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Women's Leadership and Gender Equality: Exploring Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and Practice (INC1-V22)


This event recording features Susan Markham, co-author of Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and in Practice, who discusses how governments have implemented feminist foreign, development, and trade policies at the multilateral and national levels.

Duration: 00:32:33
Published: June 12, 2024
Type: Video

Event: Women’s Leadership and Gender Equality: Exploring Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and Practice (FON1-E20)

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Women's Leadership and Gender Equality: Exploring Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and Practice

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Transcript: Women's Leadership and Gender Equality: Exploring Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and Practice

[00:00:00 Video opens with animated CSPS logo.]

[00:00:03 A spinning globe is surrounded by images of a diverse range of women and girls in various roles.]

[00:00:09 Text on screen: In November 2023, the Canada School of Public Service hosted Susan Markham, co-author of "Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and in Practice: An Introduction." / En novembre 2023, l'École de la fonction publique du Canada a accueilli Susan Markham, coautrice de << Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and in Practice: An Introduction>>.

[00:00:22 Text on screen: She spoke about how governments have implemented feminist foreign, development, and trade policies at the multilateral and national levels, and the important strides being taken in promoting gender equality and social inclusion worldwide. / Elle a parlé de la manière dont les gouvernements ont adopté des politiques féministes en matière d'affaires étrangères, de développement et de commerce aux niveaux multilatéral et national, ainsi que des avancées importantes à l'égard de la promotion de l'égalité des genres et de l'inclusion sociale dans le monde entier.]

[00:00:46 Text on screen: Women's Leadership and Gender Equality: Exploring Feminist Foreign Policy in Theory and Practice. /Le leadership des femmes et l'égalité des genres : Les politiques étrangères féministes, de la théorie à la pratique.]

[00:00:56 Text on screen: Fundamental Concepts / Concepts fondamentaux.]

[00:00:59 Susan Markham appears full screen, speaking from a lectern. Text on screen: Susan Markham; Director, Peace with Women Fellowship Program, Halifax International Security Forum. / Susan Markham; Directrice, Programme de bourse de recherche Peace with Women, Halifax International Security Forum.

Susan Markham: About 15 countries have declared a Feminist Foreign Policy, or a feminist something. However, there is not one agreed upon definition of Feminist Foreign Policy across governments, civil society, and academia. There are, however, a broad set of principles that appear in many discussions of Feminist Foreign Policy and form the foundation of many definitions.

[00:01:31 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: Feminist Foreign Policy is based squarely on the concepts of gender equality and equity. Within a Feminist Foreign Policy, gender equality is both a goal of the policy, and a strategy for implementing it. This is because gender equality is not only a moral imperative, but central to global goals of security and international peace.

[00:01:52 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: Feminist Foreign Policy redefines security to mean more than the absence of conflict. Security is not just about survival: it is about the perpetuation of that which we value most into the future. This broadens the definition of Feminist Foreign Policy beyond traditional bilateral and multilateral engagement to protect land and or people, and beyond defence, diplomacy, and development. It consists of other everyday issues that also affect security, such as food, trade, climate change, and global health. It looks to include non-governmental actors, such as civil society organizations and individuals in the development and definition of foreign policy and national security.

A broadened definition of security means that it's important not only to expand the issues addressed and the solutions considered in the foreign policy environment, but also to ensure that women and other historically marginalized people are included in the creation and implementation of foreign policies and programs. A feminist approach to foreign policy and national security is focused on these diverse viewpoints being heard.

[00:03:14 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: This is based on the idea of a traditional "knowledge" which is connected to power and the ability to exercise authority and define what constitutes a favourable outcome. Incorporating non-traditional voices broadens the policy discussions and the type of information provided to decision makers. Feminist Foreign Policy addresses both gender inequalities and the fundamental power imbalances that exist in numerous policy and political environments.

[00:03:44 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: In the United States, this would include a review of the budget across the development, diplomacy, and defence portfolios. Feminist Foreign Policy looks at systemic issues such as racism, colonialism, and patriarchy. Addressing such imbalances means a fundamental shift in how institutions work and necessitates rethinking how foreign policy and national security decision making are approached and structured.

[00:04:18 Text on screen: Historical Foundations of Feminist Foreign Policy. /Fondements historiques de la politique étrangère féministe.]

[00:04:30 Susan Markham appears full screen, speaking from a lectern.]

Susan Markham: While Feminist Foreign Policy may be a new concept to some, the ideas within it have a very long history. The belief that everyone is equally entitled to human rights is a cornerstone of Feminist Foreign Policy.

