Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Feminist Foreign Policy

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the fact that Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was being accused of Islamophobia for her attempts to speak up for the rights of women in Saudi Arabia. Jenny Nordberg has also written about the story in the New Yorker and interviewed FM Wallstron. In discussing the possibility of a "feminist foreign policy," she said this:
Wallstrom also cites a growing body of research showing that women’s security is directly related to both national and international security. In the 2012 book “Sex and World Peace” a team of four researchers (Valerie M. Hudson, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, Mary Caprioli, and Chad F. Emmett) present data indicating that the more violent a state and its citizens are toward women, the more violent that state is likely to be over all, both internally and in its dealings with outside world. “In fact, the very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated,” Hudson wrote in a piece for Foreign Policy.

Politicians rarely see women’s rights as having a direct impact on problems of war and peace. But according to this school of thought, a foreign policy that strives to address global gender inequity should in fact be on the agenda of any politician concerned with global security. Particularly at a time when the overwhelmingly male foreign-policy establishment, including international organizations such as the United Nations, appears to have run out of ideas for how to manage or even approach violent conflicts, a more gendered perspective on foreign affairs may in fact be a pragmatic strategy. The authors of “Sex and World Peace” go so far as to suggest that, in the future, “the clash of civilizations” will be based not on ethnic and political differences, but rather on beliefs about gender.
With all due respect to the authors of "Sex and World Peace," this is something that women like Riane Eisler have been saying for a couple of decades.
Terrorism and chronic warfare are responses to life in societies in which the only perceived choices are dominating or being dominated. These violent responses are characteristic of cultures where this view of relations is learned early on through traditions of coercion, abuse, and violence in parent-child and gender relations.

It's not coincidental that throughout history the most violently despotic and warlike societies have been those in which violence, or the threat of violence, is used to maintain domination of parent over child and man over woman...

Surprisingly, none of our conventional social categories takes the relationship of intimate violence and international violence into account. Indeed, classifications such as religious versus secular, right versus left, East versus West, and developed versus developing do not tell us whether a culture's beliefs and institutions—from the family, education, and religion to politics and economics—support relations based on nonviolence and mutual respect, or rigid rankings backed up by fear and force.

In studying societies across cultures and epochs, looking at both the public and personal spheres, I discovered configurations that transcend conventional categories. Since there were no names for these configurations, I coined the terms partnership model and dominator or domination model...

Progressives urgently need a social and political agenda that takes into account both the public sphere of politics and economics, and the personal sphere of family and other intimate relations. Only through an integrated progressive agenda that takes into account both the personal and public spheres can we build foundations for cultures of peace rather than war.
A feminist foreign policy would not simply mean going around the globe to lecture men and women about gender equality. It would mean first of all, working to get our own house in order when it comes to violence against women and children in this country. And then it would mean providing women and girls around the globe with the support/tools they need to work towards their own equality...much like the President and First Lady's Let Girls Learn initiative.

I'd issue this as a challenge to Hillary Clinton: As you campaign to become this country's first female president, can you run on being the best candidate to truly incorporate a feminist foreign policy?


  1. I never bought into the whole "women are more peaceful" thing. We'll see I guess - sure hope it's true.

    1. You miss the point. Its not about women being more peaceful - its that boys/men who grow up learning to use fear, domination and violence against women tend to adopt that as their way of dealing with the world more generally.