Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region

Event Report
Aasthaba Jadeja

 A Two-Day Immersive Online Discussion Workshop on Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region was organised by #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi from September 19 to 20, 2023.

The chair for the program was Prof Vibhuti PatelVisting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI.

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Day 1 |Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia- Pacific Region with regards to Climate Change

Ms. Farida Akhter’s analysis underscores the rising significance of Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) in addressing global challenges, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. FFP, championed by transnational feminists, offers a potent means to challenge deeply entrenched power structures such as patriarchy, racism, cultural nationalism, imperialism, and militarism. While acknowledging FFP’s Eurocentric origins, the analysis stresses the need to broaden its scope to effectively tackle the unique challenges faced by Asia-Pacific nations. It argues that FFP should encompass a broader perspective beyond gender equality alone.

The analysis emphasizes historical precedents, highlighting the essential role of women in addressing global issues, including climate change, as far back as the 1974 Bucharest conference. Gender disparities in international climate decision-making bodies are addressed as a critical issue, with a call for inclusive representation to ensure that gender perspectives are integral to climate policies.

In conclusion, the analysis underscores the importance of adapting FFP to the region’s specific needs, recognizing the intersections of gender, climate, and biodiversity. It advocates for inclusivity, diversity, and environmental sustainability as the path toward a more equitable and resilient future, particularly as the Asia-Pacific region grapples with the impacts of climate change.

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Dr. Lavanya Shanbhogue Arvind, an assistant professor at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), sheds light on the intricate relationship between feminist foreign policy and climate change, with a focus on the Asia-Pacific region. Climate change, recognized as a gender-sensitive issue, disproportionately affects women, gender minorities, and marginalized communities. It extends beyond borders, making it a transnational challenge that necessitates global cooperation. Feminist foreign policy principles, emphasizing human rights, social justice, environmental justice, and gender equality, provide a valuable framework for addressing climate change’s complex dimensions.

The gender dimensions of climate change are pronounced, with women bearing a disproportionate burden due to their marginalized positions and increased vulnerabilities to climate-related impacts. Global policy frameworks, such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals, incorporate gender considerations, but translating these commitments into concrete actions remains challenging.

Challenges include unaddressed gender-based violence and insufficient recognition of women’s leadership in environmental initiatives. To address these issues, the report highlights the importance of gender-responsive budgeting, data collection, and the empowerment of women in environmental leadership roles, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, which faces rising sea levels and extreme weather events. In conclusion, the adoption of feminist foreign policy principles is seen as integral to achieving an equitable and sustainable response to the pressing climate challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region and the world.

To read a more elaborate session report: click here

Ms. Priti Darooka’s examination of feminist foreign policy, with a particular focus on its implications for countries in the Global South like India, highlights the complexities surrounding this concept. While feminist foreign policy has gained traction primarily in Northern and Western nations, there are concerns about the potential imposition of Western frameworks on countries with distinct cultural and historical contexts. Darooka underscores the importance of a nationally driven approach to feminist foreign policy, emphasizing that it should emerge organically within a country rather than being externally imposed.

One key concern raised is the artificial universalization of feminist foreign policies, where Western countries’ adoption of such policies creates a benchmark for non-Western nations to emulate. This can overshadow and diminish the efforts of countries to address gender equality within their existing foreign policy frameworks.

The analysis also questions the consistency of Western nations’ commitment to feminist values, particularly in cases where their actions, such as prioritizing corporate interests during the COVID-19 pandemic or engaging in weapon production, seem contradictory to their professed feminist principles. In contrast, India’s approach, though lacking a formal feminist foreign policy, centers on decolonization, self-reliance, women-led development, and climate justice, aligning with its cultural and historical context.

India’s emphasis on empowering women as leaders in shaping development agendas and addressing climate change resonates with indigenous and rural communities and emphasizes sustainable development over Western patterns of consumption and nature exploitation. In conclusion, Darooka’s analysis calls for recognition of the diversity of perspectives in the realm of foreign policy and underscores the need for genuine inclusivity and respect for unique policy approaches, particularly those of countries in the Global South.

