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  • Writer's pictureThe Gender Security Project


Updated: Jul 11

Scotland is, at the time of writing (July 2023), working toward adopting its feminist foreign policy. Preparing well ahead, it has released a document to set the scene ahead of its planned stakeholder engagement to define and shape its feminist approach to foreign policy: A first to follow this route.

In this document, the Scottish Government sets the tone by looking at existing definitions, outlining its rationale, aims, and next steps. In its introductory segment, the government establishes that it reiterated its commitment under the 2021-2022 Programme for Government to ensure alignment and coherence between its foreign policies and domestic policies, and focus on fairness and inclusion. They also affirm the commitment to ensuring coherence with the Global Affairs Framework. Interestingly, Scotland also states that "while foreign policy currently remains the responsibility of the UK Government, there is a clear role for Scotland in being a good global citizen and making a constructive contribution to addressing global challenges." It centers its record of engaging internationally within its current constitutional arrangements in international development and climate justice. It sees that it is imperative for Scotland to be more active globally, aims to reduce gender and other inequalities at home and abroad, and believes that the Scottish Government – and other regional and devolved governments globally – can make a significant contribution to advancing the core principles of feminist foreign ppolicy. The note acknowledges that its "feminist approach to foreign policy will be different in its reach compared to countries with the full powers of an independent state."

The document also presents an overview of existing feminist foreign policies, and definitions advanced by civil society, such as those by the ICRW and CFFP, and aims at developing its own working definition of a feminist approach to foreign policy.

Under a separate section in its rationale and aims, Scotland suggests that its approach is rooted in: the key values of fairness, equality, and inclusion; a commitment to international human rights standards; securing a fair and just global transition to a net zero and climate-resilient future; and an internationalist outlook based on cooperation and the rule of law. The Scottish Government also establishes what it has accomplished so far in pursuit of its strong commitment to advancing feminist foreign policies internationally. It names its partnership with UN Women to launch the the Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement on Gender Equality and Climate Change at COP26; its effort of trebling the Climate Justice Fund to £36 million over this parliamentary term, of which £2 million is dedicated to addressing loss and damage, recognising those least responsible for the global climate emergency are being affected first and most severely by it; its contributions to the WPS Agenda through the Women in Conflict 1325 Fellowship; and its provision of funding to Comic Relief to support programmes that empower women and girls through sport to challenge and address social issues such as violence against women experienced by vulnerable communities in Zambia, Rwanda and Malawi.

Scotland also aims to: take a human-rights based approach to development; establish a new Equalities Programme, including a Women and Girls’ Empowerment Fund; decolonise our International Development programmes; support partner country­led development; ensure that Global South voices continue to be heard beyond the review by establishing an advisory Global South Programme Panel; and increase the International Development Fund from £10m to £15m per annum during this parliamentary term to contribute to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality internationally. It has also recognised the importance of gender in the Vision for Trade and in our first Annual Report when considering the differential impacts of trade on society. Scotland also supported the Women’s Environment Development Organisation to address gender equality in climate action in the Global South and directly support gender equality at the annual Conference of Parties.

In a first in the international community, Scotland acknowledges that it can do more, and names the fact that COVID-19 laid bare the exacerbated structural inequalities within and beyond Scotland. It mindfully acknowledges the adverse impact of the pandemic and related lockdowns on women, minority ethnic groups, people with disabilities, and folks who faced gender-based violence.

With this foundation, the document identities the aims of the intended approach as follows:

  • To put the rights and empowerment of women and girls, and other marginalised groups at its heart.

  • To listen to, and learn from, others and take an intersectional approach in seeking to understand how multiple

  • To complement domestic policy that aims to address gender inequality in Scotland.

  • To explore ways to continue supporting efforts to ensure appropriate representation and diversity of input, including from the Global South and civil society, for an international system that works for all.

  • To apply a feminist lens to all elements of our international policy considerations.

The document also declares a commitment to stakeholder engagement by learning from those already pursuing feminist foreign policies, and the most affected by global challenges such as climate change, poverty and insecurity, for example through our new Global South Programme Panel for International Development.

It aims to host training sessions and workshops with stakeholders with the intention to:

  • Inform the development of a feminist approach to foreign policy for Scotland;

  • Build an evidence base and fill gaps in knowledge;

  • Seek views on a definition that would work in the Scottish context;

  • Identify key priority areas of Scotland’s approach;

  • Help inform measurable policy outcomes; and

  • Build relationships with key actors in the field and develop long-term networks.

The proposed policy shall seek to focus on climate and economic justice, and peace. To this end, it aims to center these questions as part of its stakeholder engagement:

1. What should the core principles of a feminist approach to Scotland’s international activity be?

2. Where should the Scottish Government focus its efforts to ensure our actions have most impact?

3. What does it mean in practice to look at international work through a feminist lens?

4. Which policies or programmes that Scotland is already delivering domestically or internationally should we build on?

5. Should Scotland take a feminist approach to international development? If so, what would this look like?

6. How can Scotland ensure that human rights are at the core of its approach and that we play our part in building international capacity to advance human rights?

7. What is the one action you want the Scottish Government to take as part of its approach?

8. How can our approach be monitored and evaluated effectively? How do we know that our policies are having the desired impact?

9. What should the future role of stakeholders be as Scotland’s feminist approach to foreign policy is being implemented?

The Scottish Story

Scotland is a powerful exception to what we've seen defined thus far as the "norm" when it comes to feminist foreign policies. Right from the fact that it is a devolved state within a union, with an active movement seeking independence, to the fact that it strives to start from a feminist approach by centering a wide-ranging stakeholder consultation, there is much to learn from the Scottish approach. Originally rolled out and proposed by Nicola Sturgeon, it appears that Humza Yousaf is committed to seeing it through - he has made open commitments to support women and trans rights. He has affirmed his commitment to Sturgeon's legacy, but no official statement has been made on the feminist foreign policy. That the government website continues to carry the feminist foreign policy approach appears evidence enough to suggest a commitment to seeing this through.


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