Speech by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the Conference on Shaping Feminist Foreign Policy

12.09.2022 - Speech

When you bring up Feminist Foreign Policy, many ask: what you are talking about? Some are bothered by the term feminism. Some by the idea of anything at all being different. Others think: at long last! But they want to know what’s behind it.

That is why before I go any further, I would like to use three images to illustrate what Feminist Foreign Policy means.

Let’s take Marzia, aged 15. In spring, she stood in front of the locked doors of her school in Afghanistan with tears in her eyes. Since the Taliban violently regained control of the country, we now have an entire generation of girls for whom going to school, the right to education, can no longer be taken for granted.

Then there is the picture of a mother in northern Mali who I met when visiting the German soldiers deployed there. She had come to where the international protection mission was based and pleaded: please do not abandon us! Even today, we hardly dare go to the market to sell our vegetables for fear of being abducted and raped.

And for the third image, honoured guests, I would like you to help me. Let’s assume you represent a completely normal parliament in our world. If we look around the German Bundestag and many other parliamentary chambers, only one in four representatives is female. So let’s imagine this room with women only up to where the man with the blue mask is sitting (in the front quarter of the room) and thereafter only men. Everyone would say: what kind of strange conference is this? In parliaments, however, we have somehow got used to it.

In other words, we have much to do – what is more, not just in distant lands, but also at home, in the German Bundestag.

Girls who are denied education. Women who cannot earn a living for fear of violence. Parliaments which do not represent the diversity of their society. These are three images which show why Feminist Foreign Policy is not just needed but in fact overdue, why it is a no-brainer.

After all, no country in the world, no economy, no society can afford half of the population not to be able to have their say as equals or play their part.

As early as 2015, McKinsey 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 our world.

It is therefore not just a key right of women and marginalised groups to participate as equals but it is also economic lunacy not to pursue Feminist Foreign Policy. We are talking about our whole society. We are not talking about doing less but about doing more, about bringing everyone to the table – about opening our ranks rather than erecting our own artificial barriers.

That is why we are drawing up guidelines for a German Feminist Foreign Policy in the coming months. Thankfully we are not starting from scratch and thankfully we are not going it alone. We can learn from others who embarked on this path before us.

And that is why I am delighted to be able to welcome colleagues from many different regions of our world today: from Rwanda to Mexico, Albania, Luxembourg, Norway and Sweden. But we also have Members of the German Bundestag with us today, representatives from other ministries, ambassadors from all over the world and above all else many civil society actors. And as well as welcoming civil society as a whole, I would like to give a special mention to the Global Partner Network for Feminist Foreign Policy, as they created the idea of a Feminist Foreign Policy. Thank you for preparing the way for us in governments and in foreign ministries.

I am particularly delighted that you, my friend Shaharzad Akbar, are here with us today. You don’t just talk about the theory like me – you have experienced at first hand how it feels: on the positive side when you finally manage to anchor women’s rights in your own country and ensure girls can go to school. And unfortunately, more dramatically, you are all too aware how it feels when these hard-fought rights are then snatched away. As chair of the Afghan Human Rights Commission, you fought tirelessly for the women in your country – and you continue to do so now from exile. Please accept my heartfelt thanks.

You are speaking for the girls and women of Afghanistan. You are their voice. After all, when some can’t speak, they need others to speak for them. For girls like Marzia who I mentioned at the start. You spoke recently about their situation, saying that these girls have the feeling that the world keeps turning – but they are left behind. That is also why we are here today to hear what you have to say – on behalf of hundreds of thousands, on behalf of the millions of women and girls in Afghanistan who we will not leave behind. They are at the heart of this conference even if they cannot be with us today.

What is important in foreign policy, and not just Feminist Foreign Policy, is always to remember that it’s not about swift success. Sometimes you have to persevere for years or even decades. What is decisive, however, is making a start and never giving up.