[00:04:47 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: The concept of human rights is rooted in the traditions and documents of many cultures and societies. Yet virtually all these traditions and documents originally excluded women from their frameworks, as well as certain ethnic, social, religious, economic and political groups.

By the 1800s, individual rights were defined by how a nation's inhabitants related to the rulers of that nation. But events at that time expanded the idea of individual rights beyond national borders and governance, serving as a precursor to the concepts of universal rights and accountability. The anti-slavery movement, for example, worked to end a global practice perpetuated by nation states against people who did not necessarily have a connection to that country. So, this eventually led to nation states agreeing to common rules of international behaviour.

[00:05:51 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: In the mid 1800s, the first International Women's Movement was built by a small group of elite women in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France. Their goals were civic and political equality for women, the right to vote, and to hold public office. They were also seeking social justice in employment, education, and access to healthcare. These women connected through a network based on letters, visits, and a common body of published works, and shared tactics and issues.

[00:06:26 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: Movements for peace and disarmament arose alongside the fights for human and women's rights, and in response to World War One. Jane Addams and other feminists organized the Women's Peace Party in 1915, which called for the limitation of arms and weapons, mediation of the European conflict, and the removal of the economic causes of war. The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, founded in Europe in 1915, today remains one of the world's longest standing women's peace organizations. Following that, the second International Congress of Women came together in 1919, and they held at the same time as the Paris Peace Conference, and they once again were focusing on ending World War. Since then, there have been many documents and activities around human rights and women's rights.

[00:07:19 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: The UN Charter came out in 1945; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came out in 1948; the UN Commission on the Status of Women was founded in 1946; and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which is often called CEDAW, came out in 1979. The United Nations also put together many conferences around these ideas of women's rights. There were four in the 70s and 80s: Mexico City; Copenhagen; Nairobi; and famously, Beijing in 1995, from which came the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Since that time, UN Security Council Resolution 1325 was passed in 2000; there have been the Sustainable Development Goals that came out in 2015; and the Generation Equality Forum, which was held in 2021.

[00:08:32 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: There have been, since then, unofficial movements and organizations that oversaw or cut across all these official agreements and events, and there have been at least four global feminist movements or waves.

The first feminist wave focused on property rights, the right to vote, and the right to public participation. The second wave of feminism focused more on economic equality, and in the US, that focused on the Equal Rights Amendment, Title IX, and the Supreme Court decision on Roe versus Wade regarding abortion. The third wave of feminism was a backlash to these earlier waves, and they focused much more on intersectionality. It was a backlash against the white straight women who had led these other two waves, but intersectionality is really a key concept because it is a prism for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. So, race, religion, education level, ability, these all come together to make women impacted by patriarchy and governments in different ways.

And then the fourth wave of feminism, which came after that, was in the late 00s, and it was really focused on the use of technology to share experiences of discrimination among women across time and place. So, for instance, the Me Too movement is a great example of the last wave of feminism.

[00:10:02 Text on screen: Countries with Feminist Foreign Policy. /Pays ayant une politique étrangère féministe.]

[00:10:13 Susan Markham appears full screen, speaking from a lectern. Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: So, Sweden was the first government to adopt a Feminist Foreign Policy in 2014 and is the model against which many other governments structure and measure their policies. Sweden's policy has also been the touchstone for foreign policies that, while not explicitly feminist, encompass a gendered perspective. Sweden's Feminist Foreign Policy is focused on four Rs and charged the Swedish foreign service with strengthening all women's [and] girl's rights, representation and resources based on the reality in which they live. Academics and analysts posit that by using the f word – feminist – Sweden's policy made an explicit commitment to transforming the use of power and gender. It moved beyond gender mainstreaming to policies that were more edgy and controversial in that they explicitly sought to renegotiate and challenge power hierarchies and gendered institutions that hitherto defined global institutions' foreign and security policies.

[00:11:27 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: So, as of 2023, at least ten other countries have adopted a feminist foreign something. So, as you can see from the slide, countries from Norway, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Mongolia, and a few others have declared that they will have a feminist foreign something, and they are all in various stages of creation and implementation.

[00:11:55 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: In 2018, the G7 established a Gender Equality Advisory Council, which was composed of subject matter experts to integrate gender equality throughout the G7's policy agenda. Not all G7 members are committed to a Feminist Foreign Policy, but to date, some of the members are explicitly committed to these policies, as listed before: Canada, France, and Germany.

