Opinion Paper, Feminist Foreign Policy

Author: SCGA
An article from SCGA editorial team. 

Opinion Paper: Scotland the Brave? An authentic, ambitious and accountable Feminist Foreign Policy

Authors: Annika Bergman Rosamond, Claire Duncanson and Caron Gentry

Annika Bergman Rosamond, Associate Professor (Docent) in Political Science and International Relations,  Lund University (LU): more

Claire Duncanson, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, University of Edinburgh: more

Caron Gentry, Faculty Pro Vice-Chancellor for Arts, Design, and Social Sciences, Northumbria: more


The Scottish Government’s Programme for Government 2021-2022 (Scottish Government 2021a, 110) promised a new “global affairs framework … to guide Scotland’s international engagement, grounded in a values‑based approach, and a feminist approach to foreign policy.” With this, Scotland joins Sweden, Canada, Chile, Mexico, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and others in developing a feminist approach to foreign policy. But what does a feminist foreign policy (FFP) actually entail? What do FFPs look like in practice? And what would it mean for Scotland – a small, sub-state, without a traditional foreign policy remit – to develop a feminist approach to foreign policy? Does the Scottish Government’s aim to be a “good global citizen” through, for example, its commitment to international climate justice, welcoming of refugees and aspiration to develop a wellbeing economy, enable it to be a progressive feminist actor on the world stage? Or will its reluctance to do more to end its role in fossil fuel extraction, arms manufacturing and nuclear weapons undermine its feminist aspirations?

This paper is not an attempt to cover all feminist approaches to foreign policy, in theory and in practice. There are many different feminisms, but rather than surveying their differences in detail and exploring the implications each might have for Scottish Government policy, this position paper presents the key insights from decades of feminist scholarship, activism and practice that, in our opinion, should inform the Scottish Government’s approach. Likewise, the paper does not offer a full analysis of all FFPs, but focuses on the lessons learnt from Sweden, as the first, and, hitherto, most developed example. Nor does the paper lay out what a Scottish feminist approach to foreign policy might look like in a comprehensive way, but offers illustrative examples of what the Scottish Government could do. Our intention is to spark conversation and debate in Scotland and beyond.

The first section of the paper considers feminists’ criticisms of traditional approaches to foreign policy and the alternatives for which they have advocated. It draws on the rich feminist scholarship, practice and activism of the 20th and 21st centuries to present some of the central feminist ideas, concepts and principles that we think should inform the idea of a feminist approach to foreign policy. The second section considers the ideas and ambitions of the FFPs adopted to date, with a focus on Sweden as the pioneer of the concept. In the third section, we turn to the question of what a Scottish feminist approach to foreign policy could and should look like, arguing that rather than repeating the Swedish focus – often encapsulated as the “3Rs”, rights, representation and resources – the Scottish Government could aim to be bolder and braver. We propose that a feminist approach to Scottish Foreign Policy should replace the 3Rs with 3As: authenticity, ambition, and accountability.

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