Ladies and gentlemen, you will forgive my frankness in saying we did not invite you here today because it is going to be a long slog. You are in truth a key part of our process to anchor a Feminist Foreign Policy – a policy we can only shape together globally.

After all, no country in the world has achieved genuine gender equality to date.

And just like you, Ann Linde, the pioneers in Sweden, we are also looking first and foremost at the three Rs that you came up with:

rights, resources and representation. We want to mainstream Feminist Foreign Policy by focusing on these three Rs. Mainstream is a cumbersome word but its meaning is relatively straightforward. Namely, that Feminist Foreign Policy is not an afterthought but an approach which permeates our entire foreign and security policy.

It might sound obvious but I think everyone here today knows exactly what the difference is. Whether you say we’re going to do something or other for women. Or whether you opt for genuine mainstreaming and say this is something that permeates all spheres.

And unfortunately nothing much has changed in the last ten years. We have experienced meetings where we heard: Yes, we are also engaging in feminist security policy because a modern organisation has to have a feminist security policy. The women in attendance then said, so are we now doing this pro forma because we want to be a modern organisation and it somehow sounds good these days – or are we doing it because security policy only works if everyone in society is taken into account from the outset.

Feminist Foreign Policy permeates all spheres of our governments. Feminist Foreign Policy is a foreign policy that focuses on the entire spectrum of diversity – diversity that we are also going to anchor in our new National Security Strategy.

Feminist Foreign Policy implements what we defined years ago as “human security”. It puts the spotlight on people, regardless of their background, gender, belief or who they love. If we focus particularly on women and marginalised groups, it makes our security policy more comprehensive. It makes it and us stronger.

And that is what the first R is all about, rights.

We are seeing in dramatic fashion currently in Ukraine that certain groups are affected particularly badly by violence, by Russia’s horrific war. It is above all affecting women, the elderly and children. It is affecting those who cannot flee at the drop of a hat or who are attacked due to their gender – on top of the sheer brutality and hardship of war. It is affecting the chronically ill and disabled persons who, in the chaos of war, cannot receive the treatment they so urgently need. And women and girls, but also men and boys, who are abused.

That is why we are at this time helping the courageous people in Ukraine to defend themselves. With economic, political and military support. But that is just one aspect.

The other is that when rights are denied, this injustice is at some stage brought to trial. And that, too, is part of this R, rights: That we guarantee the right to protection and where we cannot guarantee protection we need to call those who infringe upon and violate rights to account.

Here we will do everything we can. Together with the International Criminal Court, with human rights organisations, with public prosecutors. After all, if the perpetrators run free, the victims run for their lives. This is how Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Nadia Murad summed it up with regard to the crimes committed against the Yazidis. And that is why what we do in Ukraine to bring charges with regard to sexual violence and crimes committed against women is so crucial at this time.

I see some people here in the room who did that before it was a given. Who did not just see the crimes committed against the Yazidis, the slavery and rape, as a brutal manifestation of genocide. But who called them by their name and then brought these crimes before the courts here in Germany and elsewhere. Thank you very much – this, too, is a building block in our shared Feminist Foreign Policy.

I am taking care to underscore this – perhaps more so than with the other two Rs. After all, the injustice in the distribution of resources is plain to see when you look at the figures on how money and power are shared out. But in the case of rights, the automatic question is often: why? Human rights are human rights. Also for women. So where do we need to close the gaps in our legislation?

To my mind that is also what we are seeing right now in the national debates on equal opportunities. We can be so thankful for what our mothers and grandmothers fought for: the ability to vote, to choose their profession, to have a bank account. Back then, the injustice was plain to see when the husband had to sign on the dotted line before his wife was allowed to work.

Now, the struggle – and I still use the word struggle – is being waged at a different level because structural discrimination or the use of violence is a breach of the law. We are not talking here, as is unfortunately still the case in Afghanistan, about a law that forbids the exercise of rights.

So when we see rights endangered whether structurally or in relation to the Basic Law or criminal codes, it is all the more important for us not to turn a blind eye and say, “ah well, it won’t be all that bad – let’s wait and see what happens”. What we need to do is realise that this also constitutes an attack on our liberal, free societies.

