Disarmament, Diplomacy, and Decolonisation - The Germany Launch Event Summary - Panel 2

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On September 20th, 2018, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) host in Berlin the official launch of its German branch. The event counted with the participation of activists, scholars, members of the German parliament, and national and international diplomats. Following the first panel discussion on the need for a feminist foreign policy, the second panel discussed disarmament, diplomacy, and decolonisation. With Politics Lecturer at University of Oxford, Dr. Jennifer Cassidy moderating, the panelists - Kübra Gümüsay, Forbes 30 under 30, journalist, and activist; Prof. Dr. Elvira Rosert, Junior Professor for International Relations, Peace Research and Security Policy at University of Hamburg; Prof. Lana Sirri, Assistant Professor in Gender and Religion at Maastricht University - debated over a range of challenges: from defining feminist foreign policy to implementing such a policy at a practical level.

Cassidy opened up the debate on defining a feminist foreign policy as a continuous substantive discussion around “what it is and what it should be”, moving far beyond gender parity in the diplomatic service. While all panelists agreed that feminist foreign policy should place the interests of the people over the ones of the state, Gümüsay and Sirri highlighted the need to acknowledge privileges among people for correcting power imbalances. Gümüsay noted that the ability of a powerful country speaking could mean that a less powerful one is not being heard. This idea of one “taking up space” from a more marginalised and excluded was also echoed by Sirri, however, among individuals instead of nations. She claimed that a feminist foreign policy promotes intersectional justice, in which inclusive protective laws address and acknowledge the systemic, institutional, and structural discrimination pattern presented in individual cases. For this reason, she encourages that we should start recognising “the different discriminations we share as feminists” to avoid augmenting the gap among women and move forward.   

When Rosert approached feminist foreign policy as a matter of human security with concrete foreign policy measures on the ground, she labelled it as humane foreign policy. Naturally, the conversation turned into the challenges around labelling feminist foreign policy as feminist. Gümüsay pointed that such label entails we are striving towards something not ever achieved before and that we may make mistakes in this process. Cassidy went further by affirming that we should not be afraid of making mistakes since we do not have all the answers, recalling the evolving nature of feminist foreign policy. They were also concerned about having feminist foreign policy used instrumentally in a patronising manner to achieve capitalist and nationalistic interests.

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Another challenge brought up during the debate was the legacy of colonialism: to what extent feminist foreign policy could reconcile with it and be based on redistributional justice? Sirri noted the tendency of speaking of colonialism as we are past it; however, it still exists, for instance, in Palestine. Gümüsay prefered to explore two strategies to tackle this issue. Firstly, rethinking the possible allyships to deal with the colonial legacies in terms of racism within societies. This means how allies should co-work in the international level based on certain values around which allyships are created. Secondly, rethinking fundamental elements such as the language used because it shapes the way we think the world. The connotation of the words currently used in diplomacy does incorporate colonial values, therefore, framing our perception of the world. So, coining a language purely for diplomacy can dismantle such power-dynamics. Also, it would enable equal access to mutual understanding, which translation cannot grant considering that so much is lost in this communication process. Mentioning the link between postcolonialism and feminism, Rosert recalled that the postcolonial perspective also risks of being abused and misused similarly. The apparent contradictions between both - i.e. how being critical of the West - may be used to place setbacks and to preserve the status quo, endangering women’s reproductive rights, for example.

Focusing on diplomacy, Cassidy made a provocative comment that the research area of ‘gender and diplomacy’ should be instead ‘gender of diplomacy’ due to its gendered practice that values a western masculine archetype. Sirri added that, even though there has been a feminisation of arms diplomacy, women tend to be concentrated in the third sector where career is precarious and labour is largely unpaid. While they are 45% in international organisations and civil society, they are only 30% in government delegations and negotiations. Nevertheless, Rosert claimed that it is not simply about having women, but where they are is what makes it feminist. She questioned whether having female pilots, female soldiers make it feminist or gender equality. She rather endorsed breaking the equivalence of ‘feminist meaning woman, or feminist meaning gender’ and changing the culture of organisation to have it as a feminist organisation. On the contrary, Gümüsay believes that equal representation and a cultural shift are a parallel strategy, in which women with a feminist agenda work from within complements the work from those radically rethinking diplomacy on the fundamental elements  previously mentioned - i.e. language. For her, the question would rather be to put a vision forward: drafting (not a fully thought idea) what are we striving to, how could we live differently. Alongside Cassidy, she acknowledged that this creative space requests moving from the ‘criticising position’ to the ‘being criticised one’.

 Marissa Conway and Kristina Lunz, CFFP co-founders and country director, introducing the Advisory Council

Marissa Conway and Kristina Lunz, CFFP co-founders and country director, introducing the Advisory Council

Narrowing the scope to disarmament and issues of war, Rosert emphasised that advocating for being part an army would not be feminist in this feminist draft they were articulating. She believes that the question relies on addressing how we understand power and its use. Could we actually protect ourselves from this power? However, Sirri prefered to look at the substance of weapons by focusing on how the production and use of weapons are gendered, affecting women, men and children differently. She added that the correlation between the presence of guns in society and domestic violence; the increase of the latter augment the risks of women dying from the former. Gümüsay, on the other hand, argued that disarmament starts with language and its ability to dehumanise an entire group of people by calling them ‘the axis of evil’. The ‘weaponised war language’, as she called it, reduce them to evil, making it easy to kill this group since they are no human.

At the end, panelists emphasised that domestic and foreign policy are intertwined and should be work side to side. It is clear that moving forward with feminist foreign policy requires unlearning the sexist and racist views we were trained, and constantly learning this new unknown path. It should not accommodate to what has been achieved and start patronising others. It is a continuous reflective framework that combines gender parity and gender diversity in terms of agenda and decision-making process. In parallel to Cassidy's conclusion, ‘women are in foreign policy, we are here to stay’, so is feminist foreign policy.


Event summary by Raíssa Vitório Pereira, CFFP Global Online Journal Editor-in-Chief; Aly Marczynski, CFFP Germany Business Operations; and Leonie Schmid, CFFP Germany Partnerships.


Photos by Waleria Schuele