8 marzo 2020

Women and foreign policy: a conversation with Kristina Lunz

 Scenari internazionali


2020 is going to be a pivotal year for women rights, marking the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and the 20th anniversary of the adoption of the Women Peace and Security (WPS) resolution 1325 of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). For the International Women’s Day, Think tank Agenda decided to have a conversation with Kristina Lunz, co-founder of the CFFP and advisor to the German Federal Foreign Office, recently named on the Forbes 30 under 30 list.


Ever since Hillary Clinton pronounced the famous words “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” , very few women have occupied power positions in international relations. Even though we start seeing a number of changes, pink is not the new black and women still struggle to find their place in foreign policy (FP), no matter if their perspective and representation can substantively improve the outcomes of negotiations or the response to international crises and disasters. In a world built mainly by men and for men, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) contributes to the political debate providing a new definition of FP, “which takes a step out of the black box approach of traditional foreign policy thinking and its focus on military force, violence, and domination by offering an alternate and intersectional rethinking of security from the viewpoint of the most marginalized”.


Nowadays there is a growing number of NGOs applying a feminist perspective to foreign policy, but we have heard of very few (virtually none) think tanks specifically devoted to it. How did you come up with this idea and what do you think CFFP’s added value is?


The CFFP is a research and advocacy organization that applies a feminist approach to foreign and security policy. There are many other organizations that in the past decades have done an amazing work in the international sphere. On top of that, Sweden announcing its feminist foreign policy in 2014 was a great inspiration for me and Marissa[1]. At the time, Marissa was setting up the first version of CFFP in London and I was working at the UN in New York while starting publishing on feminist foreign policy. We started talking and suddenly realised we had the same vision, hence deciding to continue building CFFP as co-founders. Back then Marissa and I realized that there was not much literature on the topic. Thus, we decided to produce knowledge on feminist FP, building a community and a network of people interested in doing research and advocacy to bring a very feminist perspective to FP.


We see the more and more women leaders and a growing interest for gender from governments’ side. The European Commission is paying particular attention to gender, having a Gender Strategy and a revision of its Gender Action Plan (GAP) in the making[2]. We understood that the CFFP is working on a report for the European Parliament. What will it be about? Can you give us any anticipation?


We are currently producing a report for the Green Party in the European Parliament including recommendations for a feminist EU FP. At the moment we are talking to field experts and gathering all the necessary information. While there have been a couple of improvements in some policy areas - including the GAP and the Gender Strategy, as well as gender mainstreaming - at EU level there is the tendency to make a ‘business case’ to justify the reason why we need women in FP. Don’t get me wrong. Power should be fairly distributed to all groups in society, but I personally don’t fully support this as a justification for the fifty-fifty men-women ratio. A feminist approach, according to the interpretation promoted by CFFP, would focus on different aspects: for instance, the fact that under the current Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) there might be a substantive increase in military spending. Feminists would not be pleased to simply bring more western women in high diplomatic positions. This will surely contribute more to gender equality and diplomatic efficiency, but it would be pink washing. Not feminism.


Politicians seem very keen to engage in initiatives to promote gender equality, eradication of poverty and representation of women. This is not the case when it comes to change their approach to militarization, disarmament or, more generally, to the use of force. Do you consider realistic for states to adopt a truly feminist foreign policy?


You are right. In most countries there is interest for a more feminist or gender equal FP, but at times this ends up being a bit superficial. Sweden has done, generally speaking, some truly transformative work, but they were not able to move substantively forward on disarmament, arms’ exports or the ban of nuclear weapons. These on the contrary are the areas in which you can recognize a genuine feminist FP as envisioned by CFFP. The promotion of disarmament has a long history: The Women International League for Peace and Freedom back in 1915 was already fighting for it. The core of a feminist FP is exactly that thinking of over 100 years ago. ‘Feminist’ does not mean well educated white women getting the job, but changing the structure of international security, keeping in mind whose security is really worth protecting, putting people – not States – at the centre.


