Our world can be better: An EU Feminist Foreign Policy is the solution!

Since I became a mother two years ago, I have had one preoccupation: like most parents, I want my daughter to be happy, safe and healthy. I want her to be equal to boys and to have the same opportunities as them. Seeing what is happening in the world today truly breaks my heart as a parent and as an individual: wars, and civilians, including babies, children dying under the bombs; the ever more dire impact of the climate crisis on people’s lives and health; hunger on the rise; the often-ignored ramping pandemic of gender-based violence.

The global status quo is not an option, we should aim for more and do better. Collectively, we have the strength to work towards a more equal, peaceful and heathy world. We have the collective power to protect humanity and our planet.

One tool to do so is the establishment of an EU Feminist Foreign Policy that is more than a mere label, and goes beyond just being a tool to do “gender equality business as usual”. On the contrary, it should commit to adopting an approach that challenges power inequities, sheds light on and seek to abolish systems of oppression – namely patriarchy, capitalism, racism, neocolonialism and militarism -, transforms harmful gender norms, tackles multiple and intersecting forms of inequalities; and above all is rights-based. It would put people marginalised by systems and structures beyond their individual control and communities at the centre of policy-making. It would promote collaboration over competition, enshrine human rights, address social and economic inequalities, pursue human security and peace, sustainable development, environmental integrity, and put power- and resource-sharing and caring at the forefront.

Because a truly Feminist Foreign Policy would take time to be established and properly implemented at the EU level, I am not expecting this change to happen overnight. But it should be a direction, like a lighthouse in the dark, an objective to work towards for the next years. Some of its essential components are the following:

  • Secure a high-level political commitment to systemic change: a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) does not aim at making the existing unequal power systems slightly more equal, slightly less violent for women and girls, slightly less damaging for our planet. A Feminist Foreign Policy aims at reaching a new, equal, safe system that is healthy for us and for our planet. And the EU’s highest political level must be held accountable for achieving the FFP. This means designing a robust monitoring and accountability mechanism that will determine if the policy’s objectives are being reached.
  • Combat harmful gender norms and stereotypes: gender stereotypes and restrictive social norms around femininity, masculinity and sexuality directly affect individuals’ rights, choices, freedoms and capabilities. Forcing people to fit into outdated social moulds, only limits their potential to thrive in school, at work and in their family life. Moreover, structures and harmful norms are failing to uphold the safety and bodily integrity of women, girls and people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities around the world. Through the FFP we can dismantle harmful gender norms by challenging power inequities.
  • Guarantee the ownership of civil society and local communities: one of the key principles of a Feminist Foreign Policy must be local ownership and co-creation of policies with those impacted, in particular communities hardest hit by inequalities, feminist movements and women rights organisations, Secondly, an EU Feminist Foreign Policy should also address the shrinking civic space in many countries across the globe, especially for feminist movements and women rights organisations. It should build on the existing mechanisms for human rights defenders to ensure that feminist activists, women human rights defenders are supported and protected by the EU.
  • Ensure coherence across EU external policies and between external and internal policies: a Feminist Foreign Policy should be implemented across the board of external action. It is not simply funding more development projects aiming at gender equality or nominating more female ambassadors. Of course, these things are important, but at the end of the day a proper EU Feminist Foreign Policy would aim at redesigning the way external relations and geopolitics work. Our feminist values should be embedded in every aspect of our external action including security and defence, migration and trade. Thus, especially in these policy areas where we tend to be self-serving, we need to understand that the interests of the planet as a whole must outweigh the interests of one single region. Our fates are intertwined across the globe and only together can we build a common future where we flourish. Conversely, the EU should also adopt an internal feminist policy agenda, to ensure coherence between internal and external action and achieve a truly feminist Europe.
  • Back up an EU Feminist Foreign Policy with ambitious and adequate resources: funding is often the key cornerstone of success. An EU Feminist Foreign Policy should therefore include the adoption of an ambitious budget that addresses gender inequality through a gender budgeting approach, and in the case of development, includes the commitment to funding targets for gender equality: 85% of ODA going to programmes where gender equality is a significant component (G1/G2) and 20% of ODA going to programmes where gender equality is a principal component. Critically, we must allocate funding to feminist movements and local women’s rights organisations who are, day in day out, working for gender equality and changing the lives of women, girls and entire communities through their courageous work.
  • Include bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) as an integral part of an EU Feminist Foreign Policy. SRHR are human rights and a precondition to gender equality. Ensuring access to and respect for SRHR is indispensable for women and girls to be able to have healthy lives, to address violence and unequal power relations in their lives, to be free to participate in social, economic, and political life, and to freely make decisions governing their bodies. The realisation of women’s and girls’ SRHR is therefore a precondition for their enjoyment of other rights and for the achievement of gender equality. Conversely, gender inequality is a key cause of the non-fulfilment of women’s and girls’ SRHR. For women to have agency over their sexual and reproductive lives, they must be free from violence, discrimination and coercion, including harmful practices. This points to the need to challenge gender inequalities and patriarchal gender norms, in brief to achieving the objectives of a Feminist Foreign Policy.

By establishing a truly and fully implemented EU Feminist Foreign Policy, EU institutions and EU Member States, in collaboration with civil society, have the unique opportunity to do their part to achieve a happy, safe and healthy future for our children. It would contribute to changing the systems of oppression we live in and to put peace, gender equality and human rights at the very heart of geopolitics, having a positive and long-term impact on the lives of millions.

Authored by Marie Tempesta, IPPF EN

Illustration by Sidsel Sørensen for Fine Acts