An insight into Germany’s feminist foreign policy

SDG Ziel 5: Geschlechtergleichheit
Woman holding a sign and protests for more equality.
© GettyImages/jacoblund

doesn’t really prevail in any country in the world, not even in the highly advanced Scandinavian countries. Women and girls may make up half the global population, but they are far from enjoying half the power. They only make up around a quarter of all parliamentarians worldwide and only some ten per cent of all governments are led by women. Resources are also unequally distributed: women tend to work less frequently, earn less, own less, and have restricted access to education, funding and loans. The result is that only 13 per cent of the world’s cultivated land belongs to women, for example.  

Equality’s significance to society

A large part of their potential therefore remains unexploited, although they exude ‘Strength, knowledge, extraordinary skills and innovative ideas’, as Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Svenja Schulze formulates it. Greater participation by women – aside from the human rights dimension – would benefit society as a whole: the International Monetary Fund reckons that the economy in some countries could grow by up to 35 per cent if women were involved in employment to a similar extent as men. We are also now aware that societies are more stable and amicable when there is greater parity between genders.  

A few months ago, Germany set itself the objective of pursuing a feminist foreign and development policy to address this widespread imbalance. The intention is to surmount unequal power structures and thus enable participatory equality for all. This applies to every form of disadvantage and, in addition to women, it includes minorities and people with disabilities.  

Developing a ‘feminist reflex’

This policy ‘Isn’t a nice-to-have, a token bunch of flowers, or a bow on top’, as Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated when the new approach was presented, but rather ‘pervades all areas of our foreign policy activities’. The topic of gender should remain in the foreground and there is a need to develop a ‘feminist reflex’ in this regard.  

The approaches adopted by the Federal Foreign Office (AA) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) are complementary. Their joint aim is to apply modernising changes in Germany’s partner countries, but also internally. This is primarily to occur through the ‘three Rs’: rights, resources and representation. It involves abolishing discriminatory laws and standards (granting rights), establishing equality in access to resources and increasing the representation of women on all social levels.  

Germany is not alone in taking this approach. Sweden was the first country to adopt it in 2014, although it’s no longer being pursued due to a change in government. Countries such as Canada, Luxembourg, France, Spain, the Netherlands, Mexico and a few others followed the example. A global network (Global Partner Network for Feminist Foreign Policy) was accordingly formed in 2023. Its members now include at least two dozen governments and organisations, including institutions such as the or the .

This has met with both praise and criticism in Germany. Some are pleased that what represents a vital prerequisite for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is finally being implemented on a consistent basis. Others see such a policy as being strategically irrelevant, a trendy debate or simply superfluous. 

Why do we need a feminist foreign policy? | Kristina Lunz

Why do we need a feminist foreign policy? | Kristina Lunz
Why do we need a feminist foreign policy? | Kristina Lunz ©

Kristina Lunz, human rights activist, co-founder and Germany director of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, and advisor to the German Federal Foreign Office, explains her work and urgency for a feminist approach to foreign policy.

Room for expansion of the feminist foreign and development policy

An enquiry among international alumnae provided a clear picture: they welcome the feminist foreign and development policy but believe that it doesn’t yet go far enough.

Sandra Àngel Moreno

‘Germany’s feminist foreign and development policy is a highly significant step forward. The more states that follow this approach, the sooner we can eliminate harmful structures. I therefore see it as very good news that a European country like Germany is now pursuing a feminist policy. I would however have preferred Germany to also be pursuing a clear pacifist and pro-democratic direction in this respect. There is no mention of this in the papers. There is also no indication that the inequity among women can be very different. A woman in Latin America, especially if she belongs to an indigenous minority, faces totally different issues than a woman in Europe. This imbalance in power is not addressed. There is also no reference to the fact that female migrants in Germany can be exposed to major inequalities. Feminist policy is rather weak at this point. These are all reasons why I deem the approach to be good, but insufficiently comprehensive.’

Ruqia Hazrati

‘I believe this new direction in German policy to be extremely relevant, especially in relation to Afghanistan. The current regime is totally excluding women from public life; they are being driven back to a life at home. It would amount to a catastrophe if Afghan women were now also to be overlooked by the international community. That’s why I’m very happy about the new approach. Albeit there’s still a need for it to be proven in practice. It would therefore be vitally important that the NGOs with which Germany cooperates in Afghanistan employ women in their ranks and in senior positions as a symbol of support. Germany could make this a prerequisite for its funding. And this is just one example. I’m very curious to see whether this new policy can deliver what it promises on paper, especially in a country like Afghanistan.’

Suzie Shefeni

‘I find it to be highly laudable that a global power such as Germany should set its policy in a feminist context. The shift comes at exactly the right time, because feminist policy is typically proceeding in a critical and reflective manner, yet simultaneously striving for justice – which is what we need in times of crises such as these. The three Rs – rights, resources, representation – have the potential to result in real progress. Although I believe that some highly relevant aspects are missing: there is no mention at all of migration and immigration, for example, yet both are significant aspects of international policy. Many people leave their home country due to conflicts and because of climate change; both make them vulnerable, and this applies above all to women. A feminist foreign policy should recognise and include them. I consider this to be a major defect. We’ll also have to wait and see whether this new policy brings the expected results in practice. This will be evidenced in Namibia’s case by how Germany deals with its past there and whether it’s prepared to pay more compensation, especially to indigenous women, because they too are explicitly included within feminist foreign policy.’ 

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