The Politics of Poverty

Ideas and analysis from Oxfam America's policy experts

Crafting a feminist foreign policy—together

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Three Nobel peace laureates join Canadian women thought-leaders in Ottawa for an inspiring pre-federal election conversation on the potential for feminist ideas and approaches to transform foreign policy in 2015. Pictured L-R, Leymah Gbowee (Liberia), Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland), Shirin Ebadi (Iran),Jody Williams (U.S.A) Tawakkol Karman (Yeman) and Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Guatemala). Six Nobel peace laureates arrive in Belfast for a conference on war & militarism. The Women are all members Nobel Womens Initiative. Photo credit: Aurora PA/Nobel Women’s Initiative.

Help us envision a bold new approach to foreign policy in the US.

There’s a quiet trend emerging in foreign policy: feminism. It started with Sweden in 2014, then Canada in 2017, France and Luxembourg in 2019, and now Mexico in 2020. Countries with new political leadership are launching feminist foreign policies and feminist aid policies.

What is a feminist foreign policy? Here’s one definition:

Feminist foreign policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes gender equality and environmental integrity; enshrines the human rights of all; seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchal and male-dominated power structures; and allocates significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision. Feminist foreign policy is coherent in its approach across all of its levers of influence, anchored by the exercise of those values at home and co-created with feminist activists, groups and movements, at home and abroad.

Given the current administration’s efforts to roll back progressive policies, it’s hard to imagine such policies taking shape in the US today. But with an election looming, what could it look like?

Envisioning a feminist foreign policy agenda

A group of advocates and experts, including Oxfam, convened last summer to imagine what a feminist foreign policy for the US might look like. Led by staff of the International Center for Research on Women, we crafted a “discussion draft” called Toward a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States. We are now releasing it for comment, criticism, and improvement. Will you take a few minutes and read it?

As far as I know, it’s the first and only time something like this has been done. And it’s just the start. Our draft is missing sections on humanitarian and immigration policy, which we’re working on. It’s structured like this:

  1. Background
  2. Definition
  3. Key principles
  4. Cross-cutting recommendations to implement key principles
  5. Agency and process recommendations
  6. Accountability mechanisms

So, what do you think?  Will you give us your comments and suggestions? If you’re not inclined but want to learn more about this topic, read my previous blog on the topic.

For the ready and willing, here are a few discussion questions:

  1. What feedback do you have on the draft definition for feminist foreign policy?
  2. We propose a number of principles for feminist foreign policy. How do those strike you?
  3. We propose two models for a central leadership structure for the design and implementation of a feminist foreign policy. Which strikes you as the better option? What would you add or adjust?
  4. We would like to propose specific funding levels for gender equality in US foreign assistance. What would you recommend?
  5. We would like to propose an overarching appropriation amount for operationalizing a feminist foreign policy. What would you recommend?
  6. What examples of accountability mechanisms are you aware of that you would add to/refine our proposals here?
  7. What else might we be missing?

If you’re willing, put your comments below—we’d love an open debate. If you want to communicate privately, feel free to email directly to: ffp4usa@gmail.com.

Looking forward to your comments and thoughts. Together, we can help craft a feminist foreign policy platform that will make us all proud.

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