explains something in a manner regarded as condescending and patronizing or simply dominates the discussion - is an enormous barrier to amplifying women’s voices in the foreign policy field. Bache mentions a delegation she attended at a European Consulate in Istanbul, on a panel where she, her female colleague and a former male, senior, colleague were asked to provide comments. The latter dominated the conversation despite the fact her female colleague had recently conducted critical empirical research and her analysis of the current political dynamics in Turkey would have been relevant to the questions asked. It is this and other experiences that have encouraged Bache to “be conscious of how we conduct ourselves in meetings, not only when devising strategies for including more women in the foreign policy field, but, even how we engage with our colleagues. If we truly believe that diversity in the foreign policy field is important then we must promote the work of our female colleagues.”

The socioeconomic and even cultural barriers that prevent women from participating in all spheres of society must be addressed.
— Christina Bache

She is currently working on a book focusing on the role of the private sector on peace and security in the Middle East North Africa region, with a particular focus on positive or sustainable peace. Bache notes that the mainstream media predominantly portrays negative peace, which is the cessation or absence of armed conflict. Sustainable peace, however, looks at institutions and attitudes in society that contribute to inclusive societies inherent to sustainable peace. She comments, “Oftentimes, negative peace activities are led by senior-level men and this is reflected in the mainstream media through images of national militaries, armed groups, and politicians conducting negotiations behind closed doors. Rarely do we see images of positive peace activities, between business owners, journalists or leaders of civil society.” Her specific research interest in the role of the private sector in society stems from her time building houses in Mexico when she was in high school and university. “Over a period of ten years, I witnessed how US corporations disrupted the social fabric along the Texas-Mexico border with impunity.” Bache is particularly curious about how the private sector engages society through a company’s operational activities. She argues that “the private sector intersects almost every aspect of our daily lives from the products we use and consume to the services we receive. A company can have a positive impact on society by strengthening corporate governance, protecting human rights in its supply chain, ensuring environmental sustainability, and practicing inclusive human resource management.”

We conclude our conversation by asking Bache what she thinks a feminist foreign policy would look like. Bache commented, “I constantly look back at my own upbringing and I am still convinced that equality between women and men is key to inclusive and peaceful societies. Therefore, a feminist foreign policy platform must connect with a woman’s ability to pursue the path that most adequately reflects her desires and passions. The socioeconomic and even cultural barriers that prevent women from participating in all spheres of society must be addressed. From my own humble experience, societies are more competitive, innovative, resilient and peaceful the more active women are in grassroots activities and civic engagement and the political and foreign policy spheres.” Sustainable peace is more viable in practice when more women are incorporated in all levels of society and institutions have more inclusive systems.

Bache adds one last thought about her personal journey as a feminist. “For me it was growing up in a very traditional military environment which probably created an innate feminist strand within me. I only had male role models, growing up, who all provided an incredible amount of support, however, it was only later in life that I realized leadership and femininity comes in many different colours. Previously, I thought I had to be tough with my male colleagues so that kindness wouldn’t be misconstrued for weakness.” Speaking briefly about the pressure women put on themselves, Bache mentions that, even now, she has difficulty with having confidence of saying something before she has fully thought it through. But, she concludes, it is ““part of an ongoing conversation with ourselves, learning to be happy with who you are and not let other people dictate how we should live our lives.” There is a note in that for us all.

Read more about Christina Bache here. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Interview by Marissa Conway, article by Jen Brough.