The Importance and Role of Feminist Foreign Policy in South Asia

Session Report
Trisha Shivdasan

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 peace-making, 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.

On the first day our third speaker, Vahida Nainar, independent researcher and a gender and human rights consultant continued the discussion on Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region by talking about the importance of focusing on the South Asian region concerning women, peace and security issues by highlighting the need to assess the current status of these issues and the absence of feminist foreign policies in South Asia.

Feminist Foreign Policy in South Asia

The discussion opened with an acknowledgment that South Asian countries tend to be more conservative regarding gender-related regional mechanisms. The absence of any mention of gender issues in regional platforms like the SARC Commission was highlighted, emphasizing the lack of attention to women, peace, and security. Despite this, the region faces numerous conflicts, including border disputes, forced displacement, and civil wars, which pose significant challenges to peace and security.

Challenges in the Region

Long-standing conflicts in South Asia were discussed, including border disputes between India and China, India and Pakistan, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh. The recent Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the resulting mass exodus, particularly affecting women and professionals, added to the region’s volatility. Internal conflicts within countries like India, Kashmir, and the Northeast region, as well as the aftermath of civil wars in Sri Lanka and Nepal, continue to undermine peace and security in the region. These conflicts often have strong links to poverty, corruption, and discrimination, highlighting the importance of addressing root causes for sustainable peace.

The Role of Feminist Foreign Policy

Despite the absence of formal acknowledgment of the women, peace, and security agenda in South Asia, Nainar emphasized that feminist foreign policy remains crucial in addressing conflicts and promoting peace. The integration of feminist principles into various aspects of state processes and systems, with a focus on an intersectional understanding of gender, was discussed. Achieving gender equality through improved governance, the rule of law, and respect for human rights was seen as essential for mitigating the root causes of conflict.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325

Vahida Nainar highlighted the significance of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 as a milestone moment in the women, peace, and security agenda. Although it fell short of the feminist vision of peace, it ushered in discussions about engendering peace processes. It serves as a benchmark for a state’s commitment to peace and security worldwide and is implemented through National Action Plans. Four South Asian countries, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, have adopted these plans.

Successes and Challenges

The successes of National Action Plans included the incorporation of gender sensitivity in security-related policies and legislative documents, particularly in addressing violence against women during conflicts. However, challenges remained, such as the lack of political will, limited civil society participation in decision-making processes, and the pervasive culture of militarism, which prioritizes defense spending over social development.

Vahida Nainar talked about the urgent need for a feminist foreign policy in South Asia and highlighted the importance of the women, peace, and security agenda. While challenges persist, showcased how civil society can leverage existing frameworks like UN Security Council Resolution 1325 to advocate for change and promote gender-sensitive policies in the region.

The discussion emphasized that advancing women, peace, and security in South Asia requires a concerted effort to address the root causes of conflicts, prioritize gender equality, and engage civil society in the decision-making process. Only through such multifaceted approaches can sustainable peace and security be achieved in the region.

Acknowledgement: Trisha Shivdasan is a research intern at IMPRI.

Read more event reports of IMPRI here.

Read more session reports on Law and Public Policy events conducted by IMPRI:
Police System, Laws & Public Policy