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Feminist foreign policy – ​​theory and practice

Why the Future of Foreign Policy is Feminist
Forfatter: Kristine Lunz
Forlag: Polity (USA)
FEMINISM / In Why the Future of Foreign Policy is Feminist, Kristina Lunz tries to give feminist foreign policy a concrete content. Sweden, Canada, Germany, France and Mexico have introduced their own feminist foreign policies. But there is no automatic link between increased female representation and improved conditions for women in general.


Women in positions of power are both an example for young girls and kvinner, and a factor that many men have to get used to and accept, since political office actually also gives women power over men."

That was said by Yemen's female ambassador to Italy, Asmahan Abdulhameed Altoqi, in an interview about the role of women in diplomacy in Arab countries. The starting point for the interview was a new report on female representation in world diplomacy which showed that only 21 per cent of the world's ambassadors are women. The Middle East and North Africa are among the regions that do the worst – only ten percent of ambassadors from these countries are women.

For Altoqi, it is a problem that women are not better represented positions of power, both in diplomacy and in society in general, but she warned that representation does not automatically lead to influence on women's position in society: "The fact that women hold important positions, and that most women have the opportunity to take advantage of their rights, is not necessarily the same. The road there is long and requires more effort across various sectors of society," she said.

Feminism as an umbrella term

Women's relative underrepresentation in diplomacy is one of the reasons why German Kristine Lunz wrote the book Why the Future of Foreign Policy is Feminist. The book as such has several major flaws, but the topic is interesting and timely.

Lunz is a supporter of a fundamentally feminist foreign policy. But what does she put in it?

Lunz is a supporter of a principled feminist foreign policy. But what does she put in it? For the German author is feminism as a collective term for the struggle against all oppression:

«Feminism is a collective term for theories and movements that demand and drive political organization and activism. […] It articulates utopias and visions for a fair and equal society in which everyone is free of oppression, marginalization and exclusion. That means an end to injustices and power hierarchies, including sexism, racism, colonialism and classism», skriver Lunz.

In Lunz's understanding, a feminist foreign policy is a foreign policy that promotes these ideals. She mentions Sweden as a leading country in several areas. Sweden was the first country in the world to introduce a pronounced feminist foreign policy (FUP) – a policy the country followed for eight years, from 2014 to 2022.

Yemen's Female Ambassador to Italy, Asmahan Abdulhameed Altoqi

A Swedish experiment

But what did this policy actually consist of, and what results did it produce? An official evaluation report by Swedish FUP shows that the reality was quite far from Lunz's idealistic thoughts.

The three report authors, Ann Towns, Elin Bjarnegård and Katarzyna Jezierska, point out that the feminist policy was largely "old wine in new bottles": Feminist terminology was rarely used, and FUP meant in practice that one simply let more emphasis on traditional gender equality work.

The report also shows that Swedens embassies and relevant public agencies were required to follow a feminist foreign policy, and that those involved were given adequate training – but as many as 45 per cent of the employees at Swedish embassies answered that they had not received any training in the area.

This may be part of the reason why, according to the evaluation report, the FUP was carried out in an "uneven and incomplete" manner.

Despite these shortcomings, Swedish FUP nevertheless produced results. Firstly, it is pointed out in the evaluation report that the term had a unifying effect on the various branches of the Swedish foreign policy apparatus – that is, between aid and development work, trade policy and foreign and security policy.

Furthermore, the Swedish government's active promotion of FUP helped to attract more attention to the topic internationally. Several countries have followed in Sweden's footsteps – Canada, Germany, France and Mexico have subsequently introduced their own feminist foreign policy.

Was the goal achieved?

However, one must ask whether this is a good or bad result. If the main goal of a feminist foreign policy is that men and women in diplomacy should become more equal, one can assume that the Swedish experiment has had positive, albeit moderate, consequences. Not only have several countries adopted their own feminist foreign policy – in the G20 countries the number of female ambassadors also rose from 18 to 21 percent between 2018 and 2023. One can in any case hope that the Swedish initiative has contributed to the increase – although one could perhaps hope an increase of slightly more than three percentage points.

But if the goal of a feminist foreign policy is also to contribute to actual change in the life situation of women (and other oppressed groups) in various corners of the world, it is far more difficult to say whether the Swedish policy has produced results. As Ambassador Altoqi pointed out, there is no automatic relationship between increased female representation and improved conditions for women in general in society.

What is a feminist foreign policy?

Interestingly, the Swedish evaluation report does not touch on this aspect either.

The problem probably lies in the lack of a common definition. What is a feminist foreign policy? How such a policy is implemented in practice, and what one can hope to achieve with it, is impossible to say if one does not first agree on what is concretely included in the term.

Kristina Lunz's book is an attempt to give such a definition. But unfortunately that was the end of the attempt.

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