Feminist foreign policy (FFP) should aim at revising patriarchal and colonial power structures, changing exclusive male-dominated decision-making processes, and designing international politics from a perspective of gender justice. With their new guidelines, the German Foreign Office promises ambitious aims to promote gender-sensitive human rights, strengthen the participation of women at all political levels and ensure a gender-equal access to resources and budgets. However, the implementation of these guidelines remains a key factor for success and some feminist challenges have not been properly addressed.
A Feminist Road for Foreign Policy and the Foreign Office
The Future of German foreign policy will be feminist. According to the German Foreign Office’s newly issued guidelines, its feminist foreign policy implies that the three “Rs” – (gender-sensitive human) rights, representation and resources – must systematically be integrated in all foreign-policy related activities. The three “Rs” refer to an intersectional aspect, which focuses on multiple forms of discrimination related to age, religion, ethnicity, disability or sexual orientation. Compared to other FFPs, a strong focus is put on the rights of LGBTIQ+ people.
The strategic policy paper is structured in ten guidelines focusing on core political issues such as peace and security, crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding, climate and foreign trade policy, foreign cultural and social policy, and the internal processes within the ministry itself. Guideline point 1 prominently places the Agenda Women, Peace and Security, and aims at strengthening efforts to increase the number of women and other marginalized groups in peace negotiations and peacebuilding. Diplomatic efforts will be increased to fight conflict-related sexual violence (CSRV), support survivors and punish the perpetrators. The FFP gives a series of practical examples and mentions, for example, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, which Germany supported in 2022 with 1.5 Million EUR specifically dedicated for the fight against CRSV. The German FFP document stresses the necessity of criminal prosecution of such human rights violations or even war crimes – in March the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court began with its formal investigations in Ukraine.
Guideline one also focuses on strengthening of humanitarian arms control and on arms control and disarmament of Weapons of Mass Destruction. The goal of FFP includes in guideline 1.3 the goal of a “secure world without nuclear weapons”. The gender-specific effects of women suffering from nuclear testing and their compensation must be taken into consideration. Future German arms export controls should not only focus on the CRSV-norm of the Arms Trade Treaty, but on criteria such as the status of violence against women and girls as well as gender-based human rights violations in the recipient country.
The second guideline highlights the needs and actions for gender-sensitive humanitarian aid and gender budgeting in crisis management. A gender-sensitive policy concentrates on the concrete needs of women/girls and other marginalized groups in humanitarian crisis. Such effort encompasses to provide access to sexual and reproductive health or support projects working with survivors of conflict-related sexual violence. Guideline number 3, ‘human rights’ focuses mainly on anti-feminist push-backs – which are taking place in many countries and on the international and EU level – and stresses the importance of sexual and reproductive health and rights. It also includes the fight against female genital mutilation as well as violent discriminations against LGBTIQ+ communities through protection, international alliances, and extra funding.
Germany’s FFP acknowledges the gender-sensitive effects of the climate crisis – more than 80 percent of refugees in 2021 were women, many of whom suffered from the consequences of the climate crisis and are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation. The guidelines mention a gender-mainstreaming of core climate protection institutions such as the gender-action plan which mainly seeks to ensure the full participation of women at all levels of decision-making. Furthermore, the FFP guidelines seek a foreign trade policy where women and other marginalized groups are recognized and included in a more gender-just way. Examples include the economic empowerment of women in the World Trade Organization as well as the discrimination of women and marginalized groups in the textiles and agricultural sector. Finally, guideline 6 commits to future actions enabling participation of women and LGBTIQ+ in arts, culture, science, education, and media for a gender-just societal development, such as through strengthening safe spaces for artists and safeguarding international freedom of press.
Ensuring Gender-Sensitive Practices in the Foreign Office and Abroad
In its second part (guidelines 7-10) FFP commits to changing existing practices in the Foreign Office and German embassies. This is mainly related to gender equality, zero tolerance of discrimination, and getting more women into leading positions in the Foreign Office. The guideline suggests that gender, diversity and inclusion should be made visible as core values in the more than 200 foreign representations abroad and are closely linked to other core norms of German foreign policy such as human rights, democracy promotion and the rule of law. Only 27 percent of the 226 foreign representations are currently led by women. To pursue the aims of active gender-mainstreaming a female ambassador for FFP will be nominated.