To read a more elaborate session report: click here

Day 2| Feminist Foreign Policy for Asia-Pacific for Transnational Solidarity for Peace

Irene Santiago, a prominent peace negotiator and feminist advocate, shares valuable insights on the intersection of feminist foreign policy and global challenges. She emphasizes three crucial lessons for the feminist foreign policy arena.

First, she highlights the principle that “Personal is Political,” emphasizing the importance of openly discussing personal issues related to gender equality on the public stage rather than keeping them confined to the private sphere. Second, she calls attention to the need for more than just adding women to existing structures; true representation must involve addressing the quality and impact of women’s participation. Third, she underscores that everything substantial is linked to power dynamics, urging a shift away from mere data segregation and budget allocations when addressing gender inclusivity.

Santiago emphasizes the “4 Rs” – Rights, Representation, Resources, and Reality – often pursued by countries with feminist foreign policies. However, she calls for a deeper examination of the structural underpinnings of these principles, particularly in the context of today’s global crises, including climate change and economic challenges.

Santiago challenges the conventional notion of sovereignty, suggesting that it needs reevaluation in the face of transnational crises, as the concept has often been invoked to perpetuate division and conflict. She advocates for a re-conceptualization of feminism and sovereignty to address contemporary challenges effectively, and she promotes the transformative use of power to create a more just and equal world, ultimately advocating for an “Awesome And” mindset where coexistence and cooperation prevail over divisive “OR” thinking.

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Atiqah Nur Alami, Head of the Research Center for Politics at Indonesia’s National Research and Innovation Agency (BRIN), provided insights into the importance of gender perspectives in peace and security, particularly in Southeast Asian countries. She highlighted the global recognition of the significance of gender in peace and security, exemplified by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes women’s involvement in peacekeeping and peace-building efforts.

The four pillars of this resolution have paved the way for transformative changes, focusing on participation, prevention, protection, and relief and recovery to address the disproportionate impact of conflict on women. Turning to the situation in Southeast Asia, Atiqah Nur Alami noted that despite the region’s history of conflicts and ongoing security challenges, only a few countries have developed comprehensive national action plans for women, peace, and security.

Nevertheless, persistent challenges, including low levels of women’s participation, cultural constraints, and institutional barriers, continue to hinder progress. To move forward, Dr. Alami highlighted the need for transnational advocacy networks involving civil society in formal negotiation processes.

Engaging men as advocates for gender inclusion is also crucial to challenge structural biases and promote lasting change in peace and security efforts. In conclusion, Atiqah Nur Alami stressed the importance of adopting gender-inclusive approaches at domestic and regional levels while urging continued efforts to overcome persistent challenges and promote gender equality in Southeast Asia’s peace and security efforts.

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Vahida Nainar, an independent researcher and gender and human rights consultant, delved into the critical importance of focusing on women, peace, and security issues in the South Asian region during the discussion on Feminist Foreign Policy.

She pointed out that South Asian countries tend to be conservative in addressing gender-related concerns, with little mention of such issues in regional platforms like the SARC Commission. This absence of attention is concerning, considering the multitude of conflicts and challenges that persist in the region, including border disputes, forced displacement, and civil wars. Recent events, such as the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and  its repercussions, have added to the region’s volatility.

Despite the absence of formal acknowledgment of the women, peace, and security agenda, Nainar stressed the essential role of feminist foreign policy in addressing these conflicts and promoting sustainable peace. She highlighted the importance of integrating feminist principles into state processes and systems, emphasizing gender equality, good governance, and respect for human rights as crucial elements in addressing the root causes of conflict.

While challenges, such as political resistance and militarism, remain, the discussion underscored the urgency of adopting a feminist foreign policy in South Asia and engaging civil society to drive change and promote gender-sensitive policies for lasting peace and security in the region.

To read a more elaborate session report: click here

Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region|#WebPolicyLearning