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Foreign policy needs a feminist lens as India drops by 28 ranks in gender gap

By IMPRI Team 

The four-day Online Monsoon School Programme on the theme “Feminist Foreign Policy: Praxis for a Peaceful and Gender Just World Order” is a joint initiative of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) India Office and the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. The first day of the program included an insightful and enriching discussion delivered by the eminent speaker, Dr Swarna Rajagopalan, Political Scientist and Feminist Peace Educator, The Prajnya Trust, Chennai, and was chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.
The session was opened with introductory and welcoming remarks from Dr Souravie Ghimiray, IMPRI, and was further moderated by Ms Jyoti Rawal, FES India, Program Adviser – Gender and Social Justice, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung India Office.

Day 1 | September 9, 2022

The first-day session was themed on Gender, Peace and Security and was opened by Ms Jyoti Rawal, who presented a brief but insightful lecture on the origins of Feminist Foreign Policy and the necessary drivers- mainly justice and holistic development of all communities- which led to its conceptualization in modern politics by former Swedish Prime Minister, Margot Wallström. She goes on to elucidate the aims of the organization she represents, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung India Office, one of the oldest organizations in Germany that actively engage in deliberation and raising awareness on gender equality and equal justice. Through a large network in over 100 countries, FES aims to propagate gender sensitization and work at the intersection of Gender, Peace, and Security.
Prof Vibhuti Patel carried the discussion forward by officially opening the day session on Feminist Foreign Policy, by paying a tribute to the two stalwarts of the Feminist India Movement- late Sonal Shukla and the late Gauri Chaudhary- who proactively worked towards community growth of women while also actively raising their voices for a just global community. Professor Patel draws a well-articulated presentation on an introduction to the theme and talks about the origins and timeline of Feminist Foreign Policy from 2014 and continuing and its various adoptions in Canada, Europe and Mexico, as of the latest along with its origins in Sweden. She sheds light on the necessity of its development in building world peace that is equal and holistic while leaving no communities behind.
At times when international security was threatened and the United Nations (UN) was built with the efforts of alleviating conflict and aggravating peace, gender-equal peacemaking initiatives took a backseat, the development and necessity of Feminist Foreign Policy, even today, is prevalent to ensure sustainable development of all women and to ensure an environment where they can exercise their fundamental human rights without any hindrance. She goes on to talk about India’s role in promoting gender equality and adopting Feminist Foreign Policies through its membership in the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), while also providing its neighbours of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) comity technical assistance in promoting gender equality in diplomacy and policy making. However, she does draw out the shortcomings that still exist in gender parity in India’s diplomacy sector through the apparent disparity in the numbers of diplomats being men to that of women.
Dr Swarna Rajagopalan delves into the topic straight away through a presentation on ‘Gender, Peace, and Security’ and delves into the basic fundamentals of the session on Feminist Foreign Policy by providing definitions of gender, security and peace, giving the viewers a good foundation on the topic and important faucets. She explains what gender means in society and how it has little to do with a binary structure, as we identify it, but more with a spectrum that guides our perspective to specify our way of thought. She explains peace has little to do with “no war” only but involves a plethora of other things such as well-being, justice, equality, freedom, and other aspects of liberty that helps develop every individual. Lastly, her explanation of security delves deeper than just international security; she talks about individual security from the viewpoint of physical, sexual, cultural, economic or ecological violence. Her discussion is further amplified with a dedicated elucidation of the intersection of gender and insecurity through pointers of identity, prejudice, inequality, discrimination and violence, all contributing to the growing insecurity over gender, especially that with women.
Dr Rajagopalan further centralizes her presentation on the gender-based violence that prevails and persists in society, post any situation of insecurity, both natural and man-made. In order to alleviate gender disparity in peacemaking, she mentions the necessity of identifying the importance of recognizing peace from a gendered lens, through ending immunity and installing gender-equal decisions and policies amidst peacemaking that are sustainable and gender-sensitive. She ends her presentation by drawing a connection between foreign policy, gender and feminism by emphasizing the necessity of gender-sensitive policies and the representation of women in policy and law-making. The continuous rise of countries adopting Feminist Foreign Policy is also a good indicator of a changing trajectory in existing lanterns as it indicates an emphasis on equality, human rights and women’s empowerment.
The session ends with a group discussion between the three eminent speakers of the session on the meaning of feminism, gender and representation and the necessity of Feminist Foreign Policy followed by an insightful Questions & Answers round with the participants.

