Feminism 1 + 364: On the Necessity of Feminist Foreign Policy

MARJAANA JAUHOLA / Academy of Finland Research Fellow, University of Helsinki /

It is outmost important to create spaces for feminism in the spheres of foreign policy, debates around global security, and sustainable development.

Foreign policy, security and diplomacy are not necessarily easy arenas, nor automatically welcoming, or inclusive. The question is about power, and who sets the agenda: Who speaks for whom? This power relationship does not only form in relation to gender but also to age, social and economic status, title or position, ethnicity, or even passport, or lack of it.

Relevance of feminist approaches to foreign policy

Feminism in foreign affairs means reflective analysis of varying positions of power and what drives it is an explicitly outspoken aim towards societal change. Feminist scholarship offers critical reflections on how concepts, tools and modes of operandi of foreign affairs become embedded in power relations.

Concepts, such as gender equality, gender sensitivity, or feminism – are far from being simplistic, or purely technical. Nor should we shy away from it, although various anti-feminists wish us to do so! For example, there is a huge difference to talk about gender equality as legal equality (de juro) than to aim towards experienced equality (de facto).

Yet, feminists are also challenged to reflect upon their own aims and ways of working: dismantling master’s house be it geopolitical or white privilege. For example, Minister Wallström’s suggestion to share Nordic experiences of promoting gender equality sounds more humble and open for real dialogue than some other earlier attempts that have explicitly aimed at ‘exporting’ Nordic gender equality models to ‘undeveloped’ others.

Being celebrated as World Champions of Gender Equality, has at least in Finland, resulted in a dangerous myth of achieved gender equality, and potential blindness to emerging new gendered social and economic inequalities and direct forms of racism and phobia. For example, the committee monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has repeatedly raised their concern over globally high statistics of violence against women, and forms of multiple discrimination in Finland, especially directed to migrant communities – many of whom are fleeing armed conflicts and political violence. These examples illustrate that UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is not ‘just’ a powerful tool for foreign policy, but requires transforming domestic politics too.

Reviewing Aceh Peace Process with Feminist Lenses

How does one define what successful peace is? Whereas the mainstream theories of security, conflicts, and international relations focus on the stability and security of the states, feminist analysis of conflict and post-conflict contexts draws attention to longer-term, and micro-level dynamics – events and experiences in the everyday.

I am going to use the example of the Aceh peace process that reaches its tenth anniversary in August 2015. With certain measures, undoubtedly, such as the number of hostilities, demobilization of armed forces, transforming ex-combatant to politicians and businessmen, Aceh peace process can be said to be successful.

However, as Acehnese women legal experts and women’s rights activists pointed out in in February 2015 at the regional consultation for the global study of the implementation of UNSCR 1325 in Kathmandu: the peace process has its major challenges when gender lenses and women’s rights are positioned at the centre of the analysis.

The peace process and the international humanitarian reconstruction intervention in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami have fuelled severe new forms of political struggle that use the rhetoric of respectability, Acehnese identity and actively uses the special autonomy status granted for Aceh to target ‘dissident women’.

Research – mine included (Jauhola 2013)– has shown how turmoil, such as political violence, armed conflict or even natural disasters may lead to new forms movements that in the name of protecting a nation, community or religion, call for action to protect women and their respectability by reducing women’s roles solely as mothers and guardians of honour.

Gendered violence continues to be normalised, and it has also been directed to religious, ethnic, gender and sexual minorities but also increasingly to women human rights defenders and gender study lecturers. Labelling activists as agents of the West has further created divides between women’s groups.

Yet, far from being passive victims or being driven by any outside forces, Acehnese women’s organisations and Islamic feminist scholars have fought for decades for their right to be included in the legal debates, setting political agenda and providing holistic perspectives to tackle multiple forms of insecurity: physical, political, economical and also related to their environmental security vis-à-vis natural hazards and climate change.

Feminist Peacebuilding Requires Resources!

The 15th anniversary of the UNSCR 1325 turns the analytical eye on the globe, its conflicts, and international peacebuilding efforts. As the UN Security Council has acknowledged, women will remain in the margins of the peace processes and efforts to sustain peace – if no firm action and significant inputs are taken. This means tackling root causes of the conflicts that often relate to global political economy, persisting inequalities and oppressive systems, domestically and internationally.

To succeed, feminist foreign policy also requires investing in supporting women’s movement, feminist teaching and research. Yet situation for feminist scholars at the universities is not an easy one: when it comes to decisions regarding recruitment, teaching syllabus, or research funding, sustaining institutionalised commitment to feminist goals remains a huge challenge.

As the former Finnish minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja noted in gender & peacebuilding seminar in December 2014: “integration of gender in international affairs is difficult, but necessary”. I could not agree more. Feminist scholars are, however, ready for action and are ready to provide their commentary for the annual report on the implementation of the UNSCR 1325 in Finland when the report is delivered for the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the Finnish Parliament during the autumn 2015.


Jauhola, Marjaana (2013) Post-Tsunami Reconstruction in Indonesia: Negotiating Normativity through Gender Mainstreaming Initiatives in Aceh. Routledge. Read ‘Introduction: Build Aceh Back Better’ from here: http://books.google.fi/books?id=gEIBWP7oBz8C&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false

The text is modified from the original comments provided after the talk of the Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström ”Women, Peace and Security: Transforming the Global Agenda for Sustainable Peace” held on the 3rd of March 2015 at the University of Helsinki

Video links to both talks:



2018-03-09T16:34:25+00:00 June 10th, 2015|Categories: Aceh, Feminism, Peace building|0 Comments

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