Charting a Path Towards Feminist Foreign Policy: Chair’s Summary

Vibhuti Patel

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

Feminist Foreign Policy, relegated to the margins for decades, is slowly gaining much-deserved recognition as a result of the efforts of peacemaking, peacebuilding and peacekeeping by transnational feminist solidarity. A feminist foreign policy provides a powerful lens through which we can counter the violent global systems of power, i.e., patriarchy, racism, cultural nationalism, imperialism, and militarism, that leave the majority of the population in perpetual states of vulnerability and despair. It puts promoting gender equality and women’s rights at the centre of a nation’s diplomatic agenda.

Day 1:

IMPRI received an enthusiastic response from over 500 participants from the Asian countries from varied backgrounds. Dr. Simi Mehta introduced the theme in the context of recent discourses at Equality Forum of G20. Shri. Satyam Tripathy provided summary of the freely downloadable book titled, ‘Advocating Feminist Foreign Policy’ co authored by Dr. Simi Mehta, Prof. Vibhuti Patel and Shri. Satyam Tripathi; which was followed by the book-launch. The authors thanked Dr. Arjun Kumar for facilitating publication of the book with ISBN. 

In her Chairperson’s remarks, Prof. Vibhuti Patel stated that Genesis of feminist foreign Policy (FFP) lay in the transnational feminist solidarity of 1980s and 1990s in which the international feminist movements supported local women led struggles against devastating impact of radiation due to nuclear testing in the Pacific islands, release of mercury pollutants in the sea by Minamata company, destruction of human life and reproductive health hazards due to Bhopal Gas tragedy, Chernobyl nuclear disaster, destruction of rain forests and pollution of Amazon river. The famous feminist slogan, Think Globally, Act Locally crystallised the spirit of solidarity transcending territorial boundaries.

For transformative change, they had to address the political leaders and diplomats, global public intellectuals and the United Nations System. Transnational Feminist Networks such as Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN, 1985), regional initiatives by Irene Santiago, Asian Women’s Research and Action Network (AWRAN, 1985) have mobilized not only to bring attention to and mitigate the negative impact of neoliberal global capitalism on women but also to construct an alternative vision of the global economy that is conducive to women all over the world.

Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), which focuses on environmental health and bio-safety and provided platform to the ecofeminist leaders such as Vandana Shiva, Maria Mies, Wangari Mathai could also influence the United Nations to come up with pathbreaking document on Gender and Climate Change. She said that there is an urgency for the inclusion of women as policy makers in climate issues but there is also an urgency that a feminist foreign policy take the gendered aspects of climate change into account, in trade agreements, aid policies, choice of technologies and interventions to mitigate the harmful impact of climate change. 

Prof. Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind began with the statement that the climate issues are transnational and trans-boundary issues and demand multilateral and ethical perspectives to respond to intersectional vulnerabilities of geographic location, class, ethnicity, age, disability and gender. She highlighted the need to address gender based violence that gets exacerbated due to the climate crisis. She emphasised the need for gender disaggregated data for effective intervention strategies.

Veteran feminist Farida Akhter dedicated her presentation to her mother, Smt. Anwara Begum. She stated that climate change was first framed as a problem exclusive to natural science. Due to efforts of the environmental movement, the focus on the role of human behaviour in climate change has gained ground and with this an increased understanding of the significant gendered consequences of climate change. She criticised the agenda of

Bucharest Conference on Population and Development that targeted women from the post-colonial nation states for population control and projected women of colour as victims. She demanded that we must challenge arrogant attitudes & false solutions- nature based solutions offered by the corporate controlled global leadership who support continued emission of carbon by the industries. She emphasised acknowledgement of the existence of real solutions in the global South where women in the subsistence sector are guardians of remaining biodiversity who have promoted climate resistant varieties of seeds and sustainable forest management. She shared glorious contribution of global and grounded networks such as Diverse Women for Diversity who are preserving food systems, seeds, economies, culture, language

She concluded by stating that FFP should not be only for paper but for protecting people’s rights, particularly those who are left behind by the development policy. 

