The Future of Feminist Foreign Policy: Notes from the FFP Futures Lab 2
As we share this report from our Second Feminist Foreign Policy Lab, we hold the people of Palestine, past, present, and future in our hearts. Imagination is resistance to colonialism, and we earnestly hope that the seeds this lab sowed encourages dreaming, visioning, and enacting a feminist future. Dominant images and oppressive narratives that go unchallenged and unaddressed colonize the future. We believe that futures-oriented solidarity is built on the foundations of exposing assumptions, strengthening hope, amplifying calls for liberation, and nurturing creative imagination. We've heard multiple voices world over affirm that we aren't liberating Palestine, Palestine is liberating us, and we echo this sentiment.
The second futures lab on feminist foreign policy in our series began with participants Among what the group thought it knew about Feminist Foreign Policy, there were notes acknowledging that the current state of foreign policy is outdated, there are limitations to the scope of feminist foreign policies as we see them operate, and there are several opportunities and challenges to be cognizant of in developing and implementing a feminist foreign policy. The group acknowledged the link between Feminist Foreign Policy and decolonizing aid, waking up to the connection between Feminist Foreign Policy and how people behave as part of the collective both in community and communally, and how Feminist Foreign Policy differs from gender mainstreaming and the women, peace, and security agenda.
We started by thinking first about what is most likely to happen in 2050 when it comes to Feminist Foreign Policy. The group was invited to visualize the world and think through what was happening there, what people are doing, and what a foreign policy looks like in that world, what the shared values and common tensions are likely to be, and perhaps even barriers to transformative feminist action in the future. Among the pull of the future, participants brought up key themes that included the decline of the Eurocentric world order and US dominance, and the rise of the BRICS as a new actor in international relations, creating, in the process, a multipolar world. On the one hand, there was a sense that there would be an equalizing among the Global North and Global South actors, whereas some felt that there would be a widening chasm between the two blocks of states, bearing in mind how aid-making dynamics may tend to augment existing disparities and power dynamics between former colonizers and the colonized. Participants also named the challenges of climate collapse and mass migration, and space colonization that is deeply reflective of current-world realities. Moving to the push of the present, the group named the rise of youth activism pushing states to change policies and the related phenomenon of ageism – which is also tending to push out some of the wisdom and tried and tested knowledge across time, and imposing the pressure on the older generation to push forward to have the health and energy of a younger person. The group also named white privilege and colonialism, threats to human rights defenders from the state in the name of security, intergenerational fairness and movements seeking transformational change, fluid attitudes toward gender and sexuality, as well as the decline in state power. Among the items constituting the weight of the past, the group named white supremacy that has been structurally solidified, unequal power dynamics in the United Nations, old boys’ clubs with a heavy control over wealth, connections, and influence, colonialism, and scarcity mindsets, as well as historic emissions from rich countries causing climate catastrophes. There was a deep acknowledgement of the fact that colonialism was never quite abolished – rather, it was repackaged as neo-colonialism.
In identifying the desirable futures, one of the common goals the group sort centered on the principles of empathy, justice, safety, community, equity, and freedom. They collectively landed on the values of self-reliance, inclusion, peace, and freedom from war, and imagined a society that would be free of violence, war, overconsumption, silos, classism, racism sexism, ableism, colonialism, anti-gender rhetoric and thought, and queerphobia. One participant imagined a point in the future where the world would be free of all “isms,” including feminism, because we should go to a point where we no longer need feminism because everyone enjoys the same rights and opportunities to exercise their rights. Co-existing meaningfully with nature without extraction and prioritizing living with the flora and fauna in harmony found a significant place in this frame of desirable futures.
