Statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Female Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Ulan Bator

29.06.2023 - Speech

Айвал бүү хий, хийвэл бүү ай!

I have been told that this Mongolian proverb roughly translates as:

“Do not start if afraid; once begun, do not be afraid.”

You, Betty, have shown that you are anything but afraid.

Bringing this conference to the Asian continent – between these two neighbours – is brave and visionary.

What is more, by encouraging us to debate so openly today, we can see that you won't step back once you have started.

For me, this is exactly what feminist foreign policy is all about: about not shying away from debate or controversy, but embracing them openly and in a spirit of trust.

It‘s about standing firm on our principles. It’s about promoting the rights, resources and representation of women and marginalised groups – the three R's, as we call them.

Feminist foreign policy is about putting human security at the heart of our actions. It puts a spotlight on people regardless of their background, gender, belief or whom they love.

We see all around the world that women and vulnerable groups are particularly affected by war and conflict.

We see it dramatically in Russia's brutal war against Ukraine. This war, like many other wars, is causing terrible suffering, particularly amongst women, girls and those who are not able to flee the bombs so easily or who are attacked due to their gender.

This illegal war harms the weakest in our societies in the most brutal fashion – we see this in Russia’s war with regard to children. Reports of thousands of Ukrainian children being deported to Russia are atrocious and heartbreaking. We do not even have real names for these atrocities. We will do our utmost to see that these children can return home to their parents.

This is what it means to stand up for the rights of the vulnerable. Even though, in theory, all people – men and women and children – have the same rights, we see that they are not implemented everywhere.

And I believe that this conference can be a starting point to really look at the lack of rights, especially for women. Because in my country and on our continent at least, we are often confronted with this argument: but they do have all the same rights. So what's the problem?

But if we look more closely, one example are children born out of rape. In many places, they do not even have a last name, they do not exist as citizens. This means that these children lack rights.

Or if we look at reproductive rights for women around the world, we see, also in the USA, the backlash on the question of abortion. So also regarding the right over your own body, there is obviously a lack worldwide.

And we can see that when women, men and children are in difficult situations, such as when they have to flee because of a war or because of the climate crisis – the most serious danger for the whole world –, there is again a lack of rights, of health rights or reproductive rights, for women.

We see this on the ground, for example, in refugee camps, where there are no provisions for women if they have their period or if they need diapers for their babies. Because the special needs of women and children are not automatically taken into account.

So I think that at the next UN General Assembly – where we will meet again, as our colleague and friend from Liechtenstein has pointed out – this could be one of the topics for us to really look into: where do we have a lack of rights around the world, especially with regard to health and reproduction?

Because standing up for women's rights is the right thing to do – but it's also in the best interest of all our economies. We have touched on this already, also in a previous session.

As early as 2015, McKinsey – not known as a feminist organisation – calculated that the equal participation of women in the global labour market could increase global GDP by 26 percent within ten years. Enough to eradicate poverty in large parts of the world. 26 percent of global GDP – if we have equal participation of women.

Betty, you touched on the question of hunger and famine. If we had this additional 26 percent of GDP – equally distributed around the world – we would have solved one of the biggest crises on this planet.

So we can see that participation of women is not just a nice thing to have. Participation matters in the labour market, but also in our parliaments, in government and local councils, in large businesses, in all political and societal processes.

You here in Mongolia, just like us in Germany, are struggling to increase the proportion of seats held by women in your national parliament. As I said, in Germany just one in three parliamentarians is a woman.

So I'm always happy to learn from our colleagues from South Africa, Tanzania, Australia and also from my close neighbour and friend Catherine in France, who are all doing better and can share their insights.

Here in Ulan Bator, you have just decided to draft new proposals to increase women's representation in parliament, and we look forward to hearing how well this work is going.

Since we are here as government representatives, as ministers even, I want to say that it's up to us as governments to act. We can take decisions that have an effect right away. In Germany, our government decided that half of our cabinet ministers should be women.

And this makes a difference because if you have a woman at the head, you see the consequences in the ministries – and you also see them here in the delegations: if this was a meeting with more male ministers, I bet everything I have that the delegations at this table would have different faces.

So it's up to us in government. We have the responsibility to make a difference.

Finally, when it comes to providing women and marginalised groups with special resources, we saw in our debates today how important it is to exchange best practices, for instance when it comes to stabilising former conflict areas.

In Germany, we have introduced gender budgeting via our new guidelines on feminist foreign policy. And we have also brought the strategy with us, if you are interested. This is really difficult and we haven't succeeded in implementing gender budgeting everywhere in our national budget.

But we are starting now in the Foreign Office with gender budgeting in all our programmes and funding worldwide. And again, I have been asked: what extra benefit does gender budgeting provide? Previously we didn't even ask whether it made sense to not even look to see where the money went.

But we have introduced gender budgeting and the goal for my term of office is that 85 percent of our total global funding will be gender sensitive and 8 percent gender transformative.

Again, people have asked: does that mean that the money now only goes to women around the world? Obviously not.

But what we are trying to do is what we have also started with regard to gender budgeting in our own society. We are underlining – like we underline at our Ministry for Housing or our Ministry for Transport – that, for example, transport is not neutral. If you plan a road or a train station, and if you're not asking what kind of people are commuting every day – older people, younger people, people with bikes, but also people in wheelchairs or mothers or fathers with little kids – if you're not thinking about who's actually using these trains, you plan totally differently.

For instance, in the past, we had too many train platforms where wheelchairs or children’s prams could not be used. So it makes a difference if you actually ask yourself “who is coming?” when you take money and invest it.

And I really believe it also makes a difference in foreign policy. For example, when we increase our humanitarian aid. For example, when we rebuild villages destroyed by Boko Haram, we look into the planning: Where do we have, for example, sanitation facilities? If they are at the end of the village, it’s obviously very dangerous for women and girls to go there at night.

So every project we now fund has to take into account these different aspects. And another positive side of this is that when you're checking if projects are gender sensitive, you're also looking into where the money is going. So you're also fighting corruption. You're also more transparent about what international institutions are actually doing with the money.

So for us, this is one part of the reform process within the United Nations because, as many have said already, feminist foreign policy is not just a pretty label. Feminist foreign policy is about taking action.

And I'm very happy that we announced that we would be taking action by providing one million euro for the Women, Peace and Humanitarian Fund, and that Catherine is echoing that from France.

So we can see at this conference that it's about investing in our common security. And we should not be afraid if the going gets tough. And we know it will get tough in this world where authoritarian regimes are questioning not only international rules and disregarding their own people’s basic human rights, but often also initiating a backlash against women’s rights.

In many countries, we have seen that it all starts with a change in criminal law: it’s only a crime if you beat your wife a couple of times. We have seen that in Russia, where they changed other laws.

This is why the question of domestic violence, the fight against domestic violence is of such great importance. The Istanbul Convention has been mentioned already. We believe this is an important blueprint for our own societies.

You here in Mongolia, on this “island of democracy”, know how crucial resilient societies are – for your own security.

That is why it's so important that Mongolian women are playing an active role in all spheres of society, including its military, as we have learned today.

Mongolia, as we have heard, is among the top 20 countries when it comes to sending female soldiers to UN peacekeeping operations. We can learn from you.

And this is why tomorrow, together with some parliamentarians I’ve brought with me to this conference, we will visit your troops, the peacekeeping mission operation, to see what we can learn from you.

Because we know that if women are safe, all of us are safe.

And, this esteemed colleagues, is something no-one should be afraid of.


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