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Feminist foreign policies are gaining popularity, and increasing the peace

Terrorists defying national borders, authoritarians clinging to power, increasing flows of desperate refugees: The next US president will inherit global challenges the standard foreign policy toolbox is ill- equipped to fix.

The winner in November could respond by doubling down on a transformative approach: a feminist foreign policy.

From Canada to Sweden and beyond, leaders are turning a gendered lens on their global strategies in the hopes of empowering women and advancing peace and prosperity. Wealthy countries have quadrupled their foreign aid for gender equality to $10 billion in the past decade. Sixty-three countries around the world have created national strategies for integrating women into decision making on peace and security.

Should this be a priority for the new US administration?

It has long been known that social, cultural and political inequality drive conflict and instability; now, evidence is mounting that this applies to gender too.

American scholars have shown that the strongest predictor of a state’s security is not its religion, wealth or level of democracy; it’s the way society treats its women. When women influence peace negotiations, agreements last longer. And more women in police forces can help prevent terrorism.

For countries struggling to transition to democracy, new research shows that channeling support to female politicians and women’s groups can play a key role in helping these states get “unstuck.”

“There’s been a tendency to think of work to advance women’s political empowerment as confined to a particular part of society,” says Thomas Carothers, vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.

“But relatively modest investments in programs to promote women’s political empowerment can have a very big payoff in terms of avoiding conflict and damage to societies, which ends up hurting the United States as well.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was the first world leader to speak openly about a “feminist” foreign policy. At an event in Washington, DC last year, Wallstrom suggested that “Striving toward gender equality is … not only a goal in itself, but also a precondition for achieving our wider foreign, development and security policy objectives.”

In 2014, Sweden appropriated $1.5 billion in aid to fund gender equality in countries affected by conflict — five times more than it spent in 2000. Wallstrom’s strategy centers around three Rs: promoting the rights of women and girls, supporting women’s representation in decision making and ensuring financial resources for promoting gender equality.

Swedish foreign service members must also consider how gender dynamics, such as distinct priorities and power relations between and among women and men, affect all of its foreign operations.


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[Photo Credit: Catianne Tijerina/United Nations]
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