We have also seen this in Russia’s brutal war of aggression. And we are seeing this in other countries when they suddenly withdraw from the Istanbul Convention. This is an attack on women’s rights and therefore an attack on human rights.

In Russia, this went hand in hand with the arrest and murder of members of the opposition, of journalists and those who spoke out against the Kremlin. It was of course also no coincidence that domestic violence was also defined differently all of a sudden in the criminal code. That only when a woman is beaten up by her husband and ends up on a stretcher twice, if you excuse the expression, is it even considered a criminal offence.

I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of the question of so-called everyday violence against women.

After all, women’s rights are a yardstick for freedom and democracy in our societies. For this very reason, women’s rights are not a women’s issue. They are a human rights issue, a democracy issue and a rule of law issue.

That is why it is important for us to put these rights on to the active international agenda. That is what we are doing at this conference here in Berlin and I am thus greatly honoured that so many people have come to be with us here today. We will soon continue the process as foreign ministers, also at the upcoming United Nations General Assembly.

And there will be a follow-up to this conference. The Netherlands have already agreed to host the next Feminist Foreign Policy conference. So thank you very much to the Netherlands.

This networking between ministries, countries and governments is important because we see what we can achieve when we all pull in the one direction instead of toiling away each for their own at national level.

In March, at the 66th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the UN member states for the first time together adopted concrete steps to strengthen women’s rights when it comes to combating the climate crisis, the greatest security crisis of our time.

And that’s just the start. The next step is now to continue resolutely promoting the question of women’s rights in relation to the security crisis that climate change represents. The climate conference is fast approaching. And Feminist Foreign Policy, Feminist Climate Policy, will of course also play a major role in the UNFCCC negotiations. And why? Because we are not just talking about saving the climate at that conference but also about the question of resources, the question of money, for example when it comes to adaptation, and loss and damage.

When we start to tackle a crisis – and thankfully we stand together in making a lot of international climate funding available to combat the climate crisis – we need to be sure from the outset to anchor the gender aspect in our minds and most definitely also in the agreements concluded.

That is the second R, resources.

That is the money where it is clear that things cannot be considered only from a male point of view, from a privileged point of view, but from the very outset the priority has to be ensuring that these resources benefit all.

After all, it is clear that a neutral or gender-neutral budget is not a given. There are always interests at play when dealing with money, with power and resources. And that is why when we are providing support we always have to bear gender equality in mind. That is why we are trying, and this is another sphere which requires considerable perseverance, to apply gender budgeting to the work we do as a foreign ministry to promote projects. Here, too, we can learn from other countries.

But of course we also need together to ensure these principles are applied in international organisations. After all, if we are to take more account of strengthening rights and the participation of women when allocating funding, we need as a first step to have some data. Where is the funding going? Which people or groups of people are receiving it?

And we need verifiable objectives so we can change tack if the funding is not being distributed equally.

That brings me to my third R, representation.

Because it is obvious that the question of where money should go is discussed and decided differently when only individual groups have a seat at the table rather than everyone.

For all of us, it is clear that we do not see women and girls as victims but as part of the solution, as decisive actors when it comes to negotiating peace agreements or better protecting their country from climate damage.

That is why it is important that this angle is represented not just in groups negotiating peace but also when it comes to adaptation, loss and damage, as well as climate funding.

Because the participation that implements solutions happens on the ground – in villages, in businesses, perhaps in the fields and in communities: In Chad where we are helping women serve as mediators in conflicts between farmers and herders. In Iraq where we are promoting the participation of women in conflict prevention as one of the largest donors to the Women’s Peace and Humanitarian Fund.

Or here in Germany. After all, Feminist Foreign Policy starts here at home.

I visited a country where I wouldn’t have expected Feminist Foreign Policy to be the first topic on my interlocutor’s agenda. And then the first thing he said was, “we’d also like to follow a Feminist Foreign Diplomacy”.

