August 19, 2023


Almost ten years ago, Sweden made history by becoming the first country to adopt an official ‘Feminist Foreign Policy’ (FFP), appearing to take a powerful stance on issues of gender equality around the world. Since this time, while Sweden has abandoned their FFP due to internal political changes, thirteen other states have followed in their footsteps by announcing their intentions to adopt a FFP.[i]

Yet, despite this, FFP is a term subject to great debate with various interpretations and general ‘conceptual muddiness’ arising in both academic literature and in state government policy.[ii] Despite the popularly held belief that gender equality is essential for global stability, the exact way in which FFPs should be implemented, or even the suitability of the highly politicised term ‘feminist’, at times hinders discussion on the topic.[iii]

This article will attempt to delve below the controversy to highlight the ways in which efforts to increase women’s participation in security and peacekeeping forces are an essential element of any state’s foreign policy.

What is Feminist Foreign Policy?

Understandings of what exactly a FFP should entail range, from basic accounts focused on adding a greater focus on gender equality to foreign policies, to more radical views which aim to usurp the way in which states view their role in the international sphere.

States, such as Sweden and Germany, adopted a more simplistic ‘Three R’s’ approach which focuses on increasing the rights, representation, and resources of women globally.

On the other hand, a more comprehensive account was developed by the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW) in their FFP index. The index focuses its attention on policies that ‘seek to disrupt racist, colonial and patriarchal power dynamics by prioritising peace, gender equality and environmental integrity across all levers of foreign policy’.[iv] By examining the way in which states themselves perpetuate inequality, the index holds all states to a higher standard and aims to demonstrate the extent to which a full commitmentto FFP could result in not only transformational change in the lives of women around the globe, but an increase in international stability.

While the index offers a good opportunity for states to hold themselves to account, the extent to which we can expect states to echo these sentiments is inevitably limited by the political context found in each state.[v]

Nonetheless, successful examples of policies launched by states who have declared FFPs can be seen in Sweden’s crucial work to get resolutions on sexual and gender-based violence at the United Nations Security Council, and their ending of a weapons deal with Saudi Arabia due to their poor record on women’s rights.[vi]

Is Participation an Existing Part of Feminist Foreign Policy?

Melanne Verveer from the Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security has said: ‘A foreign policy that has women at its core – whether called ‘feminist’ or not – recognises that democracy, peace, prosperity, and social progress need the full participation of women. No country can get ahead if it leaves half its people behind.’[vii]

Inevitably, this view is echoed to an extent in the FFPs of those states which are focusing on the Three R’s, as representation is a central element of this approach. For example, ‘Guideline One’ in Germany’s FFP Guide, outlines that Germany will integrate the perspective of women and marginalised groups into their world-wide work for peace and security, and advocate for the greater participation of these groups into inclusive peace processes.[viii]

Even states not following the three R’s approach have recognised that women’s participation should be part of their FFP. For example, Mexico, taking a more inward approach, has increasing gender parity within their own foreign office and governmental institutions as a central element of their FFP.[ix]

Recognition that increasing women’s participation in the development of the foreign policy of states, is, of course, an important development. However, at SecurityWomen, we believe that this must extend beyond the integration of the perspectives of women, or gender parity in foreign offices, to include the prioritisation of increasing women’s participation in security sector forces. This is an aspect that is often neglected in considerations of FFP, perhaps due to the associations of these institutions with typically ‘anti-feminist’ ideas, such as war. However, as will be suggested, reaching gender parity in military and police forces would have positive impacts on the implementation of foreign policy around the world.

What SecurityWomen would like to see

Firstly, by ensuring that national militaries and police forces become institutions in which women have the opportunity to meaningfully contribute, and are actively encouraged to do so, the masculine associations of war and security will begin to be diluted by the diverse perspectives and experiences that women can bring. While women can participate on equal-footing with their male counterparts, they may also erode the patriarchal cultures that have led to an increase in violence and aggressive conduct in militaries around the world. By confronting these issues head on, the conduct of war can begin to change, while enabling women to work up the chain of command and contribute to the decision-making taking place in foreign offices, and barracks stationed around the world. The impact of taking gender equality seriously within these institutions has been demonstrated by Canada, who have been a forerunner in tackling gender inequality within their forces, and whose troops were reported to be more respected and respectful in operations in Afghanistan.[x]

Increasing women’s participation in these institutions has the potential to transform the implementation of foreign policy around the world, leading to an international community with increased respect and less war and violence.

Secondly, increasing the participation of women in national security forces can have direct repercussions on international stability. The participation of women in wide-ranging roles has repeatedly been heralded as not only an important move towards equality, but also as a crucial factor contributing to long lasting peace and more just societies.[xi] In peacekeeping missions specifically,women are capable of performing the same roles as men, but can provide a unique perspective and build connections with communities that would otherwise remain excluded from peace processes.[xii] As international peacekeeping missions are largely made up of representatives from state militaries and police forces, increasing women’s participation in these institutions will have a direct impact on their success rate.


At a time when international security is increasingly threatened by war, political unrest, and climate emergencies, ensuring that women are equally represented in the forces that respond to these situations must be of upmost importance to all those working in foreign policy. This will result in forces more able to cooperate with the communities around the world and a reduction in the consequences of harmful masculinity, leading to better outcomes for all those involved and for both national and international policy.

[i] These states are: Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Liberia, Libya, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain and Slovenia

[ii] Berry M, Matfess H, and Nabourema F,‘It’s Time to Rethink What a ‘Feminist Foreign Policy’ Means’ <https://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/swedenfeminist-foreign-policy-wps-agenda/?one-timeread-code=160342166744233454989>

[iii] George R, ‘Sweden’s Feminist ForeignPolicy Cannot be Undone’  <https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/11/18/sweden-feminist-foreign-policy-billstrom-gender-equality/>

[iv] International Centre for Research on Women, <https://www.icrw.org/publications/feminist-foreign-policy-index/ >pg 8

[v]For example, on Sweden’s decision to drop FFP: Walfridsson H, ‘Sweden’s New Government Abandons Feminst Foreign Policy’ (Human Rights Watch) <https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/10/31/swedens-new-government-abandons-feminist-foreign-policy>

[vi] BBC, ‘Sweden Ditches ‘Feminist Foreign Policy’’ <https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-63311743>

[vii] Melanne Verveer, ‘Is There Such a Thingas Feminist Foreign Policy?’< Is there such a thing as feministforeign policy? - Friends of Europe>

[viii] Federal Foreign Office, ‘Shaping Feminist Foreign Policy’ <https://www.shapingfeministforeignpolicy.org/papers/Guidelines_Feminist_Foreign_Policy.pdf>

[ix] Martha Delgado, ‘Mexico’s Feminist Foreign Policy’ < spring-2020 (turkishpolicy.com)>

[x] The Economist, ‘Female soldiers are changing how armed forces work’

<Female soldiers are changing how armedforces work (economist.com)>

[xi] UN Women, ‘Peace and Security’ <https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/peace-and-security>

[xii] Ivanovic A ‘Why the United Nations Needs More Female Peacekeepers’ <https://unu.edu/publications/articles/why-un-needs-more-female-peacekeepers.html>

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