• The Gender Security Project

It isn't Feminist Foreign Policy if you're Columbusing the Narrative

Updated: May 5

By Kirthi Jayakumar



Source: Meredith Ancret on Medium (Link)


Here are a few pieces of news from the past couple of years:


“In 2014, Margot Wallström made headlines around the world as Sweden became the first country in the world to formally adopt a ‘feminist foreign policy.’ In 2020, Scotland was ‘declared’ the first country in the world with an LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum, set to be implemented from 2021 onward. In 2021, New Zealand laid claim to being the first country to offer paid leave for miscarriages.”


Now let’s read between the lines to see what they should be telling you, but aren’t:


“In 2014, Margot Wallström made headlines around the world as Sweden became the first in the world to adopt a ‘feminist foreign policy.’ For generations together, women from indigenous communities and in several Asian, African, and Latin American countries have practiced and engaged in feminist foreign policy – without naming it thus in the colonizer’s language. In 2020, Scotland was ‘declared’ the first country in the world with an LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum, set to be implemented from 2021 onward. In 2004, Taiwan adopted the Gender Equity Education Act, which establishes LGBTQIA++ inclusive school curriculums. In 2021, New Zealand laid claim to being the first country to offer paid leave for miscarriages. India’s Maternity Benefit legislation (which goes back to 1961) provides 6 weeks of paid leave for women who experience a miscarriage, the Philippines allows 60 days of paid leave for miscarriage at any stage of a woman's pregnancy, Indonesia provides 6 weeks of fully paid miscarriage leave, and Mauritius grants 3 weeks for miscarriage and 14 weeks for stillbirth, and Taiwan provides paid leave that ranges between 5 days and 4 weeks based on the point of time in the pregnancy when the miscarriage occurred. But New Zealand just offers 3 days of paid leaves and doesn't extend the leave to women who elect to have abortions.


This is business-as-normal: an approach that colonialism has come to thrive on, that underlines what we continue to see in global politics. Neocolonial ideas couched in the colonizer’s language are not only occupying space by erasing endeavors that have already been thriving for years, but are also being lauded and rewarded by echo chambers in which these grand declarations are made. The imperial state continues to erase and overwrite histories, appropriate the resources and emotional labour of the repetitively colonized, and like always, call itself the pioneer.


For a state to claim that it is a purveyor of feminist foreign policy without doing the work it takes to truly be feminist, is to simply reassert colonialism all over again. We see this in Canada, France, Luxembourg, and Sweden: armed with policies that are not feminist, and using a term that those policies do not truthfully deserve. By doing so, they are effectively occupying the space that generations of indigenous women, women in Asian, African, and Latin American countries have created and nurtured, and continue to do so as a way of being and doing.


What we see in countries that profess the adoption of feminist foreign policy is also the tendency to cherry pick and limit their policy focus to either gender equality or providing aid to survivors of gender-based violence. While these are definitely feminist goals, a truly feminist foreign policy will not exclusively confine itself to goals particular to gender equality. It will not stop short of questioning all intersectional factors that normalize inequality. Even as there are multiple feminisms world over, at base, they all converge in the comprehension that gender inequality is structural and that gender-based violence takes place against a backdrop of cultural and structural violence that centres on power. Focusing on gender equality goals without questioning structural violence is superficial work at best: and lauding such superficial work as pioneering is virtually offering a trophy for showing up.


The big win in the use of the term “feminist foreign policy” is definitely that more actors are engaging with the dynamic that the term implies. On ground, especially across Africa, Asian, and Latin American nations, the term is a powerful unifier for women to label their work, which aligns with its key attributes. Countries that are quick to adopt feminist foreign policies must first introspect, specifically to identify and course-correct on policies, actions, laws, and political views that normalize structural violence, that target and impact marginalized populations adversely, and that simply do not align with the idea of being feminist. Without this work, no policy can be feminist enough.

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