Foreign policy may encompass any of the realms of state action and sets the course for a state’s interaction with fellow states, international relations, and other extra-national entities. It is the action plan by which a state establishes its character internationally, both by emphasising certain attributes and by de-emphasising others, to advance certain political, socio-cultural, and economic projects.
Many elements, such as geography, socio-political factors, or domestic politics to name a few, may influence a state’s foreign policy and people still debate which one has more influence. However, that men have been the principal actors in defining foreign policy throughout history is an undeniable fact, with problematic consequences, I dare to add.
History books are full of descriptions of brilliant statesmen whose names have gone down in history as epitomes of cunning and strategic brilliance. The same cannot be said for women where only a handful could be counted among those ranks. Whilst names such as Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Indira Gandhi, or Benazir Bhutto may inspire awe due to their success in the men-dominated realm of politics, their rule did not truly disrupt gendered dynamics. In a way, patriarchal assumptions still very much defined their actions as stateswomen. So yes, patriarchy and its associated discriminatory regime remained the bedrock of modern society.
In recent years, increased awareness in relation to patriarchal structures and the need for an intersectional approach to tackle the challenges deriving from multi-layered forms of discrimination has failed to truly affect foreign policymaking. If politics is only timidly opening up to greater gender inclusivity, foreign affairs have remained a sector still overwhelmingly reserved for men. Maybe because it often involves decisions on spheres traditionally seen as masculine such as the military and diplomacy. Yet, decisions made by policymakers in this sector have profound and immediate impacts on society as a whole – and, as studies have shown, women and other minoritised groups are often disproportionately and adversely affected by many of the outcomes of foreign policy, such as war and natural disasters.
To respond to this state of affairs, activists and stakeholders have called for the implementation of a more inclusive approach to foreign policy. This has been termed “Feminist Foreign Policy.” The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy defines this perspective as “a political framework centered around the wellbeing of marginalised people and invokes processes of self-reflection regarding foreign policy’s hierarchical global systems.” In this framework, policymakers are encouraged to go beyond a traditional approach to engage critically with patriarchal, racist, capitalist, heteronormative, colonialist, imperialist, and militarist frames. Basically, demanding to go beyond traditional influences on foreign policy. Yes, there can’t be peace without intersectional feminism.
Far from remaining solely theoretical, the concept of Feminist Foreign Policy has acquired visibility in the field of foreign affairs, and to this day three states have officially adopted it: Sweden (2014), Canada (2017), and Mexico (2020). Other countries and political parties have pledged to do the same or at least discussed the idea. The concept has gained traction across the global political panorama and has become a hot topic in international and domestic spheres. Whether this approach will become widely adopted in the near future and, above all, whether it will tangibly influence the wellbeing of society remains, however, to be seen.