Feminist foreign policy explained

The Netherlands is keen to reduce inequality and to achieve gender and LBGTIQ+ equality all over the world, so the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on a feminist foreign policy. But what does that mean, and why is it important? How does the Netherlands intend to do this? All is explained below.

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Image: ©Richard Koek
Rainbow steps outside the UN General Assembly in 2022.

Equality: enshrined in the Dutch constitution

Equality is one of the cornerstones of the Dutch constitution. Article 1 states:  All persons in the Netherlands shall be treated equally in equal circumstances. Yet major steps still need to be taken in the Netherlands – indeed, everywhere in the world – to achieve universal equality, particularly for women and girls. Systemic gender inequality exists everywhere. The situation is often worse for minorities, such as LGBTIQ+ people. That is why the government is making plans and agreements to identify and address this inequality, in the form of a feminist foreign policy.

What is feminist foreign policy?

Opting for a feminist foreign policy means that equal rights and equality become the main focus of all aspects of Dutch foreign policy. It also means that the Netherlands joins a group of pioneer countries that are campaigning internationally for gender equality, including Germany, Spain, France, Luxembourg, Canada, Mexico and Chile.

If more people have equal opportunities, we will have a safer, more stable and more prosperous world.

Feminist foreign policy means protecting human rights and promoting meaningful participation in decision-making by women and LGBTIQ+ people. The focuses of feminist foreign policy are rights, representation, resources and reality check:

  • women all over the world must be able to claim their universal rights and know that they are safeguarded from violence (rights);
  • they must be represented and take part in political decisions (representation);
  • there must be sufficient resources to achieve these goals (resources);
  • circumstances differ around the world, and a particular approach will not have the same effect everywhere. We therefore have to implement our policy goals in a way that is appropriate to the local context (reality check).

Why do we need a feminist foreign policy?

Women make up half the world’s population, yet it is rare to find a place where they are equally represented in places where decisions are made about their lives (in politics and management boards, for example).

1.2 billion women live in countries where the right to safe abortion is not guaranteed. Care responsibilities and other unpaid work place an unfair burden on women, putting them at a disadvantage on the labour market. In regions hit by disasters and conflict, women often fall victim to sexual violence. Women need to be involved more in conflict resolution; the chance that a peace agreement will hold for longer than two years is 20% higher if women are involved in peace talks, and the chance that there will still be peace after fifteen years is as much as 35% higher.

As long as the rights of women and girls remain uncertain, they will face discrimination, including in financial and legal terms – unequal access to property, land, inheritances, loans and education, for example. This violates the rights of women and girls, exposing them to poverty, dependence and violence.

So there is more than enough reason to focus in Dutch foreign policy on equality, equal treatment and equal opportunity to participate in politics and society. This also helps to reduce poverty, economic inequality, extremism and conflict.

What is the Netherlands doing?

Promoting women’s rights and gender equality has been a key focus of Dutch foreign policy for some time. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been devoting a great deal of attention to ensuring meaningful participation by women, and to the effects that policy has on women, in grant awards, diplomacy and during negotiations at the EU and other international institutions, for example. The Netherlands also promotes women’s rights, gender equality, sexual rights and reproductive health, providing funding for activities and programmes, for instance.

With a budget of € 510 million (2021-2025) the Netherlands’ SDG 5 Fund is one of the biggest funds for women’s rights and gender equality in the world. Its resources are used for things like promoting women’s participation in political decision-making, peace processes and reconstruction. The fund also supports female entrepreneurship, women’s rights organisations and human rights defenders. Support includes direct funding for women’s organisations.

In recent months the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has put its feminist foreign policy into action in various ways, both in the Netherlands and abroad. Sexual violence during conflicts was an important focus of the Ukraine Accountability Conference in The Hague, for example. The Netherlands also spoke out against homophobia and discrimination in Slovakia after the murder of two LHBTIQ+ people, and it supports the European sanctions introduced in response to the large-scale violence against women in Iran.

What else does the Netherlands plan to do?

In a letter to the House of Representatives, foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra and foreign trade and development cooperation minister Liesje Schreinemacher set out their plans to improve and expand the Netherlands’ feminist foreign policy. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ plans include:

  • putting equality and parity on the agenda for talks with other countries more often;
  • making gender analysis a standard part of strategy and policymaking procedures;
  • asking ‘what will this mean for women and girls, LGBTIQ+ people and minorities?’ more often when considering grant awards, or making and implementing policy;
  • involving and consulting local civil society organisations, including women’s organisations, in a more meaningful way in policy- and decision-making processes;
  • performing interim evaluations of policy to establish its impact on women and LGBTIQ+ people, and making adjustments if necessary;
  • and, since everything begins at home, the Ministry will also continue to look critically at its own organisation, increasing its capacity for this through training and knowledge development.

Over the coming year the policy will be fleshed out in more detail, with input from broad-based consultation sessions. The Netherlands will also host an international conference on feminist foreign policy in autumn 2023, in order to help expand knowledge and facilitate discussion.