Day 2 | September 16, 2022

The second day of the program saw Dr Vahida Nainar, an Independent Researcher and Gender Consultant, as an expert speaker for the session. The theme for Day-2 was Gendered Dimensions of the UN Security Council. The conveners for this session were Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI; Prof Vibhuti Patel; Ms Jyoti Rawal; and Dr Arjun Kumar, Director, IMPRI.
One of the conveners, Ms Rawal introduced the speakers of the session to the participants, along with a brief insight into FES. She also commented on changing roles of world organizations and nations on the issues pertaining to gender and societal biases. The session was then taken ahead by Prof Patel, who threw light on some very powerful statements made during the first session and emphasized various questions that were asked over the course of the session, continuing on the remarks of discrimination at world levels. She also highlighted the fact that world organizations need the representation of women, especially those marginalized at various levels, to bring parity at all levels, adding to the concepts of human security.
The session was then taken over by Dr Vahida Nainar, who started the discussion with conflict, peace, and security, where, various effects of wars and conflicts were talked about. Women are largely affected during such conflicts with adversities ranging from violence towards non-native women, homelessness and displacement, food and income insecurity, along with health effects like reproductive and infant mortality and the trauma that remains for a very long time; UN’s intervention in such situations through various channels was also highlighted. Various UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda have been passed over the years. She then explained the background of these resolutions and how they came about from time to time. Women’s issues were considered soft policies until resolution 1325 broke this formal barrier. The advocacy of various social groups has worked hard to keep the resolution alive, making sure that various policies are implemented and that the conversation of related issues stays relevant in the Security Council through annual reports of the Presidency.
This was done along with providing clarity, acknowledging various policy statements and blocking various resolutions that are not in line with the agenda of WPS; one such example is Russia making a regressive resolution being blocked by the advocacy. Further, an insight into the annual open debate was thrown where the advocacies, briefers and various member states engage in debate and discussion over any resolution. The outcomes of this open debate have been the 11 resolutions so far as discussed above. The briefers consist of various security council members and representatives of Civil Society Organizations (CSO), who briefed the council on various issues. The major advocacy space is an informal group hosted by Canada along with 19 member states called Friends of 1325 or Friends of Women Peace and Security. The other two advocacies on WPS are Security General’s Annual Report as well as Security General’s Report on Conflict-Related Sexual Violence.
Various advocacies help in preparing the mentioned reports along with contributions of member states and CSOs. Resolution 2242 has seen a major representation of women on behalf of various CSOs with numbers increasing over the years. Although the briefers may face repercussions while addressing the Security Council, several such examples are cited in the session, explaining the fact that it is, indeed, a risky affair. Next up is the implementation of the UNSC Resolutions: Successes and Challenges. The international community has adopted a comprehensive framework with regard to sexual violence in conflict. Dr Nainar highlighted that the International Courts have also played a major role in this by introducing sophisticated jurisdiction against crimes related to the conflict. UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and SC have also come up with their own set of policies to address the issue, consisting of various experts from the international community itself.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) adopted General Recommendation Number 30 to provide detailed guidance on issues related to WPS. She further elucidated that over the years from the late 90s, the reference to women in UNSC resolutions has also risen as the numbers suggest for themselves. There has also been a significant rise in women’s leadership in the UN at various levels. Even after such developments, various challenges continue to persist, one of them being the National Action Plan on Resolution 1325, which is a list of responsibilities for member states regarding WPS. She said that even the normative framework for sexual violence has not shown significant results and there is low accountability at the ground level itself; the participation of women in formal peace processes has also been low. The increasing violence and extremism threats to WPS are also a major concern to the whole agenda with members fearing violence on families; funding for WPS issues is also quite low across all areas.
Next, the session moved to Feminist Critiques of WPS, where, Dr Nainar construed the whole structure of the SC as quite discriminatory in terms of power concentration with the permanent and elected members. The overall structural roots have not been properly addressed, pertaining to patriarchy and masculinity. She proffered to put, those women who are highly vulnerable in any conflict, consistently, have their backgrounds remain unnoticed. It is found that women feel safer reporting violence to other women only and thus more women should be a part of peacekeeping missions encouraging more reporting accounts of sexual violence. The participation of women in the armed forces encourages local women to be a part of such peacekeeping and armed forces and thus helps in overall women’s representation at various levels. She maintained that women understand women better and thus as a homogenous group help in more women representation and encourage more participation, resulting in addressing victims and other issues.
Even if the representation is hierarchical, no discrimination arises since all the parties involved belong to the same gender and thus the similarities outweigh any minor differences which otherwise would seem highly unlikely. Rape and sexual violence have to be addressed specifically which threatens peace and stability. Finally, the session moved to its concluding slide. The critiques were valid and necessary, throwing light on the various limitations and suggestions to be taken into account to address the loopholes and unaddressed issues. These critiques help in the prosperity and growth of WPS which before the 90s was an unimaginable issue but now is like a moving goalpost, as stated by the speaker. 
Over the years these policies through WPS have helped in encouraging and ensuring the participation and representation of women at various levels and further aim to increase such representation and participation through CSOs, simultaneously addressing the critiques, looking into the challenges, addressing root causes, and eliminating the loopholes. As more and more issues arise, these have to be dealt with enhanced creativity to achieve the desired goals of WPS. The floor was then opened for questions from the participants and various questions were raised such as on the role of the Indian Government. The questions were addressed by Dr Vahida, which provided further insights to the various stakeholders in addressing the issue. At last, the session came to an end with special thanks to Dr Vahida Nainar, the conveners and IMPRI for the successful conduct of the session.

