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Germany Has Declared a Feminist Foreign Policy… So What Happens Next?

09 Dec 2021
By Liz Gill-Atkinson and Joanna Pradela
Annalena Baerbock, 2019 (Federal Chairwoman Alliance 90/The Greens). Source: Stephan Röhl

Germany’s new coalition agreement explicitly mentions a feminist foreign policy approach. A look at other countries’ experiences should point to important next steps for successful implementation.

After five weeks of negotiation, Germany’s “traffic-light” coalition announced their agreement on 24 November 2021. The agreement outlines the intentions of the German Social Democrats, Greens, and Liberals for governing as a diverse group and explicitly mentions a feminist foreign policy, framed around the Swedish model of the “three R’s.” In the coalition agreement, the new government commits to act “in line with feminist foreign policy” to “strengthen the rights, resources and representation of women and girls worldwide and promote greater diversity in society.”

This declaration is a major achievement for feminist policy advocates around the world and feminist civil society actors in Germany, including the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP), who have been advocating for a German feminist foreign policy for several years.

Though decidedly light on policy content at the point of writing it into the coalition agreement, by referencing feminist foreign policy with the specifics of advancing the “three R’s” still to come, the new German government is not out of step with other countries. In fact, a common feature of feminist foreign policy announcements is that they precede deep policy work. Research by the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA) on the pathways taken by different governments towards feminist foreign policy confirms this.

Sweden, France, Canada, and Mexico all announced their intention to develop a feminist foreign policy to much fanfare and acclaim, prior to developing the policy content. The specifics of what these announcements mean have gone on to be subsequently developed. However, an announcement alone does not guarantee the implementation of feminist foreign policy.

For example, since announcing their intention to develop a feminist foreign policy white paper in March 2020 – building on their existing feminist international assistance policy – progress towards a Canadian feminist foreign policy has lagged. Early signs were strong, with the Canadian government funding civil society organisations to conduct an extensive public consultation process as part of the white paper process. Following on the heels of COVID-19 and a domestic election, civil society is hopeful that the process will be reinvigorated with the political will needed for success.

Whether Germany will translate the reference to feminist foreign policy into comprehensive action depends on a few factors. The first is political will at the highest levels. So far, there has been little mention of the feminist foreign policy intention since the coalition government’s new agreement was made public. Perhaps with such a diversity of politics represented in the coalition, and so many significant areas of negotiation required to reach the agreement, this is not surprising. However, once the chancellor is sworn in, we will want to see significant energy around this component of the agreement. Without this, there is a risk that the work of civil society advocates and government officials that has led to this point could be undermined, or buried under the weight of a new government taking office and establishing their mandate and authority.

What happens within German civil society now is the second factor. A common feature of feminist foreign policy announcements is the role that civil society has played both in the lead up to such announcements and after their occurrence. In the lead up, the German example follows the roadmap of other countries. The existence of feminist civil society with a history of advocating for progressive, feminist policy more broadly is an enabling factor for such announcements. This is certainly visible in the German context. Likewise, despite the slowness of the Canadian process, the role of civil society in supporting the announcement and then actively seeking and shaping policy development opportunities, in addition to immediately activating a sense of accountability has been a key driver for action.

Thirdly, Germany should take note of strategies that other governments have used to facilitate institutional ownership of feminist foreign policies after they have been declared. Governments should partner with and draw on the expertise of civil society to help legitimise and institutionalise feminist foreign policies. Feminist foreign policy advocates within government should develop strategies to socialise and embed feminist foreign policy across government departments. Political leaders who are personally associated with feminist foreign policies – including the new German foreign affairs minister, Annalena Baerbock – should develop strategies to ensure policy longevity beyond their tenure.

If these steps are followed, there is great potential to move towards a transformative implementation of feminist foreign policy in Germany.

Liz Gill-Atkinson is the Research Policy Advocacy Coordinator at the International Women’s Development Agency. Liz was the lead researcher of the IWDA research project “From Seeds to Roots.”

Joanna Pradela is the Director of Knowledge Translation at the International Women’s Development Agency (IWDA). She can be found on Twitter @jojomaia. IWDA convenes the Australian Feminist Foreign Policy Coalition.

This article is published under a Creative Commons License and may be republished with attribution.