Why Do We Need a Feminist Foreign Policy? Germany Launch Party Event Summary - Panel 1

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On September 20th, 2018, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) celebrated the official launch of its German sister branch in Berlin. As part of the event, the CFFP was proud to hold a panel discussion with Johan Frisell, Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Sweden; Geoff Gartshore, Head of the Political and Economic Section, Embassy of Canada; Dr. Antti Kaski, Deputy Head of Mission, at the Embassy of Finland; and Esther Neuhaus, Deputy Head Political Affairs and Media, Embassy of Switzerland.

The panel addressed the growing need for a feminist foreign policy. Drawing from their experiences as representatives and diplomats, Frisell, Gartshore, Kaski, and Neuhaus advocated for the importance of feminist foreign policy, viewing its meaning as extending beyond the realm of women and girls, and including all invisibilised communities. From the discussion, it was clear that at the heart of every national effort was an awareness and understanding of the importance of adopting an intersectional approach.

Leading international efforts, Johan Frisell of Sweden spoke of the nation’s trailblazing efforts to implement a feminist foreign policy so as to transition the notion beyond its conceptual framework, and integrate it within the country’s internal structure. A large part of Sweden’s efforts was based around a holistic understanding of feminist foreign policy as existing outside the ambit of Security Council Resolution 1325, and including other key areas such as disarmament, peacekeeping and conflict resolution. Bringing up issues of gender within the Security Council has posed a challenge to the Swedish government. However, Sweden has shown a strict adherence to addressing gender, and ensuring that if a gender mandate exists a resolution is followed through. With Germany due to take up its non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council in January 2019, Sweden offered its support and encouragement to Germany, advising the nation to aspire for long-term actions through the creation of a common understanding amongst its members.

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Building on this discussion, Dr. Antti Kaski of Finland addressed the importance of strengthening international security through the promotion of the status of women and girls. Including women as active participants in international affairs directly considers how difference, in all its forms, affects an individual’s positioning within a crisis. Acknowledging vulnerability speaks to the forgotten outliers of conflict, and the responsibility of nations to take these issues into account when initiating international policies, so as to reduce harm and act according to principles. This “no harm” principle adopted by the Finnish government fundamentally increases government accountability, and works towards producing a practical and measurable approach towards feminist foreign policy. Actions such as having a solid understanding of the geographical context of a conflict zone, and a knowledgeable gender specialist working alongside a commander, are just a couple of examples of the practical and transparent steps that can be taken to promote gender equality across all stages of the peacekeeping process.

From a nation yet to implement a feminist foreign policy, Esther Neuhaus of Switzerland discussed the nation’s already inclusive policies. Switzerland’s dedication to human rights via its “human security approach” has always been inclusive of individual protection. Alongside this general position is a specific reference to gender as a strategic goal in the government’s development cooperation policy. As discussed by Neuhaus, Switzerland is attempting to reach a balance between the key fundaments of mainstreaming gender into its international policies, and promoting gender as a stand-alone goal. Internally, Switzerland has come leaps and bounds with its diplomatic gender imbalance by implementing a gender equality policy within its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently, there are 118 female diplomats in Switzerland (32%) with further plans being made to reach the ultimate goal of a 50/50 status.

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A proponent of feminist values, Canada is on the verge of implementing a feminist foreign policy. Speaking on behalf of the Canadian Government, Geoff Gartshore highlighted Canada’s 2017 Feminist Assistance Policy and gender equal cabinet. With 52% of its G7 ambassadors identifying as women, Canada’s outspoken gender equality policies appear progressive and substantial. However, Gartshore was quick to speak out about the small percentage of Canadian women that hold senior-level positions. In Canada, only 10% of women within the foreign service hold a senior-level position. This is an issue Canada is actively tackling head-on. Outside of these internal imbalances, Canada is doing its fair share to ensure that gender is being brought to the forefront of its international policy. Currently, 95% of Canada’s foreign assistance funds are being directly, or indirectly, aimed at gender-related issues.

The wealth of knowledge exchanged through the panel discussion demonstrates how far feminist foreign policy has come. Shifting away from the boundaries of a conceptual framework, feminist foreign policy has gained a momentum of its own. With nations such as Sweden, Finland, Canada and Switzerland advocating for an international feminist agenda, the actualisation of a gender-equal world feels possible. Key notions such as transparency, accountability and sustainability all point towards an inclusive framework hoping to break problematic systems and make women’s rights a priority. Germany’s upcoming membership of the Security Council has the potential to further this sentiment. Keeping a close eye on events as they unfold, we can only hope that Germany follows in the footsteps of other nations and chooses to make the promotion of a gender-equal society an issue of international importance.

Event summary by CFFP Germany. 

Photos by Waleria Schuele