Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Feminist Foreign Policy – Emilie-Louise Purdie

The SNP’s manifesto for the Scottish elections includes a bold vision for building a feminist foreign policy.

Despite the restrictions of devolution, Scotland has been creative in finding ways to contribute to the foreign policy agenda, whether being the first country in the world to call a climate emergency back in 2019 or championing the role of women in conflict resolution.

This latest policy pledge will see Scotland follow in the footsteps of Sweden, Canada, France, Mexico, Hawaii and Spain – promoting gender equality in foreign and development policy.

What is a feminist foreign policy?
Feminist foreign policy is a toolkit for promoting gender equality around the world and building policy through a gender lens. It calls on policy makers to empower women and girls and ensure policies promote gender equality.

Last year we celebrated the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325. This has been a catalyst for further action to promote the inclusion of women in peace, security and diplomacy. However, much more work needs to be done – just one in five peace agreements signed between 2015 and 2019 contained gender-sensitive provisions.

Progress is critical because peace and security efforts are more sustainable when women are equal partners in prevention of conflict. When women are at the negotiating table, peace agreements are more likely to last 15 years or longer.                                            

By building feminist foreign policy baselines, countries are propelled towards greater equality and stability. 

Time for action

The 1995 UN World Conference on Women in Beijing hosted a speech from Hillary Clinton where she famously declared,

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.

This challenged contemporary foreign and development policy, which needed to better recognize, represent and raise women’s voices.

In March 2021, the UN’s Generation Equality forum kicked off in Mexico City. Bringing together policy makers, NGOs and grassroots organisations, the event was a celebration of progress since the Beijing declaration. Yet, as we gathered over Zooms, new barriers to gender equality around the world dominated discussions.

The climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic have had devastating consequences for communities around the world, felt most acutely by women and girls. In conflict-affected countries, women’s representation in COVID-19 taskforces stands at just 18%. New data from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reveals in 2020, women held just 15% of top jobs as government ministers in environmental sectors.

In the UK, lack of ambition from the UK government will fail to deliver the global leadership needed on gender equality at June’s G7 summit in Cornwall.

  • A UK government target to increase the number of female personnel in the armed forces to 15% by 2020 has been missed.
  • Following the UK government’s decision to scrap the 0.7% ODA target, former Foreign Office Minister, Lady Sugg, has confirmed UK aid for girls’ education is being cut by more than 40%.
  • Future funding streams look uncertain as the UK government have still not confirmed continuation of the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth programme.

This is disappointing and risks the UK falling behind on progress towards gender equality in foreign policy. We need to ensure women are represented, empowered and have access to resources.

In adopting a feminist foreign policy, Scotland can show leadership and ambition in the UK by pioneering policy through a gender lens. Let’s grasp this opportunity to build a fair and just future for women and girls around the world.

Emilie-Louise Purdie is Head of Research for the SNP Westminster Group