Day 3 | September 23, 2022

Our panel for the third day included Prof Roxana Marinescu, Professor, Faculty of International Business and Economics, Department of Modern Languages and Business Communication, Bucharest University of Economic Studies and Prof Vibhuti Patel. Dr Simi Mehta welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction and remembered Hansa Mehta for the quotation- ‘all human beings are born equal.’ The theme for the third day was Gender and Sustainable Development Discourses. Commencing the program, the convener for the session, Ms Jyoti Rawal welcomed the panellist and briefly discussed how the patriarchial mindset has been continuing in India.
Prof Vibhuti Patel gave a presentation on the topic- ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow.’ Diversity, equality and inclusion are the main mottos of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), given by the United Nations. She said women’s role in leadership is very important and remembered the foremothers who paved the way for women’s progress and gender equality. She is of the view that biases can be broken through diversity, equality and inclusion. This was followed by a detailed discussion of the 17 SDGs and an elaboration on how women’s empowerment can be achieved through them. She concluded by discussing the role of nation-states in bridging the gender gap.
Prof Roxana Marinescu took over while underlining the slow progress in SDGs. She focused on the European Union and its policy on Sustainable Development and Feminist Foreign Policy; she shared data and statistics on European Progress on five SDGs. Gender-based violence, education, employment and leadership are the European Union Policies that address five of the SDGs. Prof Marinescu then discussed the Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 and spoke about the six strategies, including women empowerment and physical and sexual violence against women. She also discussed the European mentality of men earning for the family. She elaborated that Europe has the largest Women’s Commission- 39% of women in an elected parliament and 32.2% in the local parliament. Feminism is about liberal feminism and women need to be in decision-making power rather than pursuing structural change. She also spoke about some challenges and critiques regarding gender mainstreaming such as the superficial approach and the co-optation of gender change; overall she emphasized both, the top-down and bottom-up, approaches.