Canada established the initial council during its leadership of the G7, and since then, the GEAC, which is a horrible acronym, has met in France, the United Kingdom, and Germany. It was not convened during the US presidency of the G7 in 2020. But during this time, the councils made wide ranging policy recommendations spanning both foreign and domestic policy. These recommendations include the adoption of feminist diplomacy and development assistance; a broadened focus on human security; the use of gender advisors; access to education and healthcare for girls and women; and addressing gender inequality.

[00:13:02 Text on screen: Women, Peace and Security Framework/Agenda. /Cadre et programme sur les femmes, la paix et la sécurité.]

[00:13:14 Susan Markham appears full screen, speaking from a lectern.]

Susan Markham: So, Feminist Foreign Policy is often compared to the Women, Peace and Security Agenda. The Women, Peace and Security Agenda is built on the theory that women's participation in conflict prevention and resolution is integral to more sustainable peace and security.

[00:13:32 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: This policy framework was first set forth by the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which was adopted in 2000, and it sets out four critical pillars reflecting a gendered perspective across the conflict cycle. They are participation; protection; prevention; and relief and recovery.

The participation pillar calls for the full and equal representation of women at all levels of decision making and in politics and policy making. The protection pillar stands for the need to protect women and girls in conflict and post conflict settings. The prevention pillar stands for women's engagement at all levels of conflict prevention, mediation and resolution, and the need to address the root causes of conflict.

[00:14:22 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: The final pillar, relief and recovery, addresses the needs to ensure that women and girls can access the services they need to recover from conflict and conflict related violence.

So, there has been some criticism of UN Security Council Resolution 1325.

[00:14:46 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: One is that this framework focuses on the role of women only as victims, peacemakers, and peace builders and that they need protection, and it reinforces gender stereotypes. This criticism is raised even though the resolutions call repeatedly for women's increased participation throughout the security sector and acknowledge women's agency. Feminist scholars further posit that the set of resolutions do not address institutional and structural barriers to women's equality and participation. Some say that 1325 instead takes an "add women and stir" approach, where women are given a seat at the negotiations table but with little power, unable to determine their own place and contributions within a male dominated system.

Another criticism of UNSCR 1325 is that it does not address the social and economic causes of inequality, such as poverty, lack of access to education, and gender norms. And it does not consider power relations inherent in government and international organizations. These critics argue that the gender mainstreaming approach of 1325 reinforces existing power structures. They also view this approach as silencing feminist critique of militarism and those who argue that there can be no peace without gender equality. These critics also argue that calling for increased women's participation in the security sector militarizes the peace movement.

Finally, critics see the Women, Peace and Security Agenda as dominated by voices from the global north, thereby replicating existing colonial hierarchies and ignoring the impact of colonialism and patriarchy.

[00:16:41 Text on screen: Operationalizing FFP in the United States (or elsewhere). /Opérationnalisation de la politique étrangère féministe aux États-Unis (ou ailleurs).]

[00:16:53 Susan Markham appears full screen, speaking from a lectern.]

Susan Markham: So, how does Feminist Foreign Policy work, or what is necessary for its implementation?

[00:17:01 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: First, political will is fundamental to any kind of social change, but it is often difficult to outline what it means in practice. It is a necessary precondition to the other fundamentals of Feminist Foreign Policy,

[00:17:18 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: which is advancing structural and institutional changes, increasing representation of women across all parts of government, particularly in the fields of national security and foreign policy, and committing financial resources.

[00:17:32 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: Structural and institutional change is predicated on leaders having the political will to envision new ways of organization and focus. To date, the majority of interventions and structural changes that governments have launched and adopted as part of a Feminist Foreign Policy have expanded the understanding of what constitutes foreign policy. These changes have taken place within existing ministries or have prioritized gender issues and women's leadership across governments.

Over time, most decisions in foreign policy and national security have been made by a small group of men in centralized and closely held processes, although this is changing. But gender parity and other types of diversity in appointments have expanded. A key tenet of Feminist Foreign Policy, increased diversity, helps to ensure that foreign policy and national security agencies can more effectively carry out their missions. Often, increasing the number of women across government, especially at high levels, is perceived as the end goal of a more gender focused, or Feminist Foreign Policy. Increased representation of women is both an important public sign of commitment to a new way of governing, and a tool for implementing a Feminist Foreign Policy.

