Author:Scheyer, Victoria


The state of the current world order depends on the lens through which one looks at it. While some suggest that gender considerations are starting to play a bigger role in international relations, others claim that gender analysis continues to be ignored and even pushed back against. (1,2,3) While politicians paint either one of these pictures, there is a general consensus about the situation on the ground: In many places, the principles of democracy and multilateralism are being questioned, the rights of women, queer, indigenous, and rural groups, among others, are threatened, and conflicts are becoming more complex and are extending beyond the borders of states and regions.

Mostly, the current world system still operates in a neo-realist way, in which states try to operate according to the principle of sovereignty and competition for world power. (4) As the recent 2019 Munich Security Conference demonstrated, the worldwide increase of military and defense budgets, especially in the United States, China, and Russia, and the growing tensions between these states, indicate the rising competition for power. (5) At such conferences, the idea of incorporating gender analysis or some feminist principles is artificial.

Fortunately, there are a number of states that care to some degree about the principle of "We The People" enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the way social groups and members of the international community fit into the current world order. The last few years have also shown that the number of such states is increasing, supposedly in response to the ongoing failure of the "superpowers" to address violence and crises of their own making.

At the same time, states that were peripheral to the establishment of the United Nations now act as megaphones of multilateralism, promoting the ethical norm of equal treatment among states and empowering each other in the process. (6) One example of this is the multilateral action to adopt the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in 2017, in which states have united not around the principle of power but on the principle of opposing the security scheme that has not been working for everyone. The process showed the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons, and think of themselves as the world's superpowers, that there is another means to security, one based on the principles of multilateralism, common morality, human rights, and extraterritorial accountability. (7)

In some scholarship, states that promote human rights and multilateralism are known as "good states." (8) Good states are those that use foreign policies to improve global justice beyond their borders and transform global politics through the pursuit of good international citizenship, which requires sensitivity to the needs and wants of "others." The states that take on a similar view on global politics and their responsibility on the global scale rely on an alternative vision of global politics, looking at the drivers of conflict and the root causes of violence in communities, societies, and institutions.

Feminist analysis represents another component of an alternative view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. This analysis provides a well-defined and augmented alternative to the neo-realistic framework. All three of the 2015 United Nations Reviews have admitted that the absence of gender analysis is a key challenge for peace. (9) Feminist foreign policy is one that includes whole populations, appreciates diversity, inspires comprehensive analysis, and leaves no one behind.

This article explains that striving toward a feminist foreign policy and having one are not the same. We look into the theoretical background of feminist analysis in international relations, propose criteria for a new understanding of feminist foreign policy, and apply these criteria to analyze and conduct a gap analysis of existing feminist foreign policies. Overall, this study helps unpack the definition of feminist foreign policy and highlight areas that can be addressed by those willing to redefine security and peace in the current world order.


Traditional international relations theory defines foreign policy as both the relationships between states and the structural organization of a government and its foreign affairs. (10) Currently, states' relationships and governing systems are structured through a neo-realist method: These relationships and systems are organized hierarchically and situated within a security dilemma; they serve national interests; and they are based on the principle of sovereignty. (11) With a few exceptions, the top ranks of these hierarchies are occupied by men and generally dominated by masculine principles. This is often overlooked because "gender is difficult to see when only the masculine is present." (12) This represents what is referred to as "patriarchy."

Feminist Critique Of Traditional Approaches To Security

Patriarchal systems and practices in foreign policy are highly criticized by feminist international relations theory. (13) The foundational basis of this theory is that "gender is an integral, not an accidental, feature of the worldwide structure of diplomatic, military and economic relations." (14) As Acker claims, the feminist method is not about adding women into the system but revealing how the concept of gender is incorporated into it. (15) Such a method shows that current principles of foreign policy are highly dependent on gender norms, roles, and structures, and that all institutions are inherently gendered. (16)

Acker asserts that gender in institutions could be understood in two ways: either as a gender-neutral structure that tries to adjust women to the existing systems of power and applies principles of representational gender equality or as gender-integrated structures that apply equality and justice within the structures, norms, and ruling ideology. (17) Acker agrees with the second understanding and claims that gender is an integral part of all structures. (18)

For us, therefore, a feminist foreign policy requires rethinking and re-envisioning gender structures of institutions and governance systems. It cannot be equivalent to a foreign policy that merely aims to ensure equal representation or meaningful participation of women in the position of power.

Using Gender Analysis

True, Tickner, and Enloe deconstructed the main concepts of foreign policy and international relations using gender analysis. (19,20,21) They revealed the gender bias of security, power, and sovereignty, claiming that these concepts are made by and for men on the basis of their experiences. (22) Hence, the concept of hegemonic masculinity was established to describe gendered power distribution in hierarchies. Hegemonic masculinity is understood as a "culturally idealized form" of power, mainstreamed in personal, collective, and institutional spheres of life, and expressed through hierarchy, violence, and aggression. (23) Hegemonic masculinity expresses an unequal gender structure, which should be challenged by integrating feminist principles into national and foreign policy. (24)

Understanding Feminist Foreign Policy

What does feminist foreign policy look like? Indeed, there is no agreed upon definition of a feminist foreign policy. What we have learned from feminist theory is that gender parity and attempts to make women visible in international relations are not enough to realize a comprehensive feminist foreign policy. Such an approach, according to Enloe, only implies an attempt to embed women firmly inside a patriarchal system and fails to challenge the underlying gender norms that fuel violence and conflict. (25)

The claim that gender parity in foreign policy will also bring about more peace and harmony in international relations is not as effective as women's meaningful participation achieved through structural change. (26) The study by UN Women and Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative shows that, despite the fact that women's inclusion improves opportunities for peace, the number of women present at the negotiating table does not assure a better outcome for women: "it is the level of influence that women can assert on the process that makes a difference, not only their presence by numbers." (27)

In her book Bananas, Beaches, Bases, Enloe provides deep insights into how women from diverse backgrounds play an important role in international politics but are systematically excluded, ignored, and often forgotten. (28) When analyzing the qualities and characteristics embodied by those in power, one will find a surprisingly homogenous group of world leaders in economics and politics.

However, it is also the case that there exist female members of parliament who vote for military conflict solutions or uphold the patriarchal militarized system; they also serve as leaders of major military institutions. (29) These are the manifestations of the traditional neo-realist security system, and its comparatively easy application drives both women and men into making decisions and setting their priorities. (30)

The feminist approach to foreign policy is not as easy; it demands a shift in how individuals within the system make political decisions and set priorities. It is about advancing peace and development for everyone, not through striving for the absence of conflict or serving the interests of individuals within the government, but through reimagining governance and social structures, as well as promoting nonviolent conflict solutions.

We propose that the guiding principles for a feminist foreign policy framework should include intersectional analysis and inclusion, complete disarmament, security concepts centered around the wellbeing and safety of the individual, the inclusion of civil society, the promotion of international solidarity through dialogue, and the fostering...

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