By Kirthi Jayakumar
Image Credits: Koz Gazetesi (Link)
There have been recent calls for the UK to adopt a Feminist Foreign Policy. Chatham House argues that “Adopting a foreign policy that prioritizes gender equality and human rights could help define post-Brexit Britain as a positive force in the world.” France has declared its intent to pursue a Feminist Foreign Policy, and believes that centring women and girls and their rights is fundamental to their foreign policy.
Valuable as such a commitment to addressing violence against women and girls is, a colonial power’s foreign policy cannot be feminist if it fails to acknowledge and apologize for histories of colonialism. The structural violence that was normalised by colonialism continues to enable violence against women and girls – and any colonial power must acknowledge the role it has played in bringing us to this point.
Histories of Impunity
At the end of the Second World War, several of the world’s states gained independence without recourse, justice, or even an apology for the historical trauma, structural and overt violence, and divisiveness that colonialism normalised. The 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, for example, laid the foundation for the British and French empires to define the future of the world. To date, the impact of the lines they drew on the map for other countries continue to keep war, overt violence, and structural violence alive. The policies of divide and rule continue to inform sectarian vote-bank politics in former colonies. Lands partitioned and occupied, and resources appropriated during colonialism have established entrenched patterns of violence that now continue like business as normal.
No colonial power can be isolated from all the advantages, benefits, and privileges it gained in the era of colonialism. The era of decolonization did not mean a fresh and equal starting line for all states. This continues to place several countries in challenging positions with armed conflict, violence against women, appropriation and occupation of land, and poverty. The benefits that colonialism offered continue in the form of imperialism: Western nations now invade these very nations in the name of humanitarian intervention.
They use “woke” arguments to back these policies of intervention: oftentimes, around protecting women, girls, and minorities – virtually normalizing homonationalism and pinkwashing, and striving to save women of colour from men of colour (Pratt, 2013). This, against the backdrop of colonial policies that included antisodomy laws (Britain) and civilizing missions (France). More than 80 countries around the world still criminalize consensual homosexual conduct between adult men, and often between adult women, and over half those countries have these laws because they once were British colonies. France also imposed sodomy laws on its colonies as a means of social control, versions of which continue to survive in countries such as Benin, Cameroon, and Senegal.
No Feminist Edifices on Colonial Foundations
The quintessence of Feminist Foreign Policy lies in questioning everything that is antithetical to feminism: colonialism being one. No colonial power has formally apologized for their colonialism, their pursuit of power and violence, and the harms they normalized in their former colonies.
The countries consequent economic dependence to their former masters meant that an amicable relationship was necessary for any form of sustenance. Nigel Farage once went on record to say that he did not think Britain should “apologise for what people did 300 years ago.” Boris Johnson once said colonialism in Africa should never have ended and dismissed Britain’s role in slavery. On the other hand, Macron said that there is neither repentance nor apologies for France’s colonial abuses.
Bearing this in mind, it isn’t possible to see foreign policies adopted by these nations as feminist. The fundamental challenge to feminism is structural patriarchy and the normalization of systemic violence – which invariably pave the way for overt violence. Divide and rule politics in colonial times have remained an enduring foundation for the calculated, brutal use of sexual violence in armed conflict, where women’s bodies have been sites of violence aimed at the communities they belong to. To build outward facing national action plans or to establish aid policies that place women and girls in these communities at the centre is effectively to inflict the wound and swoop in with the “cure” for it just so you look like the hero – while also doing nothing to acknowledge, apologize for, or even remedy your own conduct in causing the injury in the first place.
Unless colonial powers recognize the many ways in which their power stacked up the world order in entirely non-feminist ways, no policies they make and implement can ever be truly feminist.
“For the UK, a Feminist Foreign Policy Is Both the Right Thing to Do and Smart Strategy” https://www.chathamhouse.org/2017/08/uk-feminist-foreign-policy-both-right-thing-do-and-smart-strategy
“'No repentance nor apologies' for colonial abuses in Algeria, says Macron” https://www.france24.com/en/france/20210120-no-repentance-nor-apologies-for-colonial-abuses-in-algeria-says-macron
“Boris Johnson said colonialism in Africa should never have ended and dismissed Britain’s role in slavery” https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-colonialism-africa-british-empire-slavery-a9564541.html
“Britain Should Not Apologise For Its Colonial Past, Says Nigel Farage” https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/nigel-farage-election-colonial-past-labour-manifesto-british-empire_uk_5dd3e982e4b082dae8141a1d
Britain Doesn't Need To Apologise For Its Colonial Past – It Needs To Acknowledge It https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/britain-colonial-legacy_uk_5dd7d34de4b0d50f328ddb8c
Pratt, N. 2013. ‘Reconceptualizing Gender, Reinscribing Racial–Sexual Boundaries in International Security: The Case of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security”’. International Studies Quarterly, 57, 772-783.
"This Alien Legacy: The Origins of "Sodomy" Laws in British Colonialism." https://www.hrw.org/report/2008/12/17/alien-legacy/origins-sodomy-laws-british-colonialism