THE Scottish Government recently released a report which looked at how a feminist approach to foreign policy could be adopted.

With international affairs reserved to Westminster the move, unsurprisingly, caused fury amongst Tory MSPs.

But what is feminist foreign policy (FFP), why is the Scottish Government pursuing it and what did they find?

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What is feminist foreign policy?

There is no one definition - which is why the Scottish Government approached seven experts from within the UK, the EU and further afield to share their views.

The overarching findings from participants were that FFP’s core principles include safeguarding peace, justice, equality, well-being and the environment, with marginalised groups seen as a key focus.

Intersectionality, which identifies multiple factors of discrimination such as race, class and gender, is also core to the policy idea. Although participants “noted the difficulties in operationalising it due to its complexity” its purpose would be to include people who might have otherwise been missed.

The Center for Feminist Foreign Policy summarises the approach as, “a political framework centred around the wellbeing of marginalised people and invokes processes of self-reflection regarding foreign policy’s hierarchical global systems”.

Sweden became the first country in the world to adopt an FFP in 2014, shortly followed by Canada, Mexico and France. Last month the new right-wing Swedish government announced that they would abandon the ground-breaking policy. 

Why is the Scottish Government researching a policy in a reserved area?

Foreign policy, under the Scotland Act, is one of the areas reserved to Westminster.

However, the Scottish Government said that there is a “clear role” for Scotland to play in being a “good global citizen” and addressing challenges across the world. Noting work already taken in areas such as climate justice and international development by the Scottish Government, they say that given the increasing impact international affairs have on domestic objectives it is “imperative that Scotland becomes more active internationally”.

In the explanatory notes behind the research, it explains: “Through our international work, we can reduce gender and other inequalities at home and overseas, and share Scotland’s experience in policymaking, while learning ourselves from others.”

The National: The rights of marginalised groups, like migrants and asylum seekers, would be at the heart of feminist foreign policyThe rights of marginalised groups, like migrants and asylum seekers, would be at the heart of feminist foreign policy (Image: PA)

Who did they consult?

A social researcher interviewed seven experts on behalf of the Scottish Government between May and June 2022.

They were:

  • Marissa Conway, foreign policy analyst, The Feminist Foreign Policy Collective
  • Dr Claire Duncanson, senior lecturer in International Relations, University of Edinburgh
  • Dr Alice Musabende, researcher, International Affairs, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Swati Parashar, associate professor in peace and development, University of Gothenburg
  • Lebogang Tisane, director of Agang Africa Network for Marginalised Groups
  • Lyric Thompson, International Center for Research on Women
  • Diyana Yahaya, feminist activist and member of the Gender Trade Coalition

What did the interviewees say?

The key policies participants said should be interwoven with FFP are; health, international development, migration, justice, climate, peace and security, economy, and trade.

The majority argued that the focus of the policy should go beyond just women and girls, and include marginalised groups more generally. The report stated that one participant described this as: “Feminist analysis is different than gender analysis in that it looks at power and asks who is oppressed – while this is often women and girls, it is not only them.”

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On intersectionality, it was said that it is important for any future policy to look at how “structures driving inequality also intersect”. Participants also suggested that collaboration, participation and representation should be core to any future policy development and that feminist movements should be included in discussions.

And, while representation of women into existing institutions is important, an FFP should aim to change and transform structures which drive inequality, war, and ecological harm. As patriarchal structures are so deeply embedded in society, some experts suggested that work should be focussed on gradual change “whereby system transformation remains as the ultimate goal but at the same time policies are developed that are actionable in the here and now”.

What are the issues with FFP?

The main issue interviewees raised was that the perception of feminism is the ultimate challenge as it could be seen as “too right on” by some. There are also numerous different strands of feminism, and it is not one simplified area, which could lead to a risk of a narrow understanding of what it is. It was also noted that feminism in the foreign policy sphere could often be misunderstood.

“Some will view it as being 'gentler' and it is therefore perceived as more 'wishy washy' or not as a serious approach,” the report said.

And, six of the interviewees mentioned that the “current constitutional settlement” with the UK Government is “a key challenge for Scotland in terms of devolved and reserved issues”.

The National: Feminist foreign policy is still in its infancyFeminist foreign policy is still in its infancy (Image: PA)

How would a feminist foreign policy be different to the UK’s?

The UK has never committed to espousing foreign policy on a feminist footing, and bar one short research note on the topic on the government’s website, historically the UK’s record is one of colonisation and domination through foreign policy.

The current UK Tory administration is in flux but strikes a hard line on immigration and marginalised groups seeking safety, not to forget the Windrush scandal, which is contrary to FFP.

What are the Scottish Tories saying about it?

Unsurprisingly, the Tories described the research as “absurd”, but the Foreign Office refused to comment on the party’s claims that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is intruding into reserved areas.

Stephen Kerr, a Scottish Conservative MSP, said: “The SNP are creating more and more absurd ideas to attempt to spend Scottish taxpayers’ money on reserved areas. Instead of a ‘feminist foreign policy’ how about ‘trains that run on time’ or ‘hospitals that meet A&E targets’?”