However, increased women's political participation is only one of many parts of the framework. In order for the policy to be effective and have its intended impact, it must be robustly funded and have sufficient resources over time. This includes government funding, both for the internal staff and organizational structures needed to do the diplomatic work, and for the international activities and programs implemented by global partners and local women's organizations. It includes ensuring that government investments in and with the private sector have a gender component and related resources. Finally, it means that a portion of government funding must be redirected to national and local women's organizations to ensure that they have multi-year, core funding for their work.

[00:19:53 Text on screen: Recent FFP Activity /Activité récente en matière de la politique étrangère féministe.]

[00:20:05 Susan Markham appears full screen, speaking from a lectern.]

Susan Markham: So, the moment that the book was published in September, it was already out of date.

[00:20:12 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: New countries have announced support for Feminist Foreign Policy, including Colombia, Argentina, and Slovenia. Also, there are ongoing efforts to define Feminist Foreign Policy. One civil society definition in its full – it's kind of long – it says:

"The policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes peace, gender equality, and environmental integrity, enshrines, promotes and protects the human rights of all, seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchy, and male-dominated power structures, and allocate significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision. Feminist Foreign Policy is coherent in its approach across all of its levers of influence, anchored by the existence of those values at home and co-created with feminist activists, groups and movements at home and abroad."

Phew! On the other side, governments have taken a bit more of a smaller goal of definition. They really build on Sweden's four R framework that I had mentioned previously, and their definition includes rights; resources; representation; research; and reach. So, how they can work to have all these things within their foreign policy in order to make it feminist.

[00:21:50 Overlaid text on screen, as described.]

Susan Markham: Other activities that have taken place: this fall, at the UN General assembly in New York, there was a political declaration on feminist approaches to foreign policy signed by 18 countries, including Canada. And then, just a few weeks ago, in November, the government of the Netherlands organized an international conference on Feminist Foreign Policy, and it included 750 participants from more than 40 countries. So, that is a quick book synopsis with a few key takeaways.

[00:22:21 Text on screen: Q & A / Foire aux questions.]

[00:22:31 Text on screen: What are some of the biggest implementation challenges countries face when it comes to implementing United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security? / Quelles sont certaines des principales difficultés auxquelles se butent les pays lors de la mise en œuvre de la résolution 1325 du Conseil de sécurité des Nations Unies sur les femmes, la paix et le sécurité?]

[00:23:00 Susan Markham appears full screen, seated on stage.]

Susan Markham: There have been many challenges to implementing 1325, and I would say the biggest one, an ongoing struggle, is just political will. The countries who have signed on to it, and all the member states of the UN, when they are holding peace negotiations, they don't include equal numbers of women, or any women in many of them. And so, I think that's the first thing, is that they just have to strive to implement their own resolution. The excuse they often use is that they don't have enough women negotiators or mediators. So, I would say that many nation states and working across the UN are trying to train and prepare women to serve on many levels of negotiations so that they can no longer have that excuse.

[00:23:48 Text on screen: What role do women's rights and civil society organizations and multilateral institutions play in advancing feminist foreign policy? / Quel rôle les organisations de défense des droits des femmes et de la société civile ainsi que les institutions multilatérales jouent-elles dans la promotion des politiques étrangères féministes?]

[00:24:15 Susan Markham appears full screen, seated on stage.]

Susan Markham: Civil society organizations play a very important role when it comes to implementing a Feminist Foreign Policy. They are often on the front lines of advocacy, pushing governments to think about how they can do better on their foreign policy, on all the aspects that I discussed before. And when a government says that they're going to have a Feminist Foreign Policy, often those civil society organizations are the ones that hold them accountable to what they've promised. And then, because civil society has been tracking this across countries, they have been conducting research on what a Feminist Foreign Policy means and how it has impacted decisions that have been made. So, they're also playing an important role, sharing that research across countries, backed with governments, as new governments say that they're going to have a Feminist Foreign Policy.

[00:25:07 Text on screen: What are some examples of multilateral initiatives/forums that have helped to accelerate or advance work in this area? / Revelez quelques exemples d'initiatives ou de forums multilatéraux qui ont contribué au progrés sur cette question?]

[00:25:33 Susan Markham appears full screen, seated on stage.]

Susan Markham: I would say one of those is the creation of UN Women itself. It's hard to believe, but it's not even 25 years old. And the creation of UN Women showed a commitment of the United Nations to furthering the gender equality inequity agenda. Around the same time, there was the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals, and that has been important because within those, Goal 5 is focused solely on gender equality. And then, unlike the previous millennial development goals, gender has been integrated across all the other 16 goals. So, within education and climate change and democracy, there are indicators that focus on how gender plays an important role in achieving those goals as well.

