France’s ‘feminist diplomacy’: lots of talk, little action

epa07811511 The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden Margot Wallstrom looks on during a short statement given with his Jordanian counterpart Ayman Safadi, at the Foreign Ministry in Amman, Jordan, 01 September 2019. Wallstrom is on a Middle East Tour to relaunch the Yemen talks. EPA-EFE/ANDRE PAIN [EPA-EFE/ANDRE PAIN]

The term ‘feminist diplomacy’ used by France since 2018 remains unclear, according to a report by the country’s High Council on Gender Equality presented to the government on 18 November. EURACTIV France reports.

“Is it a simple language game, and thus a communication issue, or is it a matter of raising awareness about the importance of integrating equality into France’s foreign policy at the highest level and hence a major step forward?”

This was the question posed in the High Council on Gender Equality’s report submitted on 18 November to European and Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and the Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities, Elisabeth Moreno.

The document aims to define the “feminist diplomacy” concept and establish an initial overview of feminist diplomacy ‘made in France’ by evaluating the International Strategy for Equality between Women and Men (2018-2022). The High Council also issued nineteen recommendations designed to strengthen the strategy’s framework and implementation in the various spheres in which it operates.

A concept that exists elsewhere in the world

Feminist diplomacy has been applied in Sweden since 2014, Canada since 2017, and Mexico since January of this year.

However, no text defining the concept has yet been adopted at international level. Depending on what states implement the concept, its understanding and implementation vary widely.

Sweden, which happens to be the first country in the world to have applied a “feminist foreign policy” following the impetus of Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, adopted an action plan for 2015-2018 and renewed it for the 2019-2022 period. Sweden also created the position of Ambassador for Gender Equality and Coordinator of Feminist Foreign Policy, a global first.

In essence, Swedish feminist diplomacy is based on three pillars: women’s rights, women’s representation and the allocation of resources to ensure gender equality is promoted.

In Canada, feminist diplomacy is primarily designed to achieve compliance with international commitments through development assistance and promote women’s rights. Unlike Sweden, economic and social objectives are a central foundation of Canada’s feminist foreign policy.

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Meanwhile, in Mexico – the first country in the southern hemisphere to adopt a feminist foreign policy – the government has published a strategy for 2020-2024, articulated around the notion of gender. Under the strategy, the foreign ministry is to achieve gender parity, while intersectional feminism is to be promoted.

A pragmatic and evolutionary” approach

However, France has not yet come up with its own theoretical framework that includes objectives, a scope of action or criteria for its policy. Instead, it prefers to speak of a “pragmatic and evolutionary approach”.

“I had used the expression ‘feminist diplomacy’. The expression had surprised some people. One year later, I am telling you here that I advocate for it and that I adopt it (…): equality between women and men is a political issue on a global scale,” said Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on International Women’s Day in 2019. “It must therefore become a key marker of our understanding of the international order and the idea of human progress that we believe is associated with it,” he added.

For the French government, feminist diplomacy revolves around the respect of international commitments and the objectives of the UN’s 2030 Agenda with regard to human and women’s rights, with particular emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights, the fight against sexual and gender-based violence, the education of girls and women’s economic empowerment.

France’s International Strategy for Equality between Women and Men also includes the participation of women in decision-making positions, as well as in peace and security processes.

“Women, peace and security issues, although strongly supported by France in the multilateral framework, are dealt with in a separate national action plan, none of whose objectives are included in France’s International Strategy for Gender Equality. Moreover, the Strategy commits only the ministry of Europe and foreign affairs and its 12 operators and no other ministry,” the report added.

Room for improvement

The report’s authors noted that the scope of action is much narrower than the global approach stated. For instance, 50% of France’s official development aid is to be devoted to gender equality projects, while €700 million should be earmarked for projects with gender equality as their main objective by 2022.

Unlike Sweden or Canada, France does not include trade policy in the scope of its feminist policy. The High Council report noted that only 20% of the EU’s trade agreements, which affect a large part of the country’s trade policy, mention women’s rights. Among these trade agreements, only 40% mention the promotion of gender equality.

However, there appears to be some progress with the Chile-EU trade agreement – currently in the renegotiation stage – which is likely to include a specific chapter on gender.

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