In embassies, the aims of FFP will be pursued and dispersed through gender multipliers. Resources play a decisive role for realizing an FFP. Gender-budgeting as a new instrument should put FFP into financial practice. The Foreign Office pursues the ambitious aim of gender-targeting 100 percent of its financial contributions to humanitarian aid while other offices, such as arms control, start with 50 percent. Last but not least the new German FFP aims for a monitoring process through cooperation with the German civil society, for example in cooperation with the already existing “Aktionsbündnis 1325”.
Some Room for Further Improvement
The new guidelines for German FFP envisage a comprehensive change in German foreign policy. However, in times of the “Zeitenwende” (change of times) new security priorities and aims of militarization, e.g. 2 % percent of the GDP for defense, are envisaged or already put in place. Therefore, it remains critical that an FFP also becomes an integral part of the forthcoming National Security Strategy, Climate Strategy and the Arms Export Control Law which are currently being drafted. The ultimate aims of demilitarization and (nuclear) disarmament must still remain as an ultimate goal of an FFP. Beyond strengthened efforts in international disarmament actions, this would necessitate questioning and deconstructing forms of violent masculinities in security politics and further engaging men and boys into FFP. Hence, the German guidelines have some room for improvement.
Importantly, Germany’s FFP should not only be realized abroad. The guideline document remains all too silent on aspects of a feminist domestic policy and gender-sensitive migration and asylum policy. The situation for Afghan women under the Taliban-rule has become life-threatening, so that women (and gender persecution) need to be recognized as refugees under the Geneva Convention.
Furthermore, the guidelines are lacking explicit actions for countering intersectional, (post)colonial and structural causes of violence. These need to be identified and addressed in order to achieve a more gender just society for all people, but especially for racialized groups including in Germany. Only once, the necessity of a critical self-reflexive and post-colonial understanding of German colonial history is mentioned in the guidelines of the Foreign Office in the section of foreign cultural and social policy – yet it’s missing in relation to security, conflict, climate or trade.
Practices of gender-based discrimination and antifeminist push-backs have to be reflected within Germany, and they are manifold: Women remain overrepresented in the care sector and are often not only badly paid but also experience structures of exploitation and insecurities – even more when coming from abroad. The German Lesbian and Gay association stresses an increasing climate of insecurity and fear of LGBTIQ+ people living in Germany due to the increase of far right ideologies. Fighting anti-feminism and gender backlash needs to start at home, but also must become an integral part of gender-sensitive peacebuilding efforts, e.g. (indigenous) women fighting for their land rights against transnational corporations in post-conflict Colombia.
Land rights are also missing in the human rights section, together with the emphasis on access to abortion as part of implementing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Reproductive justice increases the possibilities for wellbeing and political participation. Aspects of gender justice are also missing in relation to curbing the climate crisis and establishing a feminist foreign trade policy. Germany as a country with one of the highest carbon emissions needs to acknowledge its responsibility and act upon that. The same responsibility should apply to exploitative and violent production systems of German companies including a gender-sensitive approach to its new Supply Chain Act. The Foreign Office needs to improve designing actions to go beyond the participation of women and easing gendered effects, but providing access to justice systems, access to legal rights, compensation, as well as health services. Too often, access to these rights and political participation are denied and depend on whether you have a passport, money, transportation, childcare or the ability to travel.
Lastly, a feminist approach to foreign policy depends on the eye-to-eye level cooperation with partners on the ground, experts and diverse civil society. It is yet to be announced how the system of monitoring, evaluation but also implementation in cooperation with civil society in Germany and in partner countries will be designed. Learning from established processes and good practices in other countries, such as writing, commenting and reviewing the National Action Plan of the WPS agenda can serve as role models.
Where to Go from Here?
“If women are not secure, nobody is secure” – with these words addressed Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock the human rights insecurities in Egypt in February 2022. This quote made it also into the new guidelines on Feminist Foreign Policy. As it stands now, the guidelines seek to realize an ambitious set of relevant norms of rights, resources and representation. Nevertheless, putting such norms into practice remains the decisive element through which political changes towards a more gender just world can be realized. The very pro-active German civil society will closely monitor the implementation efforts as they have done with the implementation of the UN Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda. The implementation of the German FFP will not be self-evident, and – as the example of Sweden already indicates – a revision of an FFP can always happen in case of a change of government. However, the Foreign Office has decided to strengthen their internal and external efforts to realize a gender and diversity just foreign policy. The guidelines are a good and hopeful starting point.