“Implementation of Feminist Foreign Policy - Turning Commitments into Actions” - Speech by Foreign Minister Baerbock at a side event of the 78th UN General Assembly

20.09.2023 - Speech

It’s so great to be in this room. I think you can feel the difference if you have 50 percent women, maybe 70 percent present. There’s a different spirit in the room. However, I would like to speak frankly and openly because the topics are ones we share. This is why we are here. I actually changed my speech a bit because I found this tote bag on my table here. It says: “I have a feminist foreign policy”. So I’m lucky I get to have this. But actually a while ago, I would have had to show you a different bag saying: “I’m working really hard for everyone else to have a Feminist Foreign Policy but my Government still thinks it’s just cute and that makes me sad.”

And yes, I’m proud that Germany does have a Feminist Foreign Policy but I have to say it was not easy at all.

People might think that Germany is very progressive. I love my country. However, when I first introduced FFP in Parliament, the reaction was precisely that: “how cute”. Some civil society actors are with me here and they remember very well. So I said, “we have to formulate a Feminist Foreign Policy, especially right now, a real strategy and we need to learn from other countries.” But the first reaction was, “Oh my God, now she’s coming with her human rights and she wants to preach to others.” So I said, “Well, I actually want to learn from others because others – such as Chile or other countries – do actually have a Feminist Foreign Policy.”

And then there was the discussion in Parliament. One of our male political leaders told me, “Well, you know, you can do your” – he didn’t say “cute” but was [forming a heart with his hands] – “you can do your Feminist Foreign Policy for development work but please not for hard security matters.”

However, I had just come back from Bosnia and Herzegovina where I had met the survivors of Srebrenica, women who had lost their entire family. I also met young women born out of rape. They didn’t even have a last name, because still in some countries such children are not given one because it would reflect the atrocity committed against their mother.

So I was making it quite clear that if you hear these stories, I’m not thinking about heartbreaking, “cute” things. No, this is about hard politics. This is what politics is all about. That is why I’m so happy that we can join in. And now I have this bag with me. We were able to join the Feminist Foreign Policy group. And I’m thankful for that because it helped me. Even in a country like mine where human rights are anchored in our Constitution and people say: “So, actually, what’s wrong? What rights are missing in our Constitution?” And where you sometimes think, “yes, actually, where do we have gaps?” It helped me understand that this is all about learning from each other, about looking at ourselves and hopefully helping others.

And this is also important: we copied, learned from others, from their Feminist Foreign Policy. We focused on rights, representation, resources. And this has helped us to structure the debate. So what do we have to work on to actually get better?

The second question was: “okay, so do we call it Feminist Foreign Policy or not?” The label triggered major debate. This was why we had all the strong reactions from my male colleagues in Parliament. If I had called it “implementation of goal number five of the SDGs”, well, they wouldn’t have shown this reaction. But, actually, there wouldn’t have been any reaction at all because nobody would have understood what I was talking about.

So I believe sometimes – even if this is not something which works in every country – you need those “trigger words”, as you do in Germany, to have a debate on where we need to improve. But for other countries, and I would like to leave this message here for them, it may be better not to use these words. I also learned this from colleagues here last year. Mongolia cannot be here with us today but our colleague Betty, the Foreign Minister of Mongolia, told us last year that she was planning a Feminist Foreign Policy but didn’t know whether she could call it that. We said together with other colleagues, “well, it doesn’t matter, you can be part of our group.” After all, Mongolia was going to be the first country in Asia with this kind of policy. She even hosted a Feminist Foreign Policy Conference in Mongolia just a couple of months ago. This really makes a difference, shows that this is universal. However, for us it was important to name it FFP. It was important to really structure the debate, to ask the question: where do we need to improve?

Even though if I travel to Gulf countries, for example, it’s fine for me if they say: “Well, for us, it’s very important to understand that our GDP doesn’t grow as much if half of society cannot work. We have a problem with our GDP then.” In Germany, women are allowed to work, obviously, but we need to remember that this was not normal in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Back then, you had to ask permission from your husband.

For us, it’s important to work using the three Rs.

Representation. One of the most important sentences I’ve heard over the last year from a colleague was: “you have to see it to be it”. It was the same in Germany. The first female Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was asked questions like: “Can a woman be a world leader?” I also ran for Chancellor – obviously I didn’t win – but I wasn’t asked that question anymore. I was asked a different one: “Can a 40-year-old mother of two little children in kindergarten be a chancellor candidate?” So it matters whether there are other women who have done this before. We are working hard on representation in Germany and to see that we have the same amount of representation in the UN is really useful here. With regard to quotas, I think yesterday we could also see it in the plenary. Women were a topic in the speeches of the Heads of State session, mentioned by both the Secretary-General and the men that followed. Everybody was speaking out very strongly on women’s rights. This was good and important. But I would say it wasn’t so good that it took six hours before the first female Head of State took the floor.

So also here at the United Nations, we can see what we have to do.

The second R stands for resources. This is really hard for us and this is something I think I would like to share also with the United Nations: the question of resources.

We want to do gender budgeting. But to do that, we need all the data to see where our money is going. Our goal is for 85 percent of project funding to be gender-sensitive. Again, I was asked in Germany: “So we do not do any more projects benefitting men?” No, we just want to know where our money is going. After all, there might be projects we consider humanitarian. But unfortunately, we realise and we see it in some countries that if female workers are not allowed to provide humanitarian assistance, it only goes to men. So we want to know where the money actually goes in terms of gender-sensitivity. I think we have to work intensively together with the UN here. And we want to make 8 percent of project budgets we want to make gender-transformative.

And briefly on rights: many people say “so what do we have to do in European countries?” I think – but Catherine has already touched on this – the question of reproductive rights is sensitive. But for us, this is a really important issue because it’s our body and the only person who can decide about our own body is us as women - and no man.

The last point I would like to make – we had a wonderful conference speaking with many female foreign ministers about Afghanistan. The question was: so what can we do? And we joined forces, especially as female foreign ministers.

There is a quote from Horia Mosadiq, an Afghan activist who said, “On the 14th of August, we were doctors, ministers, members of parliament, teachers, journalists. On the 15th of August, we woke up as nobody. Because the Taliban snatched away our face, our identity.”

We have seen the worst human rights atrocities but we didn’t even have a name for them. We are currently hearing discussions about “gender apartheid”, “femicide” or “gender separation”. But why? Because in the Genocide Convention, gender, unlike race or religion, is not a legal term, as is race or religion. Maybe nobody imagined that it could become necessary. I would actually think it is all these Conventions were written by men. But I think it’s really important that we think not only about the label Feminist Foreign Policy, which is a trigger word, but we also have to find a name for these atrocities in order to bring them to trial.

There are some in the room who were discussing with us what can be done through the ICC or the ICJ because of what another great foreign minister once said: “women’s rights are human rights”. So we have to act in case these kinds of atrocities happen again worldwide.

I’m really thankful that we’re here together to give women back not only their identity, their face in Afghanistan, but one day, also their job as a teacher, as a parliamentarian or a journalist.

Thank you.


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