For me, this underscored once more that particularly when it comes to countries and governments which perhaps aren’t quite as far on, we need to consider: what are the key aspects where we can learn from one another?

As for us Feminist Foreign Policy starts in the Federal Foreign Office itself, Feminist Foreign Diplomacy is one important aspect of our work and one which impacts us directly: to bring about change, to take action and question our own structures and resources in our ministries.

That is why for all of us engaged in Feminist Foreign Diplomacy it is obvious that we don’t visit a country with an all-male delegation. The good thing is that if you yourself are a woman, this is one less thing to worry about. And nevertheless, you need to take it further: what about the journalists I am bringing with me? Otherwise you are perhaps distorting the whole picture even if you think you are ticking all the boxes. On these trips, it is not just about the politicians, the state secretaries, the civil servants, we are in fact representing the entire spectrum of diversity in our countries.

This is why the staff working in the protocol department or the Federal Criminal Police Office are also part and parcel of our Feminist Foreign Policy.

What we do should not just be empty words. People see what we present to the world. When you enter a room bringing a diverse group of people with you, this of course does not go unnoticed.

Often when we go into a room with a delegation, someone on the other side of the table says, “oh, all our women are off ill today”. Before we even say a word. What is important is simply being there. It speaks volumes when groups are not diverse.

And it does have an impact on us as well. Looking around the room today, I see a highly diverse audience. The Federal Foreign Office does not mirror this diversity, neither when it comes to women and men nor different backgrounds. That is also an important component of our Feminist Foreign Policy: diversity.

We represent millions of people. I represent 82 million citizens. It is good that a woman is at the helm after 150 years. But I also represent many people in Germany whose parents or grandparents came as immigrants. Also in this respect, we still have some work to do on diversity.

That is why I am delighted that the workshops this morning looked at how we can really make a difference.

In the Federal Foreign Office, two of our three State Secretaries are women. We have 43 female Ambassadors in our missions abroad. But needless to say there are not just 43 or 86 countries where we have embassies. There are many, many more.

Looking at our ministry as a whole, 27 percent of those in leadership positions are female. Perhaps our foreign guests are a bit bored by our German statistics but I want to make plain how much help we need from you for our work in Germany.

After all, I believe Feminist Foreign Policy can only work, if we first and foremost listen; if we don’t come to preach and say what we always knew and believed, rather if we are open to what is new and ready to learn from others.

Feminist Foreign Policy is quite simply a policy that recognises and finally tackles the inequalities of our world in the 21st century – whether in schools in Afghanistan, on market squares in Mali or here in the meetings of our directorates-general or in debates in the Bundestag.

And our policy is doing so without pointing the finger or chanting dogmatic slogans. What we are doing is taking eminently practical, concrete steps.

Just because it is right. And because everyone stands to benefit.

So, with this in mind, I hope we all enjoy the next couple of hours and take with us many new ideas. But above all I hope we all have the strength we need to build a just society and world, a society and world based on equality.

Many here in this room are already on board. However, it is clear as well that the headwinds we face are strong and often blow in our face. In Afghanistan, the resistance is almost unbearable but sometimes it is unbearable here, too.

Not everyone clapped straightaway when we started. I believe though that we should understand that, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. A tough analysis perhaps but this resistance does make us stronger because we know we are fighting for what is right.

As Ann Linde pointed out, at least people have stopped giggling like they used to. Headwind can also be a tailwind if we use it together and grasp what it is: a sign of what we need to do together and a reminder not to shrink back as soon as the wind starts blowing in our face.

After all, what sort of signal would that be for the girls and women in Afghanistan who go to school although they are not allowed to, who day in day out have to fight for the rights we take for granted – even if it is just the right to leave the house alone.

It is in this spirit that we dedicate this conference to the women and girls in Afghanistan.

It is a great honour now to give you, Shaharzad Akbar, the floor. You represent the very best of Afghanistan. Thank you so much for being here today.


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