Why does India need a feminist foreign policy?

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  • India has been elected to the UN Commission on the Status of Women for a four-year term in September 2020.

Relevance: GSI-

  • Role of women & women's organization.
What is feminist foreign policy?
  • Feminist foreign policy is the most recent policy innovation aiming for a transformative and rights-based approach across all auspices of a nation’s foreign policy. 
  • It calls for a state to promote values and good practices to achieve gender equality, and to guarantee all women enjoy their human rights, through diplomatic relations. 
  • It offers an alternate and intersectional rethinking of security from the viewpoint of the most vulnerable.
  • FFP is an effort to move beyond the traditional notions of war, peace, and development assistance to incorporate other areas of foreign policy, including economics, finance, health, and the environment.
  • By doing so, the framework looks at security more holistically and incorporates the effects of its policies on women and marginalized groups.
  • It focuses on protecting the needs of marginalized and female groups by critically reflecting international power structures and putting human security at the heart of discussions
  • It builds on three central principles of feminist perspectives on diplomacy and security, which include
    1. Broadening the understanding of security
    2. Decoding internal power relation
    3. Acknowledging women’s political agency
Objectives of feminist foreign policy

The objectives of feminist foreign policy include:

  1. The fight against sexual and sexist violence;
  2. Involving women in politics and decision-making;
  3. Involving women in peace negotiations and treaties;
  4. The education of women and girls, and that of men and boys;
  5. The economic emancipation of women across the world.
History of feminist foreign policy
  • Discussion of gender equality within international organizations and foreign policy is longstanding. 
  • States have long paid attention to gender within foreign and development policy, from National Action Plans on Women to work on Sustainable Development Goal 5.
  • States even worked together on Beijing Declaration and the UN Conferences on women.
  • Yet this action has all largely focused on the concept of gender and there has been little employment of the notion of feminism within the work of states’ foreign policy or the language of international institutions.
  • This is beginning to change, in part through the advent of feminist foreign policy.
  • In 2014, Sweden became the first country in the world to launch a feminist foreign policy.
  • Canada adopted a feminist international assistance policy in 2017 and France followed in 2019.
  • In early 2020, Mexico launched its new feminist foreign policy. 
  • However, the current conversation around a feminist/gendered foreign policy is still largely in small circles in North America and Europe.
Why does India need a feminist foreign policy?

Inclusive decision-making

  • Women constitute only 9% of India’s previous foreign secretaries and 18% of the current leadership in embassies and high commissions.
  • Women have traditionally been excluded from the conduct of foreign policy on the basis that a typical “female approach” would be more inclined to “soft-security” matters—including human rights, women empowerment, migration, and trafficking—and distract from a focus on more important hard security issues.
  • This conceptualization of soft and hard security concepts are constructions—in reality, no clear dichotomy exists between the two.
  • Women are relegated to predetermined roles rather than given the agency and equal rights to select into different tracks.
  • In light of these challenges, India must pursue reforms not only at the organizational level but also in policymaking to build a more inclusive setup.
  • The FFP framework provides India opportunities to eliminate existing barriers restricting the participation of women and other marginalized groups in India’s decision-making processes. 

Fulfilling commitments

  • While assuming its seat at United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member, India committed to focusing efforts on peacekeeping, peace-building, and women’s inclusion.
  • In September 2020, India also became a member of the prestigious UN Commission on the Status of Women.
  • These diplomatic developments demonstrate that India’s foreign policy now envisages making a stronger commitment towards the goal of women empowerment.
  • Adopting FFP will strengthen the country’s commitment to women’s empowerment.

To fulfill its global power ambitions

  • Prioritizing human security and gender issues might even put India in a better position to fulfill its global power ambitions.
  • India currently ranks 112th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index 2019-2020.
  • Adopting FFP could improve performance in the global gender gap index.
  • India could emerge as a role model for other countries by setting an example for achieving gender parity across various social indicators that are important for evaluating a country’s overall development.
  • For its aspirations to become actions, India should consider adopting a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) framework.

Stronger bilateral relationships

  • FFP would allow India to foster stronger ties with countries that have either adopted this framework—such as Mexico, Sweden, and Canada—or that are otherwise prominent advocates of gender equality.
  • Considering that FFP is an all-inclusive approach, it could also push India to foster relations with other nations by engaging with civil society organizations that already have a strong human-rights standing in those countries.

To eliminate domestic barriers against women 

  • An emphasis on women in leadership could catalyze an internal shift in India domestically and help subvert strictly defined patriarchal gender roles.
  • Empirical research has suggested that gender equality is an important prerequisite for the economic and social development of a nation, the strengthening of democratic institutions, and the advancement of national security.
Criticism of feminist foreign policy
  • Sweden was criticized for allowing arms exports to repressive regimes while simultaneously criticizing these countries for deficiencies regarding human rights and the treatment of women.
  • It often gives rise to a diplomatic crisis.
  • For example, Saudi Arabia levelled a serious charge against the Swedish foreign minister, that she had criticized Sharia law and Islam.
  • Critics say Canada’s lack of focus on men and boys leaves the traditions and customs supporting gender inequality not fully addressed.
  • And in Mexico, which has among the world’s highest rates of gender violence – men murder 11 women there every day – it’s hard to see how a government that cannot protect women at home can credibly promote feminism abroad.
India moving Forward with FFP
  • India’s past efforts signal that it is ready to move towards FFP—it deployed the first all-female police force unit to Liberia in 2007
  • Many of our overseas programs in partner countries have a gender component, as seen in Afghanistan, Lesotho, and Cambodia.
  • At home, 2015 saw a gender budget exercise within the MEA towards development assistance.
  • What is needed is a more formal designed approach that goes beyond a pure development model to wider access, representation, and decision making. 
  • India can move towards an FFP by first actively appointing women to posts at various policy levels and involving them directly in the conduct of its foreign relations.
  • Second, India can make a stronger commitment to include women at the decision-making tables, either through a quota system or simply by ensuring that there is an equal representation of men and women.
  • Third, India can collaborate with various international, regional, and national civil society organizations to ensure the proper implementation of the FFP framework.
  • Our election to the  Commission on the Status of Women ( CSW) was a ringing endorsement of our commitment to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment in all our endeavours.
  • We must now go further to sensitize and shape global discussions around gender mainstreaming.
  • Our gender-based foreign assistance needs to be broadened and deepened and equally matched with lower barriers to participation in politics, diplomacy, the bureaucracy, military, and other spaces of decision making.
  • In doing this, India can easily claim a new unique feminist foreign policy adding to and smartly shaping the global conversation.

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