Day 4 | September 30, 2022

Our panel for the fourth day had Prof Meenal Shrivastava, Professor of Political Economy & Gender Studies at Athabasca University, Canada; along with Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, former Indian Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya and Malta and Prof Nillima Srivastava, Professor, School of Gender and Development Studies, Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi for special remarks; the session was Chaired by Prof Vibhuti Patel. The theme for the day was Gender, International Relations and Diplomacy. Dr Simi Mehta welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with a brief introduction about the same. Commencing the program, the convener for the session, Ms Jyoti Rawal welcomed the panellist and gave insights about the working of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.
The session started with the remarks of Ambassador Anil Trigunayat, who expressed that we need to deal with the issue of foreign policy and discussed the two latest news. One was the Supreme Court judgment on married/unmarried women’s right to terminate a pregnancy, which is a major change; the other was regarding an insensitive comment by a lady IAS officer in Bihar. He said more women in the system will lead to greater representatives and respondents; for the betterment of society, there is a need for greater involvement of women in decision-making and participation. He also talked about the case of Iran and Afghanistan where protests are ongoing as women face discrimination. In Iran, protests are going on against autonomy for the hijab-related issue. While in Afghanistan, women are prohibited from doing and attending many activities. He said that women are being discriminated against at every level of department and participation, even in the elite classes. He concluded by saying that charity begins at home, hence India should start with the required efforts.
Prof Meenal Shrivastava, interconnected many complex issues of the global economy, starting from the whole global movement of people and followed by political economy-related issues. She said we experience our positionality differently in different contexts depending on where we stand in relation to existing dynamics of power and privileges. The scope of International Relations is expanded to emphasize the interaction of sovereign states and intervention and the implication of practices. “Foreigners”, “Immigrants”, “Women of Colour”, and “Childless” are the labels that are used to essentialize real or perceived differences to create and maintain hierarchies of humanity. She put the fact that women comprise of half-human population. There is an absence of women in International Relations theory and hence, the practice is manifested in both women’s marginalization and decision-making and an assumption that women’s day-to-day life is not impacted or important to International Relations. She talked about this longstanding exclusion that has shaped our current political system and how we understand and interpret them; according to her, traditional International Relations is gender blind.
She said gender research demonstrates links between the violence in women in private and public spaces. Global politics rests on the daily activities of men and women and these activities depend on gender identities; restrictions on basic activities are more susceptible to gender violence. Mass rape of women was ignored during World War II; similarly, sexual violence remains endemic in various war zones, making women historically marginalized. She also said that globalizing world is resting on the cheapest labour of women from the post-colonial society or developing nations. She highlighted global declining democracy and hypernationalism which is backed by popular masses and further threats to women. She also talked about the Feminist Foreign Policy framework and the importance of Feminism. Prof Shrivastava said feminism is for everyone and there is a need for the involvement of women in making policies for foreign or domestic for the betterment of society. She ended up with an optimistic note of transformation being possible. Gender equality is a means to achieve economic growth and global security. She said the time is opportune to engage and shape emerging discussions around Feminist Foreign Policy and other gender mainstreaming approaches.
Prof Nillima Srivastava presented the topic- “Why What, and How to Implement Feminist Foreign Policy in the Context of India”. Despite an increase in political and economic participation, gender equality is yet to be achieved. She explained the Feminist Foreign Policy in detail and how it calls for a state to promote and practice gender equality, ensuring all women enjoy their human rights, even through diplomatic relations. Feminist Foreign Policy aims to incorporate policies and initiatives to not just control war, diplomacy and security but also to manage and promote the visibility of women and other marginalized groups. It ensures that women are treated as equals and they enjoy their human rights within international commitments too. She added two more Rs i.e, Research & Reporting (monitoring and evaluation of impact), and Reach ( applying a gender lens to all policies and programs).
She said that Feminist Foreign Policy rests on three main pillars- Human Security, Challenges Power Structures and Intersectionality. Moving toward the later phase of her presentation, she discussed a case study of Canada and Sweden where Feminist Foreign Policy is being implemented and thus recognizing the importance of women‘s active role in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. She then elaborates on why India’s foreign policy needs a feminist lens and drew attention to the Gender Gap Report 2021 which shows India dropping by 28 ranks from its previous position which reflects the need for the rethinking of the conventional methods in shaping Foreign Policy. The program ended with a vote of thanks by Ms Tripta Behra, a research intern at IMPRI.
Acknowledgement: Ishina Das, Soham Biswas and Kashish Prasad, research interns at IMPRI



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