Is the future of foreign policy feminist?

An OpenCanada series on the intersection of feminism and global affairs. 

Illustration by Sami Chouhdary

Under the government of Justin Trudeau, Canada has embraced a feminist foreign policy — gradually at first, and with fervor over the past year.

In June 2017, Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland declared: “It is important, and historic, that we have a prime minister and a government proud to proclaim ourselves feminists. Women’s rights are human rights. That includes sexual reproductive rights and the right to safe and accessible abortions. These rights are at the core of our foreign policy.”

Days later, Canada’s aid program was renamed the Feminist International Assistance Policy, with the specific mandate to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as the most effective way to “reduce extreme poverty and build a more peaceful, inclusive and prosperous world.”

Canada has also applied gender framing to security (with the Elsie Initiative on Women in Peace Operations) and trade (with a new gender chapter within the Canada-Chile free trade agreement). And, most recently, it announced the creation of a gender equity advisory council to ensure gender equality is integrated across all themes of the G7, which Canada presides over this year.  

Canada is not leading the charge, however (Sweden pioneered the first such policy in 2014), and the framing is not without its critics. So as leaders like Freeland and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström increasingly advocate for the use of foreign policy as a vehicle to better the lives of women and girls around the world, we are taking a step back to ask how a feminist foreign policy should be defined and what it looks like in practice.

In this series, Karen K. Ho looks at Canada’s first big test of the application of a gender lens — its G7 presidency this year. Nathalie Rothschild explains the Swedish model and how it has been working thus far. Alice Driver reports from Mexico City on the intersection between migration, trafficking and feminism.

Finally, in a roundup from leading voices from around the world including Jacinda Ardern, the prime minster of New Zealand, Canada’s minister of development Marie-Claude Bibeau, long-time foreign correspondent Sally Armstrong and several others, we give 10 reasons why this policy progression matters — and where it should go next.

In the series

feminist march

10 reasons why we need feminist foreign policy

We asked 10 leading thinkers, policymakers, journalists and activists what feminist foreign policy means to them. They each support the idea — here's how they see it working.

Margot Wallström

Four years on, Sweden remains committed to its feminist foreign policy

Both praised and questioned, Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is a global first. But, as Nathalie Rothschild reports from Stockholm, some say it doesn’t go far enough. 

canadian soldier

Canada puts its feminist foreign policy to the test

With its G7 presidency, Canada faces the challenge of applying a gender lens to policy areas like trade, peacekeeping and diplomacy. Such efforts put the feminist foreign policy concept under the microscope. 

Cuban migrant

The women and girl migrants who disappear, and the feminist policies that could save them

Immigration policies are largely based on the experience of the male migrant, Alice Driver explains from Mexico and Central America, as she explores what a feminist approach to immigration might look like. 

Women's march 2018

A gender equality toolbox: These areas of society still need work—here's how to do it

As the world ups the ante in the fight against gender inequality, all countries should back up commitments by using a wide range of tools, including investment and immigration policies.