Ms Priti Darooka began with applauding Faridaji’s analysis and averred that those countries who have adopted FFP should make their leaders adhere to the people centred and grounded policy and strive to create a more just and equitable world by recognizing the interconnectedness of gender equality and broader global challenges, including poverty, conflict, and climate change.

It is important to seek to reshape international relations to be more inclusive, responsive, and sensitive to the needs and rights of all people, regardless of their gender. While raising her doubts of FFP agenda, she stated that FFP must evolve after extensive dialogue and consensus building; a national process is absolutely crucial. The demand for FFP should come from the women’s movement. There is a need for home grown conversation. Though post-colonial countries such as Mexico and Chile have adopted FFP, it is the West and the North that is pushing FFP- the Western knowledge imposed in the South, it is an attempt of silencing local initiative. We need to be mindful of this process of artificial universalisation.

What we need is good gender equality indicators, climate justice policy. She urged that we must decolonise our thinking guided by the belief that ‘West knows best’. She asked, Where was FFP of the western countries when the multinational pharmaceutical industries did not provide vaccines to save millions of human lives for their greed for profit?

She exhorted the participants to adopt the approach of “Women-led development” as an overarching theme for achieving SDGs. She concluded by quoting G20 Declaration on ‘Women in leadership’. 

It was followed by interesting Q&A sessions. Major take away of the workshop was an understanding that Asia is the region most vulnerable to climate change and India is ranked as one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, frequently affected by natural disasters. Top down policies, technocratic solutions, lowering environmental norms cannot mitigate the devastating impact of climate change. Collective wisdom of women living in harmony with nature in the Global South must be respected and their voices must be amplified.

Day 2:

Online International Workshop on Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia and Pacific Region with regards to PEACE by IMPRI had participants from all over the world as the panelists were renowned feminists- Dr. Irene Santiago , Dr. Athiqah Nur Alami and Dr. Vahida Nainar . There were 550 registered participants.

In her opening remarks, Prof. Vibhuti Patel stated that Main objectives of the declaration of International Women’s Year in 1975 and the International women’s Decade (1975-1985) were Equality, Development and Peace. The Women’s Movement also raised a slogan, ‘Personal is Political’ and conveyed that peace in the family, community, within the nation state and world peace were all equally important. In the transnational feminist solidarity, combating gender based violence and strengthening efforts of peace making, peace keeping, peace building were proactively integrated. As a result, feminist foreign Policy crystallised.

Dr. Irene Santiago’s captivating speech made the participants spellbound. She stated that she has been part of the women’s movement for over 5 decades. Consciousness raising in the feminist movements motivated her to move forward in her public life locally, nationally, regionally and globally.

There are many scripts in our heads and hearts, one of them is discourse around ‘Personal is political’-pure genius, due to which hidden issues are brought into public. She highlighted that the approach of ‘add women and stir” does not work. We demanded more representation, more participation of women at the bottom of the pyramid, and at the same time, we asked a collateral question, ‘What type of politics?’ When we discuss power, we ask, ‘For what purpose, we seek power?’ While promoting ‘gender mainstreaming’- integrating gender into everything- is it only a technical issue of gender disaggregated data and budget allocation? What about macroeconomic policies that exacerbate inequality, injustice and gender based violence?

She said that feminist foreign policies are focussed on 4 Rs- Rights, Representation, Resources, Realities. All 4 are political issues that determine trade, events, diplomacy and development. We need to challenge exploitation in existing social, political and economic world order and structural underpinnings that adversely impact climate, economic and health crises in which some people are more vulnerable and powerless. 

Sovereignty of the nation states is crucial. The nation states can function independently from each other. We should not divide them into strong or weak, winners or losers. What is the antidote to this devastating OR? We should replace OR with AND. My country and your country. We can live in peace with each other and with nature. She reminded the participants of John Lenon song,  IMAGINE

Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try

No hell below us. Above us, only sky

Imagine all the people. Living’ for today. Ah!

Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for. 

Imagine all the people. Living’ life in peace. 

Imagine no possessions. I wonder if you can.

No need for greed or hunger. A brotherhood of man.