Coming now to the ‘structure’, you recently participated to the Munich Security Conference (MSC), where the CFFP organized an official side-event. What was its purpose? What were your impressions at the MSC and what are your plans for the months to come?


We hosted an official side-event named No Peace without Feminism at the MSC and it was all very interesting. Last summer I happened to speak with several people working at the MSC and I told them: “Hey guys, you have been criticized every year for being excluding, male-dominated and western-centric. We are here to change things. Would you be open to work with us?”. They agreed. This way, last November we came up with the idea to organise a side-event, which made the CFFP the very first organization to bring an event on feminist FP to the conference. We had a dual purpose. On the one hand, we wanted to discuss our approach to FP. We believe that all people should be able to contribute to decisions on their own security and that the over-representation of some groups of society leads to inadequate policy making. On the other hand, we wanted to launch The Wox Network, our database of women experts in FP. The panel hosted, among others, Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, and Beatrice Fihn, Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. By inviting her we wanted to show that disarmament, nuclear arms and gender equality are at the heart of a feminist FP. Having a billion dollars more invested in armament does not keep anyone safe: that same money could be rather spent in conflict prevention, healthcare, schooling and housing. CFFP is currently part of a group of 15 individuals, the ‘Bellagio Group’, representing organizations, NGOs, think tanks and governments, working on global standards for a feminist FP. The framework developed over the past couple of months will be presented to the next meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women in New York. After that, CFFP will probably be in Mexico next May, as well as in Paris and New York, in July and September respectively, at the Gender Equality Forum to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (Beijing+25).


Sweden announced its feminist foreign policy in 2014 and was later followed by Canada, France and more recently Mexico. Who’s next? Do you think Germany will have a specific role to play this year, given the upcoming Presidency of the Council of the EU and its membership in both the UNSC and the Human Rights Council?


A few days ago, the foreign minister of Malaysia twitted on gender equality using the wording “feminist FP”. In Europe, the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs mentioned feminism as one of her priorities. We will be keeping an eye on those two. With regards to Germany, it is difficult to say. Germany as a country is very traditional and patriarchal. As a part time advisor for the MFA I noticed some positive changes, in particular in light of the UNSC membership, but I don’t think Germany will be announcing a feminist FP at any time soon. However, the fact that the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas presented the report ‘Gender equality in German foreign policy and in the Federal Foreign Office’ during the German MFA’s celebrations on the occasion of International Women’s Day, shows that the Ministry felt the external pressure and is conscious of its need to position itself internationally on these topics.


To conclude, discussing feminist foreign policy today opens up the possibility to reflect on two major themes. On the one hand, it stresses the concept of representativeness, which means giving a voice to women and other under-represented groups in society and thereby ensuring fairer and more effective decision-making. On the other, it triggers a rethinking of some of the means through which foreign policy is pursued, starting from the use of force and nuclear deterrence. On the former, we see a growing interest and commitment to implement feminist recommendations and more and more states making their first steps in this direction. On the latter, however, embracing CFFP’s feminism seems more of a long-term goal, requiring a renovation of multilateralism. At a time of agony for the multilateral governance of international relations, pursuing feminist changes in a world of pink washing requires the brave heart, strong inventive, and iron will of CFFP promoters.


Immagine: International Women's Day March (5 Marzo 2017). Crediti: Molly Adams, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence.




O’ Reilly, M. et al. (2015) “Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes”, New York: International Peace Institute.


Criado Perez, C. (2018), Invisible Women. Exposing data bias in a world designed for men, Chatto & Windus, London, 2018.


[1] Marissa Conway is co-founder of the CFFP and currently based in London. Marissa is a Gender Champion in Nuclear Policy and is a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol.

[2] According to the European Commission’s work programme, a Gender Strategy and the EU Action Plan on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment in External Relations for 2021-2025 are expected to be published respectively in the first and in the fourth quarter of 2020. In addition to this, the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM) in the European Parliament is currently working on a report on Gender Equality in EU’s foreign and security policy.

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