W7 Roundtable | Feminist Foreign Policy and the G7 – Chances and Contradictions

21 October 2022 |

On Friday, October 21, W7 gathered representatives from international civil society and politics to discuss feminist foreign and development policies (FFP) within the G7. Besides 14 W7 Expert Advisors, the closed-door roundtable was attended by representatives of the German Federal Foreign Office and the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as officials from the French, Canadian, and Japanese foreign ministries.

In three rounds of conversation, the following questions were discussed: Where do we stand regarding feminist foreign and development policies in the G7? What is needed to address existing problems and failures to date? How can a transnational feminist movement join forces, and what role could powerful networks like the G7 play in shaping feminist foreign and development policies? Feminist activists and experts from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Uganda, India, and the UK were invited to open the discussion with their prepared statements. The discussion was held under the Chatham House Rule.

What does the “feminist” in FFP stand for?

The conversation took place in the context of feminist uprisings in Iran, which are sparking international solidarity and support. At the same time, Sweden – a pioneer of FFP – recently announced that it will withdraw from feminist approaches, while asserting that gender equality will continue to be of central importance within its foreign policy.

The meeting started with a discussion of the difference between genuinely feminist approaches and a women’s-rights-centered foreign policy agenda. It was made clear that feminism in foreign policy should mean more than gender equality and should convey a normative shift: it is an opportunity to think differently about how states and international organizations act on the international stage. It allows us to assess these practices through a gender lens, with the aim not only of transforming the role of women but also of breaking down the patriarchal, colonial, and racist hierarchies that currently characterize the international system. Participants agreed that FFP should therefore:

  • Challenge militarism and stop arms trade to human rights offenders
  • Mitigate the worst impacts of international capitalism as the main source of inequality today
  • Ask how marginalized communities are treated “at home,” for example when it comes to migration
  • Take climate change and climate justice seriously

The G7, representing the most powerful states in the world, would be best placed to address these structural issues and implement holistic FFP that challenge the status quo of exclusion, exploitation, and oppression.

It was also emphasized that against the backdrop of the ongoing war against Ukraine, urgent questions are arising about the implementation of self-acclaimed FFP approaches in Western countries, and about the usefulness of antimilitarist feminist approaches in situations where diplomacy isn’t working. Without claiming to have an answer to these questions, one participant outlined the options for expressing feminist solidarity with Ukrainians right now. As in numerous other contexts, many of the immediate first responders to the unfolding humanitarian crisis have been local women-led organizations, which have little access to funding from international donors. The money mostly goes to big UN agencies, which often fail to distribute it effectively to local civil society organizations. Providing local women’s and human rights initiatives with flexible and easy-to-access funding and other support is thus a critical component of FFP towards Ukraine. At the same time, the Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS) must be implemented. The international community must encourage and support the Ukrainian government to implement gender equality within the framework of the WPS and beyond.

The same holds for the situation in Afghanistan, as another participant emphasized. When women are denied basic rights, such as the right to an education, feminist movements must receive G7 assistance. Grassroots women’s rights and feminist organizations need support to raise and amplify their voices. Therefore, G7 states must put women’s rights on the top of the agenda when it comes to dealing with Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

The G7’s journey towards feminist foreign and development policies – what needs to be done?

It was outlined that the integration of strong feminist wordings in some G7 documents is of such importance because FFP are not possible without international partners. This year marks the first time the G7 went beyond gender equality to actually discuss feminist approaches. The German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is currently drafting its feminist development strategy and it aims to include diverse voices, especially from the Global South. The Federal Foreign Office is also developing feminist foreign policy approaches. It became clear that adopting feminist foreign policies such as France and Canada have done is an important step for governments, while honest reflection on the situations and crises we face is crucial for shaping foreign policy. Participants stressed that policy coherence is of utmost importance. Feminist approaches must be implemented internally and externally in immigration and migration, security, trade, climate action, diplomacy, global health, and development assistance. To this end, the cooperation and streamlining of feminist approaches in various ministries is extremely relevant.

One participant reminded the audience that FFP prioritize peace and human security and allocate significant resources to this end. Therefore, there must be general agreement that states are not the only actors within the international community, and that including civil society is important for promoting peace and human rights. While it was clear to everyone that FFP should be considered a journey and that transformation takes time, it was also emphasized that quick action is needed, and that there are certain things G7 countries can do right now to take the first steps on that journey:

  • Officially adopt FFP and implement these rigidly within their policy approaches
  • Make sure funding is used for this purpose: 100% of official development assistance (ODA) must go to programs with gender equality as a significant objective and at least 20% of ODA to programs with gender equality as the principal main objective
  • Prioritize peace processes and involve women’s rights and feminist organizations when implementing and funding WPS and FFP

The way forward – the potential of an international feminist movement

The role of feminist civil society worldwide is to advocate for FFP and to ensure its implementation by holding governments accountable. Mutual understanding of different concepts of feminism and communication within feminist movements is crucial. We must be very vocal about the issues we want to advocate for, agree on accountability mechanisms and monitoring frameworks, and identify ways of utilizing the various strengths of the movement. But the G7 governments must also listen. Consultation processes must demonstrate intersectional understanding and include feminist, marginalized, anti-racist, and anti-colonial voices. G7 states must include feminist expertise and knowledge and ensure accountability towards feminist civil society.

Toward the end of the meeting, some concrete ideas were discussed on how to advance a shift toward more feminist foreign and development policies worldwide:

  • Increase flexible, long-term, easy-access funding for feminist organizations
  • Reform education of government officials and diplomats by teaching foreign policies from a feminist perspective
  • Mobilize government representatives in favour of FFP via the WPS focal points
  • The G7 could set a benchmark regarding human rights and rule of law that countries must meet in order to receive support

Although there is still a long way to go on the journey towards FFP in the G7, feminist experts and activists from around the world have made it clear that they are available to support the G7 in developing and implementing holistic feminist approaches that are able to tackle structural inequalities. Now is the time to listen to them and to start making strides toward a more equitable and peaceful world!