Defining Feminist Foreign Policy: A 2021 Update

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Lyric Thompson, Spogmay Ahmed and Tanya Khokhar

What is feminist foreign policy? What definition can capture its complexity, its nuances? And how do we ensure the focus is not just on women but on power relations and gender equality more broadly, using an explicitly rights-based and intersectional understanding of feminism?

In this paper—updated in September 2021—we take a closer look at the world’s existing “feminist” approaches to foreign policy. Since the brief was originally produced in 2019, more nations have announced feminist foreign policies (bringing the total to seven: Sweden, Canada, France, Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain and Libya), and feminists advanced an ever more ambitious and intersectional approach.

From this analysis—informed by the scholarship of and consultation with feminist activists and academics around the world—we offer a proposed definition of what constitutes feminist foreign policy.

The following definition seeks to acknowledge and correct for the racist, colonialist, patriarchal and male-dominated structures that have traditionally underpinned foreign policy, advancing an intersectional approach to feminism for the discipline:

“Feminist foreign policy is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states, as well as movements and other non-state actors, in a manner that prioritizes peace, gender equality and environmental integrity; enshrines, promotes, and protects the human rights of all; seeks to disrupt colonial, racist, patriarchal and male-dominated power structures; and allocates significant resources, including research, to achieve that vision. Feminist foreign policy is coherent in its approach across all of its levers of influence, anchored by the exercise of those values at home and co-created with feminist activists, groups and movements, at home and abroad”

– (Thompson, Patel, Kripke, O’Donnell, 2020).

In our consultations to date, the number-one term that has emerged as an essential ingredient to any definition of feminist foreign policy has been “intersectional.” As an intersectional movement, certainly one of the most readily apparent is the tendency of governments to use the word feminist when they mean “women and girls.” This reinforces the binary and undermines work to overcome white, ethnocentric and western-centric, cis feminism’s historical (and current) sins. Even when policies focus on gender equality, and not simply women’s empowerment, much of the literature critiquing existing feminist foreign policies points to a lack of attention to intersectional forms of discrimination and marginalization such as race, ethnicity, disability, class, or refugee status.

As we celebrate progress, we acknowledge that there is room for improvement as we seek to influence this emerging field. In our analysis, we’ve pointed to three ways to improve: (1) applying a feminist approach across all elements of foreign policy (aid, trade, defense, diplomacy and increasingly, immigration policy); (2) increasing investments in gender equality as a principal and funded goal, and allocating more funding within that envelope to feminist and women’s rights organizations and movements; and (3) adopting a more rigorous and independent practice for monitoring, evaluation, research and learning tied to policies’ intended outcomes.

Read the full report in English by clicking here or on the button below. Translated versions: Arabic French Spanish | German



The original 2019 report can be downloaded here:

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Publication Rights:

Thompson, L., Ahmed, S. and Khokhar, T. (2021). Defining Feminist Foreign Policy: A 2021 Update. Washington, DC: International Center for Research on Women.