The group brought together music, art, and photographs, and articulated statements that affirmed their collective imagination of the future of feminist foreign policy. With powerful images attesting to love and care, affirming that activism is not terrorism, calling attention to decolonizing knowledge, collective rest, and co-creation, collaboration, and coexistence, the group also found space for music and books they could rely on in the journey to get there. Beautiful landscapes, a shot of eco-friendly and non-colonial technology coexisting with humankind and nature in Marvel’s Wakanda from the Black Panther series, and webs to build into the idea of interconnection affirmed the future as a world for everyone to find space in, and thrive. The group emphasized on the value of collaborating rather than competing, working together in solidarity rather than alone in silos, and prioritizing intergenerational equality and inclusion. In reviewing the collage, there was a question on why we tend to imagine the future without limits but in the present, our behaviors reflect a different reality. Some contemplation gave way to one possible explanation to the effect that our minds operate free of condition in imagining futures – colonialism, capitalism, and systemic and structural violence find ways to keep our imagination in check. Take a look at the collage the group co-created:
The participants were given the following reframe scenario:
Welcome to an alternative world. States are split into three self-proclaimed global coalitions: feminist, conservative, and the unbranded. Most of the conservative states are former colonial powers, half of them have nuclear weapons. A third of the unbranded states are former colonies but with strong ties to their colonisers. Two unbranded states have nuclear capacity. One feminist state was a former coloniser, two have nuclear weapons. But, mass public support is with anti-institutional, heterarchical people's movements. These are also splintered, some claim to be feminist, others conservative, and many are unbranded. Indigenous movements are strong in the unbranded states. There is a transnational mobilisation for human rights. There is also an active anarchist movement. The fascist movement is strong. Each type of movement exists within all states. Technology has been an enabler of connection for all movements. The climate is in total breakdown.
What does a feminist foreign policy look like in this world?
What does accountability / justice mean in this world?
What does gender / sexuality look like in this world?
What does security look like in this world?
The group was divided into two, a Red Room and a Green Room, and were invited to talk through the scenario, and report out in creative ways – with space to do a role play if they so felt like it. The Green Room reported out that they contemplated the role of the media in the world, and how technology, climate, and indigenous groups were all actors in this world – where indigenous communities are resisting colonialism and facing the brunt of climate change. They reflected on how, in terms of systems, nuclear capacity is being used. Owing to climate change, they made space for imagining its potential as a useful force. They then discussed how Feminist Foreign Policy could play a role in determining whether nuclear capacity is good or bad for that material world. The Red Room focused on how the current state of affairs are effectively reflected in the case, and envisioned future states as having moved away from the Westphalian template, and also paid close attention to the unbranded states, whose identity might not necessarily be divorced from feminist values – they may have made a decision not to use the term, but may still be pursuing similar values. They interrogated the power dynamics in play in this world, and who was in charge of setting the nuclear agenda.
New Questions and Goals
The group gravitated toward the ideas of looking at identifying who gets left behind among those that are to benefit from a feminist foreign policy and organize citizen councils for more future labs. There was a focus on creating safe spaces by listening better in a super noisy world. The group sought to look at building conversations and mainstreaming conversations around feminisms to see how they can be desirable for the planet and its people. Underlying all the new goals was the commitment to transformation by shifting power and transforming existing systems. Building meaningful connections among existing movements was identified as a valuable pathway to that point.
Reflecting on these proposed action steps, participants worked together to generate a backcast, working backwards to create a roadmap for these visions, noting the milestones, obstacles and wildcards that may emerge on the journey.
EU adopts an FFP
Human Rights are centred
Governments and funders shift power
Democratisation of philanthropy
Democratisation of technology
Major economies take tangible climate action
Feminist practice in the everyday space grows and creates new norms, societal values and outlook
Well-resourced anti-rights movements
Right-wing groups use liberal language to fight against human rights
Lack of resources for movements
Polycrisis grows and obstructs meaningful change
States use security to crush human rights movements
Emerging feminist leaders; Something just brings us together
Climate collapse and a new world order emerges
AI doing most of the work
We discover life outside earth or it discovers us.
The lab came to a close with a POLAK activity, in which participants note their sense of agency and hope for the future of feminist foreign policy. Whilst individual agency may be minimal, the common sentiment that solidarity and collective action would have greater impact and as such address the multiplicity of challenges today and turn the future in a more hopeful direction.