The Emancipatory Potential of Feminist Foreign Policy

The Gender Conference’s October panel Feminist Foreign Policy challenged us to imagine a gender-sensitive foreign policy agenda beyond adding the phrase “and women and girls” to traditional foreign policy. Panelists, Jamille Bigio, Senior Fellow on Women and Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, Judicaelle Irakoze, a feminist activist and community organizer, and Dr. Toni Haastrup, a senior lecturer at the University of Stirling, spoke about the need for feminist foreign policy to be comprehensive, transformational, and adopt the goal of  gender justice rather than simple gender equality.

Feminist foreign policy idea evolved from Women, Peace and Security agenda which promoted gender equality as a means to decrease armed conflict and improve stability. “Investing in gender equality advances foreign policy and national security interests, more efficient use of foreign aid, better health of families and communities. If you were to draw on the talents of 50 percent of the population, that it would make a meaningful difference in the way that you promote your foreign policy priorities around the world and how you wish to address poverty and insecurity and authoritarianism,” explained Bigio.

Sweden was the first country to announce a feminist foreign policy agenda in 2014 and was followed by Canada in 2017, France and Luxembourg in 2019, and Mexico in 2020. A fundamental challenge of a feminist foreign policy agenda is defining it. Sweden’s Feminist Foreign Policy agenda centers rights, representation, and resources for women and girls. Canada said it will devote 95 percent of its development spending to address gender inequality by 2021-22. Luxembourg has promised one percent of its gross national income to development initiatives generally while increasing representation of women in foreign policy and defense.[1] France has committed to leading by example, raising the issue of gender equality in international forums, and dedicating 50 percent of its development aid to address gender inequality. Mexico pledged to incorporate a gender analysis into every aspect of work, increase protections for LGBT people, and use an intersectional approach to address the gendered aspects of climate change and economic justice. [1]

Feminist foreign policies have the potential to be transformational if they fully embrace feminist theory. A truly feminist foreign policy requires governments to move beyond development initiatives based in women’s “empowerment.” Instead they must address the root causes of gender inequality and analyze their own role in global power imbalances . “We have to talk about colonization, about imperialism. That comes with feminism,” said Irakoze. “Feminism requires bringing decolonial thinkers to the table.” To be successful, feminist foreign policy makers have to recognize the diverse, intersecting oppressions that women face around the world. “A feminist foreign policy should be able to be so detailed with the different realities and layers that come with every single lived experiences of women,” said Irakoze.

Dr. Haastrup charged countries interested in promoting a feminist foreign policy to take time to reflect on their domestic policies, “There has to be much, much, much more consistency between the domestic and the international. We find that feminist foreign policy can be a cop out  from looking internally.” For example, Canadian feminists have called for a more comprehensive government response to Canada’s staggering number of missing and murdered indigenous women.[2] Mexico’s rates of femicide have doubled in the last five years, and Mexican President Lopez Obrador dismissed soaring numbers of calls to domestic violence shelters as prank calls.[3] France spends billions of euros every year maintaining its nuclear weapons stockpile.[4] Most feminist theorists would say these realities are incompatible with a feminist foreign policy.

Iconic feminist theorist bell hooks taught us that the effects of the patriarchy cannot be disentangled from racist, classist, capitalist, and imperialist oppression. A feminist foreign policy must address all power imbalances to live up to its name. As Dr. Haastrup said, “A feminist foreign policy must be emancipatory. It must be intersectional.”

Written by: Caitlin Flynn, MALD F21

[1] “Feminist Foreign Policy in Practice: Comparative Analysis of Country Frameworks.” International Women’s Development Agency, Mar. 2020,

[2] Cecco, Leyland. “Decades of Missing Indigenous Women a ‘Canadian Genocide’ – Leaked Report.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 31 May 2019,

[3] Kitroeff, Natalie. “Mexico’s President Says Most Domestic Violence Calls Are ‘Fake’.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 May 2020,

[4] Irish, John, and Sophie Louet. “France Carries out Rare Simulation of Nuclear Deterrent Strike.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters Foundation, 5 Feb. 2019,