Tuesday

1st Dec 2020

EU parliament calls for feminist foreign policy

  • Boy's club? Not many women round the table, when EU foreign ministers talk (Photo: Council of European Union)

Several countries have already adopted a feminist foreign policy.

Now, it is also on the agenda in the European Parliament, where a majority has voted for a gender-equal foreign and security policy.

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Some 50 percent women in all decision-making positions. Some 85 percent of EU development assistance dedicated for programmes supporting gender equality and mandatory gender-equality training for diplomats.

These are some of the demands in a report calling for gender equality in EU foreign policy, which was recently approved in the European Parliament (EP): 477 MEPs voted Yes, 112 voted No, and 94 did not vote.

The report was presented by German deputy Hannah Neumann and Spanish MEP Ernest Urtasun from the Greens group, who have long pushed for a feminist foreign policy in Europe.

Urtasun explained that, while several countries have already adopted a foreign policy with a strong focus on gender equality, the EU continues to lack one.

"We call on the EU and its leaders to promote a gender transformative vision of foreign policy that protects and promotes women's human rights. At the same time, we call on the EU to give women a voice and a seat in foreign and security policy by ensuring their representation and involvement in political leadership and decision making at all levels," he said.

By introducing its feminist foreign policy in 2014, Sweden set in motion a growing movement.

Today, Canada, France, and Mexico also have one. Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland have a strong focus on gender equality, while Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Spain have announced an intent to either develop a feminist foreign policy or to make gender equality a priority.

A feminist foreign policy aims to think of gender equality in all areas of the field: aid, trade, diplomacy, defence and security.

And it should consider what impact policies will have on gender equality, in a process also known as 'gender mainstreaming'.

"An EU feminist foreign policy should make sure to prioritise gender equality in all activities, guarantee women access and participation at all levels, and allocate significant financial and human resources to achieve that vision," Urtasun said.

The idea of a European feminist foreign policy has been inspired by the Swedish approach, which focuses on rights, representation, and resources.

If the EU wants to be a leader in gender equality, it is necessary to increase women's representation in decision-making processes in all foreign policy areas, allocate resources to promote gender equality, and other marginalised groups and promote women's human rights, said Neumann.

Foreign policy is typically dominated by men. For example, only three ministers of foreign affairs in the EU are women, while the rest are men.

"Diversity makes political decisions better. That is especially true in war and crisis situations. This is why women need to sit at the negotiation table. The reality shows, however, that they are severely underrepresented - in the military, in diplomacy, in high-level negotiations - and this is also true for our own EU institutions and missions," said Neumann, who also sits on the EP's foreign affairs committee and its security and defence sub-committee.

One of the MEP's who voted for the report was Danish centre-right deputy Pernille Weiss.

She agreed that the EU should focus more on gender equality in its own institutions, and in its interaction with the world outside the European Union.

"Of course I voted for the report. It definitely has good ideas and tools, which can create a difference. It is essential for our future defence and security policy to protect women and girls against being victims in conflicts and war, because we know sex is being used as a weapon," Weiss said.

It does not need to be labelled "feminist", she added, however.

"It does not make sense to label it and think of it as if we just make a feminist foreign policy, we will have peace in the world," she said.

"I would rather focus on the substance and look at what our defence and security policy should deliver. When we focus on that, I am sure we will have a human and value-based European foreign and security policy, embracing everyone," Weiss said.

Even though a majority supported the idea, 112 did vote against, and one of them was Dutch liberal Caroline Nagtegaal.

"I fully support the importance of gender equality and strongly feel that equality between men and women is a subject that requires our attention," she said.

However, she did not support key demands such as quotas, development aid to be spent on mainly gender initiatives, and dedicated members of staff working on gender issues at all EU embassies.

"For these reasons, I could not support the final vote of this report, even though I voted in favour of many other elements in the text," she said.

Miriam Lexmann, a centre-right MEP from Slovakia, also voted No.

"I believe the issue of women's equality is truly important, and it is only right to search for solutions that address existing inequalities between men and women. Unfortunately, I could not support the stated report as it was ideologically-driven and has put forward recommendations which go against the subsidiarity principle," she said.

That principle, enshrined in EU law, says the EU should only legislate on matters where national authorities cannot do much to help.

So, what now?

The EP does not have legislative authority on this issue, and its report was non-binding.

Still, Neumann said it sends out a strong political signal to other EU institutions and to member states.

"If we want our foreign policy to be successful, we need to empower women both abroad and in our own structures. Our report makes this very clear. The time to start taking action is now," she said.

Author bio

Mette Mølgaard is a freelance journalist from Denmark

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