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The Future Of Feminist Foreign Policy: Towards A More Understanding Of Women's (And Men's) Security

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Article

This article is focusing on the ways and means that policymakers can develop a more comprehensive and effective security policy globally. The express focus is the importance of ensuring that the  processes are inclusive and gender-sensitive, and how militarism and arms trade fuel conflicts and increase civilian casualties for men and women alike. It concludes that a feminist foreign policy should enable effective conflict prevention through disarmament, women’s meaningful participation, and providing effective conditions for women’s empowerment.

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The Future Of Feminist Foreign Policy: Towards A More Understanding Of Women's (And Men's) Security

Feminist foreign policies are strongly informed by the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) agenda on Women, Peace, and Security (WPS). This agenda provides a normative framework for foreign and security policies. The influence of WPS is evident in various countries’ foreign policy orientations. For instance, Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign minister, and the first woman in the role, is a strong supporter of WPS issues (Aggestam, 2016). Moreover, during Hillary Clinton’s tenure as U.S. Secretary of State, she framed the status of women as a matter of national security and played a crucial role in garnering unanimous endorsement of UNSCR 1888 (2009) on sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict (Mason, 2013). The WPS agenda connects women’s issues to national and international security. A consequence of this agenda is that ending global violence against women could be used to justify militarised interventions, thus “genderwashing” imperialist interventions, and supporting investments in police, military, and peacekeeping to prevent and respond to gendered violence abroad (Mason, 2013). An historical example of such “genderwashing” is U.S. First Lady Laura Bush’s September 2001 announcement in which she justified the invasion of Afghanistan in terms of security and freedom, to liberate Afghan women and facilitate their return to school (Stout, 2001).

Moreover, feminist foreign policy is defined narrowly by the WPS agenda. It merely asks for adding women to the peace process without adequately analysing local, national and international patriarchal power structures or the connection between militarisation, arms trade, and women’s oppression. For instance, the Swedish Foreign Service action plan for feminist foreign policy focuses on improving the situation of women and girls. In 2017, the plan aimed to promote the role of women and girls through conflict prevention (Bjarnegård & Melander, 2017). In 2016, the action plan’s main goal was to promote the participation of women as actors in peace processes and peace support operations (ibid, 2017). The goals of these action plans are blindly focused on including women, without addressing other patriarchal structures enhanced by militarism and fuelled by access to weapons, which play a strong role in perpetuating the insecurities women face around the world.

Despite advocating a feminist foreign policy, Sweden is one of the world’s top ten arms exporters, allowing exports to repressive authoritarian regimes that oppress their civilians and strip women of their basic rights (Aggestam, 2016). To address this contradiction, the Swedish Parliament passed a new and stricter set of export control criteria in February 2018 that takes into consideration the receiving state’s democratic status as a major element in evaluating potential arms sales (Perlo- Freeman, 2018). However, this policy would not involve  complete ban on arms exports to non-democracies. For instance, Sweden can continue selling weapons to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a country fuelling the conflict in Yemen by backing southern separatists (Perlo-Freeman, 2018). Indeed, the Swedish aerospace and defence company, Saab, opened a development and production centre in the UAE in December 2017 (Perlo-Freeman, 2018).

Similarly, despite Canada’s feminist foreign policy, the country continues selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, thus indirectly exacerbating the conflict in Yemen and its devastating effects on women (Zakaria, 2017). In September 2017, a few months after Canada announced its new global feminist agenda, the U.S. government signed a $593 million arms deal with the Nigerian military (ibid, 2017).

The deal includes weapons with Canadian ties such as the A-29 Super Tucano warplanes whose engines are manufactured by Pratt and Whitney Canada (York, 2017). These weapons will be used by a government that has in the past bombed refugee camps and killed dozens of civilians (Al Jazeera, 2017). Another deal made last year with the Canadian-led Streit Group also sold 177 armoured vehicles to the Nigerian military (York, 2017). As opposed to the aforementioned foreign policies, an effective feminist foreign policy needs to acknowledge existing power structures and analyse the causes and consequences of patriarchy, militarisation, and neoliberalism as the dominant order. Profiting from arms production creates a vested interest in sustaining the systems of war. The manufacture, trade, proliferation, possession, and use of weapons facilitate sexual and gender-based violence, human trafficking, and armed conflicts, which are integrally tied up with violent masculinities. Governments need to reallocate resources spent on the military towards activities that benefit women and humanity in general, such as implementin the Sustainable Development Goals.

As Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) have always argued, bloated military spending raids funds set aside for human security and sustainable development: “If the [1.6 trillion USD] spent on military security in 2015 was directed towards human security, this would provide a substantial portion of the total needed to realise the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals” (WILPF, 2017: 20). Militarism and arms trades are tightly connected. An emphasis on militarism might serve the interests of those profiting from arms production, thus sustaining the systems of war. As various studies produced by WILPF and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) demonstrate (see: Gaynor, 2015 & WILPF, 2016), women and girls often disproportionately suffer from the use of weapons in conflict due to “forced displacement, sexual violence, trafficking, lack of access to health care (including sexual and reproductive health), and lack of access to victim and survivor assistance” (WILPF, 2016: 6).

Therefore, a more impactful approach to feminist foreign policy should be based on challenging militarism and preventing arms from reaching entities that will utilise them to violate the rights of men and women. A feminist foreign policy should not only focus on addressing women’s needs during conflict, but also focus on preventing conflict itself and reducing its intensity through controlling the influx of weapons and limiting arms trade. It is important to ensure that peace processes are inclusive and gender-sensitive, but this alone is insufficient. Rather, to ensure peace, policymakers need to focus on how militarism and arms trade fuel conflicts and increase civilian casualties for men and women alike. A feminist foreign policy should enable effective conflict prevention through disarmament, women’s meaningful participation, and providing effective conditions for women’s empowerment.