[00:26:23 Text on screen: Are there other countries, besides Sweden, that have been successful in applying a feminist approach systematically across their international policies and programming, and if so, what key elements did these countries implement to help mobilize institutional culture shifts across foreign policy portfolios? / Mis à part le Suède, d'autres pays ont-ils réussi à mettre en œuvre une approche féministe de manière systématique dans leurs politiques et programmes internationaux? Si oui, quels éléments clés ont-ils mis en œuvre pour mobiliser les changements de culture institutionnelle dans l'ensemble des portfeuilles de politique étrangère?]

[00:26:58 Susan Markham appears full screen, seated on stage.]

Susan Markham: So, I have to say, Canada is one of the best examples of implementing a Feminist Foreign Policy. A few years ago, Canada announced that it was having a Feminist International Assistance Policy, and more recently, a Feminist Trade Policy. So, in several ways over the past couple years, Canada has been seeking to implement this across all their foreign policy levers.

There's high level commitment in Canada for these feminist actions that are being taken. Prime Minister Trudeau claimed he was a feminist early on, after he was elected, and he appointed a gender balanced cabinet, which is a very strong signal. He's also created the Ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security. And this position is important, making sure that Canada is represented across the globe, focused on Women, Peace and Security, and Feminist Foreign Policy.

Most importantly, the Government of Canada created a gender-based analysis tool called GBA+. And this tool is really important for people who don't have gender in their title, when they think about, "What does this mean for me and the work that I do?" It's an online tool that they can use to think about the gendered aspects of everything from climate change to food security, to international assistance. And I know that many other organizations, both other governments and civil society organizations around the world, use the GBA+ tool when they're thinking about how gender impacts their work as well.

[00:28:34 Text on screen: How do countries define and measure progress in implementation? / Comment les pays définissent-ils et mesurent-ils le progrés dans la mise en œuvre?]

[00:29:01 Susan Markham appears full screen, seated on stage.]

Susan Markham: So, this is really a sticking point. I mean, how do you measure institutional change, changes in attitude, and changes in decision making? Governments who have declared a Feminist Foreign Policy years ago, such as Sweden, had a hard time putting out reports with really hard indicators that were included. Civil society is working now to create both a baseline of what it means to have a Feminist Foreign Policy, as well as how we measure progress.

[00:29:33 Text on screen: The pandemic has put decades of progress on gender equality under threat. What are some strategies that governments have implemented to address these gaps in domestic and foreign policy? / La pandémie a mis en péril des décennies de progrés en matière d'égalité entre les genres. Quelles sont certaines des stratégies mises en œuvre par les gouvernements pour combler les lacunes dans les politiques intérieures et étrangères?]

[00:30:06 Susan Markham appears full screen, seated on stage.]

Susan Markham: Well, I have to say, if there was a blessing that came out of the pandemic, COVID really made us measure in real-time many gendered aspects of how we live our lives. When it came to, who was getting sick and when; who were getting vaccinations and when; how it impacted our work life, our home life. It was looked at in real-time, in the news. It wasn't just someone's PhD doctorate that they're going to do in five years from now. It really played out in real-time. And so, one of the aspects that came out of COVID was the broadening this idea of security.

So, it wasn't just men and guns talking to other men and guns. It was about this idea about being safe in your own home; having access to healthcare when you needed it or being able to go to the hospital. What it meant for economic security for your family, getting food, making sure you could stay in your home, and these sorts of things. And it really made us more focused on those aspects, both within people's countries, and the way we interacted with other countries.

One aspect that really influenced the Feminist Foreign Policy was this idea that the policies that we have at home, the domestic policies, really should match our foreign policies. So, making sure that that is more balanced.

And then, it also made us think more broadly about what barriers keep us from having security. And a good example of that is this idea of childcare. In the US and countries around the world, governments are much more focused on how we have a better childcare system so that women truly can take their full role in public life.

[00:31:58 Text on screen: The Canada School of Public Service hosts exciting and insightful events, workshops, and courses on a variety of topics. Subscribe to our newsletter for more information on what's coming next! / L'École de la fonction publique du Canada organise des événements, des ateliers et des cours intéressants et instructifs sur une multitude de sujets. Abonnez-vous à notre bulletin pour obtenirde l'information sur ce qui s'en vient!]

[00:32:24 The CSPS animated logo appears onscreen. Text on screen:]

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