How Feminist Foreign Policy Prioritises Women’s Rights in Addressing Climate Change

By: Zoi Savvidou,

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This text was written by Zoi Savvidou, Intern at RWI.

In recent years, several countries have adopted a feminist foreign policy or have expressed an interest in doing so. In 2014, Sweden became the first country to publicly adopt a feminist foreign policy agenda, which consists of the three R’s: rights, meaning the promotion of women’s issues, including by countering gender-based violence and discrimination; representation, including support for women’s participation at all levels of decision-making, from parliament to private sector boards to the legal system; and resources, to ensure equitable allocation among people of all genders, whether in government budgets or development projects. Such policy was embedded in the broader global efforts to promote gender equality in the international arena, which we have seen evolving over the past few decades in the aftermath of the adoption of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. The resolution

“reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

While there is no single definition of feminist foreign policy, the principles of gender equality and inclusion are central to its implementation in several areas: trade, migration, humanitarian aid and foreign aid. Since 2014, and by April 2022, several countries have embraced feminist foreign policy: Canada (2017), France (2019), Mexico (2020), Spain and Luxemburg (2021), Chile and Germany (2022).

According to the United Nations, the three main pillars of feminist foreign policy are gender equality, non-violence, and inclusivity. These principles are essential in addressing climate change, which disproportionately affects women and marginalized communities. Recognizing the unique experiences and needs of women in relation to climate change, as they are often the most vulnerable to its effects, has been pivotal to adopting more resilient and sustainable policy agendas. Furthermore, non-violence adheres to adopting peaceful solutions to environmental conflicts and reducing the use of military force in aid or intervention attempts. That comes hand in hand with an intersectional approach that acknowledges the diversity of people affected by climate change and involving them in decision-making processes.

The adoption of feminist foreign policies has been met with both support and criticism. The main line of criticism underlines that feminist foreign policies may reinforce colonial and patriarchal power structures, as well as the dichotomy between the global north and south, if not informed by intersectional feminist principles. Understanding this interconnectedness of gender, nature and social hierarchies is necessary to address the persistent inequalities and discrimination faced by women and girls around the world. Thus, feminist foreign policies can help to promote gender equality, reduce violence against women, and empower women economically and politically.

The latest report by the High-Level Advisory Board on Effective Multilateralism (HLAB) titled “A breakthrough for people and planet, effective and inclusive global governance for today and the future” highlights the potential of feminist foreign policy in addressing climate justice. The report suggests that feminist foreign policy can be applied in various areas, including:

Investing in women’s leadership and empowerment: Women are disproportionately affected by climate change and empowering them can help address its impacts. Investing in women’s leadership and participation in decision-making processes can ensure that their perspectives and experiences are taken into account in policy development such as in climate policies.

Recognizing and valuing women’s contributions: Women play important roles in managing natural resources and promoting sustainable development. Recognizing and valuing their contributions can promote more sustainable and inclusive approaches to environmental policy.

Addressing gender-based violence in the context of climate change: Climate change can exacerbate gender-based violence, particularly in communities that are already vulnerable. Feminist foreign policy can address this by promoting policies that protect women’s rights and promote gender equality.

Promoting gender-responsive climate finance: Climate finance can be used to support gender-responsive policies and programs that address the impacts of climate change on women and promote their participation in climate action.

Ensuring Indigenous peoples’ participation and rights: Indigenous peoples have unique knowledge and perspectives on environmental management and conservation. Ensuring their participation and rights in climate policies can promote more effective and sustainable approaches to environmental management.

More specifically, a feminist and intersectional approach to environmental policy prioritizes the needs and perspectives of marginalized communities, particularly women and Indigenous peoples, and recognizes the ways in which environmental degradation is linked to gender and racial inequality. Thus, inclusive decision-making processes in addressing climate change are indispensable in developing climate change policies and implementing strategies to mitigate the impacts of climate change. What happens though when feminist foreign policy faces formidable opposition?

In the context of Afghanistan for example, the Taliban’s presence poses a significant challenge to such efforts. The Taliban’s previous and current rule in Afghanistan is marked by significant restrictions on women’s and girl’s rights in addition to the exclusion of women from decision-making processes. That is likely to exacerbate the impacts of climate change in Afghanistan, which is already experiencing significant environmental challenges, such as water scarcity and deforestation. For instance, the Taliban’s policies on natural resource management, which prioritize short-term gains over sustainable use, could accelerate deforestation and environmental degradation, leading to more significant climate impacts to the region.

Such interconnectedness between the climate, women’s rights and structural inequality, has been a focal point within Indigenous knowledge, inspiring feminist foreign policy. Efforts such as the HLAB report, by civil society (i.e. Earth Trusteeship Working Group’s latest book “Reflections on Earth Trusteeship. Mother Earth and a new 21st-century governance paradigm” and the activist movement (i.e. Generation Equality Forum’s Young Feminist Manifesto)

Overall, the adoption of feminist foreign policies represents a significant shift in foreign policy decision-making, towards a more inclusive and equitable approach that recognizes the unique experiences and needs of women and girls around the world.

The dominant approach to environmentalism has largely focused on technical solutions while ignoring the underlying structural causes of environmental degradation, which are rooted in inequality and power imbalances. A shift towards more feminist and intersectional approaches to, but not only, environmental policy is necessary to address these root causes and prioritize the needs and perspectives of marginalized communities, particularly women and Indigenous peoples. While emphasising the importance of biodiversity conservation in mitigating the impacts of climate change, it is important to ensure that such policies are implemented in a thoughtful and inclusive way, that takes into account the perspectives and needs of diverse communities and promotes their human rights.

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Heymann, J., & True, J. (2019). The role of feminist foreign policies in peace and security. Women’s Studies International Forum, 76, 102252.

International Union for Conservation of Nature. (2021). Recognising and securing rights to nature: A guide to understanding the rights of nature.

United Nations. (2020). Handbook on the integration of gender analysis and gender-responsive actions into climate-smart agriculture programmes.

United Nations. (2021). Policy brief: Feminist perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on gender equality.

Feminist foreign policy and Indigenous women’s rights in the Arctic” by Aili Pyhälä, published in International Feminist Journal of Politics, 2019.

“Indigenous rights and feminist foreign policy” by Mary Anne Bobinski, published in International Journal of Feminist Approaches to Bioethics, 2020.

“Indigenous peoples and climate change: from victims to change agents through feminist environmentalism” by Mariana García-Arcos and Rosalba Icaza, published in Third World Quarterly, 2020.

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Featured Image: Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

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