Highlights of a year of feminist foreign policy
The Netherlands seeks to reduce inequality, and it is committed to promoting the equality of men, women and LGBTIQ+ people all over the world. For the past year the Netherlands has sharpened its focus in this area, pursuing an explicitly feminist foreign policy. Below we share some of the highlights of the first 12 months.
13 May marked the first anniversary of the announcement that the Netherlands would be adopting a feminist foreign policy, made by Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Liesje Schreinemacher. In making this decision, the Netherlands joined a number of pioneering countries like Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Mexico and Spain that had already taken a strong international stand by opting to pursue a feminist foreign policy.
Promoting women’s rights and gender equality has long been a fundamental part of Dutch foreign policy. For example, the Netherlands has one of the largest funds for women’s rights and gender equality in the world; it focuses strongly on women’s meaningful participation; and it supports activities and programmes that promote women’s rights, gender equality, sexual rights and reproductive health.
By deciding to adopt a feminist foreign policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is demonstrating its commitment to achieving equal rights for all. Over the past year the Ministry has put its feminist foreign policy into practice in various ways, both in the Netherlands and abroad.
Ukraine Accountability Conference
Last summer the Dutch government, together with the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the European Commission, organised the Ukraine Accountability Conference. One of the key themes of the conference was addressing the issue of sexual violence in conflict. At the conference a number of major steps were taken to ensure that war crimes, including sexual and gender-related violence, do not go unpunished.
One of the outcomes of the conference was the establishment of a Dialogue Group on Accountability for Ukraine. This network serves as an international platform to discuss and coordinate initiatives to combat impunity. The platform was launched in March 2023 by foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra.
In autumn 2022 the annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP27) was held in Egypt. For the first time the Dutch delegation included a gender expert. This expert’s important task was to improve the integration of gender in positions adopted by the Netherlands during negotiations. At an event on feminist foreign policy Ms Schreinemacher also emphasised the vital role of women’s leadership in climate action and the importance of financing for women-led organisations.
In the second half of 2022 various virtual and in-person consultations were held to consider what form a feminist foreign policy should take. Participants in the discussions included ministry staff, mission staff and various other partners. A special consultation for young people was also organised, by the youth ambassador for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
In February 2023, MenEngage Geneva had its kick-off at the residence of the Dutch Permanent Representative. MenEngage Geneva believes men are key partners for achieving gender equality. The Dutch initiative gives men a place to talk about gender equality and to gain insight into how certain patterns can arise. Women are also closely involved in the process, as facilitators and members of an advisory committee.
Sanctions against sexual violence
In March 2023 the European Union (EU) announced its intention to impose sanctions on individuals and organisation responsible for sexual violence and large-scale violations of women’s rights. The individuals and organisations that the EU holds responsible for sexual violence will be placed on a sanctions list, meaning that their assets in the EU will be frozen and the individuals in question will no longer be able to enter the EU. With the introduction of this package of sanctions, EU countries are sending the message that such acts are unacceptable, thus increasing awareness of sexual violence. The Netherlands was one of the initiators of this package of sanctions.
International Women’s Day
During International Women’s Day, Ms Schreinemacher spoke with the Syrian Women’s Advisory Board about the political situation in Syria and the recent earthquakes. The minister stressed the importance of women’s participation in the peace process and assured the Board of the Netherlands’ ongoing support.
That same day, Mr Hoekstra attended the opening of the exhibition ‘From Evin for Woman, Life, Freedom’ about imprisoned female Iranian activists. The minister gave a speech and signed a joint statement on behalf of the Netherlands to call for more awareness of the situation of women and girls in Afghanistan.
Future plans and international conference
Although much progress has already been made, there is scope for further improvement and a sharper focus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is working on a practical guide for staff on how to apply feminist foreign policy. This guide will build on the main points from the letter to parliament of 8 November 2022 and the outcomes of the consultations. It should be available this summer. The new toolkit ‘Equal rights and equal opportunities for LGBTIQ+ people’ for embassies and consulates will be made available at the same time.
In autumn 2023 the Netherlands will organise an international conference on feminist foreign policy in order to broaden knowledge about the subject and promote dialogue.