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A closer look into Feminist Foreign Policy in India

  • Category
    International Relations
  • Published
    25th Jan, 2022

Context

India’s commitments to international agreements towards gender equality show its tremendous potential to make crucial advances in feminist foreign policy. But there are remaining gaps that India needs to fix in order to realise its full potential.

Background

  • We have seen that during the last couple of years several countries around the globe have gained traction in terms of the merits and efficacy of the Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP).
  • Analysing a little deeper reveals a very interesting aspect of it, which is how it gets influenced by the context in which it is discussed. 

We shall be discussing how an ideal definition of Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) in the Indian context could be and be instrumental in bringing reforms.

Analysis

Development of Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) Framework:

  • It took shape with Sweden’s adoption of a Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) in 2014. After that several countries have announced gender mainstreaming in their foreign policy.
  • Feminist approaches to international affairs can be traced back to the 1980s, though largely rooted in traditional thinking and activism.
  • The scenario started changing in the 1990s with the realisation that it is not only necessary to include women in peacebuilding and peacekeeping but also in the wider gamut of diplomacy and foreign and security policy.
  • FFP builds on three central principles of feminist perspectives on diplomacy and security:
  • Broadening the understanding of security
  • Decoding internal power relations
  • Acknowledging women’s political agency
  • Since Sweden embarked on this path, several other countries — Canada, France, Germany and, more recently, Mexico — have forged their own, adopting either a feminist foreign policy or a gendered approach to aspects of policymaking.

Demerits of Generalising the concept of Feminist Foreign Policy:

  • There are merits in the conceptualisation of the approach how we look at the Feminist Foreign Policy, but at the same time deriving a universal definition also narrows the scope of its applicability.
  • In order for foreign policies to thus be feminist in nature, socio-political landscapes and lived experiences of each country need to be taken into consideration.

Dismantling Feminist Foreign Policy:

  • As we have discussed, the idea of FFP needs to be personalised or tailored according to the specific political needs and background of each country. This also makes it all more important that India derive its own definition of the concept.
  • An ideal way of evolving the definition of FFP involves dissecting the terms into ‘Feminist’ and ‘Foreign Policy’, and digging deeper into it in the light of Indian political attitudes and opinions.
  • “Feminist” perspective: It deals with dominating power structures that create policies benefitting a limited set of people. It seeks to “challenge systems of oppression, marginalisation, and exclusion” that perpetuate inequality.
  • “Foreign policy” perspective: It is more than how countries interact with one another. It takes into account how ‘distinctive political culture’ and ‘school of thoughts’ merge together for the larger good of society.

Dimensions of Feminist Foreign Policy in Indian Context:

  • Deconstruction of power structures:
    • Ending gender essentialist standards
  • Involvement of women and focus towards ensuring equality: 
    • Equal representation of women
    • Ending the idea of foreign policy being a male-dominated field
    • Roles open to women remain highly gendered
  • Human security school of thought:
    • Securing peace
    • Enhanced accessibility to basic human rights
    • Specific allocation of resources to realise the outcomes

Gender in India’s foreign policy:

On paper, India’s commitments towards gender equality seem highly impressive. Ironically, in the recently released World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report 2021, India had slipped 28 spots to rank 140 out of the 156 countries covered. Still, some examples need to be appreciated.

  • Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1993
  • India’s reiteration towards implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (UN SDG) 5 on gender equality
  • Providing financial aid and assistance to multilateral programmes focusing on women’s empowerment;
  • India’s membership in the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women in 2020.
  • India’s contribution to UN peacekeeping efforts, especially in Liberia in 2007 (by sending an all-women peacekeeping contingent). It is often heralded by the international community as their way of supporting the ideas put forth by the WPS Agenda, even though India has not formally ratified it.

The Women, Peace and Security (“WPS”) agenda was formally initiated by the landmark UN Security Council (2000). The WPS agenda rests on four pillars:

  1. Prevention: Prevention of conflict and all forms of violence against women and girls in conflict and post-conflict situations.
  2. Participation: Women’s equal participation and gender equality in peace and security decision-making processes at all levels.
  3. Protection: Women and girls are protected from all forms of sexual and gender-based violence and their rights are protected and promoted in conflict situations.
  4. Relief and Recovery: Specific relief needs of women are met and their capacities to act as agents in relief and recovery are strengthened in conflict and post-conflict situations.

Work done so far is indicative and not comprehensive:

  • India managed to appoint their first female Minister of External Affairs only in 2014 when Sushma Swaraj completed her full term of five years.
  • India may have ratified the CEDAW, but it has not ratified its ‘optional protocol’ that allows people to directly approach the CEDAW committee if the national systems fail to uphold the principles mentioned in the agreement.
  • India’s performance in Liberia was also critiqued on being gender essentialist in nature since the women peacekeeping contingent was mostly involved in providing care and support.
  • High numbers of women in the total workforce of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) does not translate into high numbers of women being posted at high governance positions.

Gaps need to be filled:

  • When it comes to India adopting an FFP and bringing gender parity in its foreign policy, the existence of visible gaps between commitments on paper and reality comes into the picture. This can be attributed to 2 reasons mainly:

1. Actions being determined by political considerations:

  • India’s actions are determined more by its political considerations than by fulfilling its commitments. India justified not ratifying the WPS Agenda on the grounds of it “not being applicable to their country context”, even though it is home to several militarised regions vulnerable to the internal conflict to this day.
  • At the same time, this has also been seen as an outcome of India’s concern on outside interference in their domestic affairs, which also explains why they might not have ratified the Optional Protocol of the CEDAW.

2. Patriarchal and Misogynistic thought processes:

  • The traditional misconceptions about women not being capable diplomats and foreign service agents hinder India’s implementation of gender equality commitments. Interestingly, the IFS rules of service reflect their inherent assumption of having only men being appointed to different positions. There is no mention of female pronouns in the document as it chalks out the duties and responsibilities for diplomats. 

Conclusion: 

The gaps that exist between progressive policy intent and actual impact has much to do with a socio-cultural context held back by strong cultures of patriarchy. Adopting a feminist foreign policy means a commitment to have gender equality and women’s rights present in both foreign and national policies including health, climate, education, nuclear, security, economic issues & others. Both Genders mainstreaming in foreign policy and an overarching feminist foreign policy are equally important. 

“More women means more peace. If women are around the table when peace deals are negotiated, then those peace agreements will last longer.” (Margot Wallstrom, Former Deputy Prime Minister Former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Sweden)

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