Imagine all the people. Sharing all the world.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you’ll join us, And the world will live as one

John Lenon

We need to redefine our concept of power and build potency to act for what is good. Technical barriers can be broken down by knowledge and skills. Feminist foreign policy must work with this framework that we are all connected.

Dr. Athquah Nur Alami presented a situational analysis of South East Asian countries with regards to Women, Peace and Security. She stated, “the Resolution 1325 began a series of conversations that enabled us to interrogate the ethnocentric, anthropocentric, and androcentric notions of security.

It is significant as it is a bottom-up resolution. It emerged from the experience of women’s activism at the grass-root level because of the lobbyism of NGOs and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). There were 10 other resolutions that together cover a whole gamut of concerns and make women’s peace and security a global agenda with a conviction that Women’s inclusion will improve the chances of attaining viable and sustainable peace. There must be zero tolerance for all forms of gender violence. Together they refer to the global codification of principles that underlie dignity, rights, and bodily integrity for women.”

Dr. Alami said that Indonesia has the 1st woman minister and has adopted Gender responsive foreign policy- WPS- women as victims, survivors, agents of change need transnational solidarity and its 4 pillars: participation, prevention, protection, relief and recovery. She gave examples of WPS discourse in Indonesia, Timor lease, Philippines, Myanmar. She gave an account of the Peace keeping mission of Indonesia.

She shared the findings of the ASEAN Regional Study on WPS conducted in 2021. In conclusion, she highlighted the importance of consensus building and involvement of CSOs in peace making, peacebuilding and peacekeeping with an intersectional perspective that incorporates all social identities. 

Dr. Vahida Nainar began by admiring Iren’s presentation that provided contextualisation of the WPS and Dr. Athiqah for giving a situational analysis of South East Asian countries. She said, “the South Asian Region has been conservative in discussing WPS. Even in the declaration of SAARC, there was no mention of gender, it only spoke of ‘protection of women and children’.

Over the past 2 decades, South Asia has witnessed several conflicts- intrastate/interstate, refugee crisis, unprecedented economic and constitutional crisis in Pakistan, Taliban take over in 2021 in Afghanistan, strife in Kashmir and North East, civil war in Sri Lanka and Nepal, all of which have resulted in enormous volatility in the South Asian region. In the aftermath, there have not been negotiations for peace and reconciliation.

The issues are not resolved, they are simmering under the surface that is a real risk. Reality of the region demands intersectional analysis. Demilitarisation in the South Asian region is the benchmark of state commitment to WPS, 1325 resolution and NAP-National Action Plan in Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka.

She appreciated unintended localisation of 1325 in Sri Lanka where women’s movement got involved in peace building with the help of CSOs. As a result, the 2018 election results witnessed that women’s representation in LSG increased drastically in Sri Lanka. In Nepal, involvement of women in the constituent assembly was inspiring.

In Afghanistan, WPS efforts for a 20 year period (2001-2021) witnessed increased induction of women political structures, education; it was a symbolic and a limited success. Dr. Vahida stated that a major challenge is an inherent limitation of UNSC that fails to address institutional inequality. Due to shortcomings of the resolution, social reality of Afghan women became precarious as in the negotiations with Taliban in the names of ‘respect for family values’ as stated in NAP, women’s rights were compromised. 

She said that in South Asia security is prioritised over peace. Hence there is heavy military presence and military action, proliferation of weapons. This masculine notion of peace and security results in higher % of the national budget in militarisation rather than over the items that would mitigate the conflict. The women’s groups in the Kabul Conference, 2010 had demanded not to trade women’s rights while negotiating with the Taliban. The peace talks should have progressed towards gender equality, but there were only 4 women out of 21 members in the negotiations!!

She concluded with an optimistic note that incremental advances are important and acknowledged the incredibly important role of women’s movement and CSO mobilisation to bring real change.

The Q & A session was full of life.

Acknowledgement: This speech is posted by Harshaa Kawatra is a research intern at IMPRI.

Themes:
Day 1: Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region with regards to Climate Change
Day 2: Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific for Transnational Solidarity for Peace

Event Page

Book Release: Advocating a Feminist Foreign Policy for India