The Brief — Time for a more feminist foreign policy

The Brief — Time for a more feminist foreign policy |

This International Women’s Day, as in years before, and likely in years to come, women are faced with a long fight ahead of them.

Global progress on women’s rights is “vanishing before our eyes”, UN chief António Guterres warned earlier this week, saying gender equality would take another three centuries to achieve.

“Women’s rights are being abused, threatened, and violated around the world,” he added, pointing to Afghanistan, where “women and girls have been erased from public life”.

As a woman working in foreign and security policy, it’s difficult to bring to mind a female colleague who hasn’t experienced some form of hate speech, threats or discrimination.

This reporter has personally experienced this, having been told, in less pleasant words, to ‘please go back to the stove’ or stop claiming competence on foreign policy matters ‘she can’t possibly understand’.

Admittedly, this is only a small struggle compared to the tens of thousands of women fighting daily for what should be considered basic human rights.

In the past decade, wars and conflicts have doubled in numbers, as has the number of refugees – from 40 to more than 80 million globally. According to the UN, women are disproportionately victims of these conflicts and violence.

There has also been enough research proving that women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution can improve outcomes before, during, and after conflict.

Yet, they still remain underrepresented at negotiating tables.

Sweden was the first country to adopt a ‘feminist foreign policy’ in 2014 when former foreign minister Margot Wallström argued that gender issues should govern how Stockholm doles out aid and conducts trade negotiations with third countries.

While the traditional definition of foreign and security policy focuses on military security and economic interests, feminist foreign policy lays additional emphasis on human security and human rights.

There is no uniform application of the approach, but one dominant idea includes increasing the number of women working in foreign policy at home and abroad, which could help reduce conflict and enhance peaceful outcomes.

The idea has since caught on, with comparable policies adopted by Canada, Mexico, France, and Germany.

It might be an abstract concept, not particularly measurable and often aspirational and difficult to implement. But why not at least try?

The EU decided on Tuesday (7 March) to impose sanctions on individuals and entities deemed to be responsible for violence and rights abuses against women.

Those include nine individuals, including high-ranking officials of the Russian Army involved in the brutal invasion of Ukraine, two Taliban ministers, and three entities accused of perpetrating violations of women’s rights on a large and systematic scale.

The move, adopted unanimously by the bloc’s 27 member states, was deliberately timed to land ahead of International Women’s Day.

It marks the first time the bloc uses its human rights sanctions regime, established in December 2020, to target crimes of sexual violence.

This is why on this International Women’s Day, it’s worth remembering all those examples that have been making a difference in recent years.

So here’s to all the women fighting in armed and peacekeeping forces, sitting at diplomatic negotiating tables and protesting in the streets.

Think of the Ukrainian women dedicating themselves to all forms of resistance to Russia’s invasion (and prior to that).

While before the invasion, the Ukrainian army already had some 25% of women, they now serve and fight in nearly all military formations, the armed forces and the national guard.

Add to this the leading role women took to keep the war-torn country running, supporting humanitarian and medical aid, and caring for children.

Think of Iranian and Kurdish women, who rose up in protest against the death of Jina Mahsa Amini following her arrest by the morality police, providing the spark that ignited a movement of protest and demand throughout Iran. 

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and women’s rights activist, has been the torchbearer of an unwavering campaign against mandatory hijab and the fight against Iran’s gender apartheid regime.

It’s not only about the right of Iranian women to have a choice in what they dress and how they live their lives, it is also a struggle for democracy at all levels of Iranian society. 

Think of Afghan women and girls who are standing up to the Taliban regime and its curbing of curbing rights of Afghan women and girls through the imposition of hijab decrees, gender-segregated laws and exclusionary education policies.

Think of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the Belarusian politician and human rights activist who challenged the authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election and continues to fight for a democratic Belarus.

Think of Maria Ressa, a Filipino-American journalist and head of the news website Rappler, known for her coverage of press freedom and the Philippine government’s war on drugs.

Those movements march on despite a high level of repression, including arrests, imprisonment, and executions.

And these names are only a few among thousands of female leaders in all fields, be it state leaders, soldiers, peacekeepers, journalists, judges, activists, protesters…

Every single one of them is a reason not to shoot down attempts for a feminist foreign policy.

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The Roundup

The rule of law situation in Greece is on the edge, given the poor media reporting, threats against journalists, and severe shortcomings in the justice sector, a mission of the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties (LIBE) concluded during a visit to Athens.

The mother of Yevgeny Prigozhin, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin and the head of Russia’s Wagner mercenary group fighting in Ukraine, won a challenge in a top EU court on Wednesday (8 March) to be removed from the bloc’s sanctions list.

The European Parliament’s rapporteur Birgit Sippel has sent a letter, seen by EURACTIV, to the Swedish ambassador, asking the EU Council presidency holders to accelerate work on a file that seems to be off their priority list.

French energy and oil sector employees may be pivotal in pressuring the government to give up on its hotly-contested pensions reform plan, as they are pledge a “black week for energy” in protest of the plans.

A Bulgarian fact-checking news website risks bankruptcy after an insurance company filed a SLAPP lawsuit for the record sum of 1 million leva (€500,000) for a publication based on the official transcript of a government session.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius on Wednesday (8 March) warned against reaching premature conclusions on who was responsible for blowing up the Nord Stream pipelines, suggesting the attack could also have been a “false flag” operation to blame Ukraine.

Ukraine is in urgent need of more rehabilitation care centres, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said at a conference on Tuesday (7 March) as conflict and civilian casualties reach into the thousands. 

The Iranian government claimed last week it had found a new deposit of lithium in the Hamedan province, worth 10% of all global lithium resources, but experts say this marks no shift in EU-Iran diplomatic ties.

As the European Commission puts the finishing touches to its Critical Raw Materials Act ahead of publication next week, recyclers have issued a word of caution: Europe should not get its hopes too high on recycling, at least not in the short term.

Rearing of cattle or pigs in farms using extensive production systems should be exempted from the scope of the EU’s plans to slash industrial emissions, according to a leaked draft of the ministers’ general approach, which also proposes a stepwise approach for when the new rules should apply.

EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski defended the European Commission’s ambition to slash emissions in livestock farming, despite acknowledging weaknesses in the data collection process used to put the proposal together.

Don’t forget to check out our Health Brief for a roundup of weekly news on all things healthcare in Europe. 

Look out for…

  • Commission Vice-President Vĕra Jourová in Prague: attends inauguration of new president of the Czech Republic, Petr Pavel. 
  • International Partnerships Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen visits Stockholm; participates in informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers. 
  • Commission Vice-President Dubravka Suica on official visit to Helsinki.
  • Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting. 
  • Informal meeting of trade ministers. 
  • ​​Informal meeting of development ministers continues on Thursday.

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic/Nathalie Weatherald]


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