By Isobel Dodd
This essay was selected for publication as part of the War Prevention Initiative’s Feminist Foreign Policy Essay “Un-Contest”.
Feminist foreign policy attempts to utilise the voices of marginalised individuals and communities, stepping outside the traditional foreign policy route of violence, war, militarisation, and destruction. The word “feminist” in “feminist foreign policy” can lead readers down the wrong path to thinking a feminist foreign policy concerns only women. It does not. A true and honest feminist foreign policy is intersectional, considering those disadvantaged by gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, economic status within society, and more. That said, a true and honest feminist foreign policy should address the misogyny that is experienced daily by women all around the world as it perpetuates harm across all members of society. Time and time again, it is evident that ignoring the daily experiences of sexism and misogyny leads to serious injustice for women and to the insecurity of society as a whole. Domestic injustice in even the most subtle form can lead to nation-wide discrimination, weakening state security. Feminist foreign policy presents alternative approaches for disrupting cycles of injustice and discrimination and strengthening state security. But change must start at home.
Misogyny is a universally recognised issue, yet it lacks the attention it deserves. It includes sexism, prejudice, and other forms of injustice aimed at enforcing women’s subordination in society through political, social, and economic means and is a tool of discrimination which intersects with other forms of prejudice, such as homophobia and classism. The specific type of discrimination that women of colour face is known as “misogynoir,” which is compounded and shaped by other identities. This form of misogyny represents the intersection between racism and sexism. Misogynoir can be explicit: For example, in the United Kingdom (UK) in the lead-up to the 2017 general election, women of colour Members of Parliament (MP) received 35 per cent more abusive online vitriol than their white peers. There is also implicit discrimination, as well as passive systemic injustice, such as the invisibility of Black women in the UK justice system due to the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) failure to create disaggregated statistics of prosecutorial outcomes, despite the fact that women of colour are disproportionately more likely to be victims of sexual violence. Therefore, we can observe how a feminist conceptualisation of justice “recognises that the world is organised in ways that exposes some women to disproportionate levels of violence.”
When misogyny is not confronted within society, it can become an institutional characteristic of the fabric of the state. Consider, for example, institutional misogyny in the criminal justice system in the UK. This can be observed through victim-blaming in sexual assault cases. Harriet Johnson states that to blame the victim for her assault “is perhaps a little more revealing of an attitude than a slip of the tongue.” Consider, then, across the Atlantic, the recent repeal of Roe v. Wade in the United States. The ruling has revoked a fundamental women’s right to bodily autonomy. Rhiannon Lucy Cosset states we must observe this landmark ruling as “state-sanctioned forced birth on a monumental scale.” The domestic institutional misogyny embedded in domestic structures and relationships critically influences the fabric of communities and states as a whole, impacting national security. If feminist foreign policy considers how the domestic impacts the international, domestic misogyny must be part of that conversation.
Theories of international relations such as realism place the security of the state from external threat as a principal concern in an anarchic international system. However, as the domestic impacts the international, women’s domestic (in)security contributes to the internal (in)security of the state. Consider the security of Iraq after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed sanctions after the First Gulf War. The imposition of sanctions crippled the state’s infrastructure. Unable to afford structural necessities such as labour expenditures, the state neglected to provide services critical to women, like transportation and maternity leave, leading to considerable women’s unemployment. Not only that but, by 2000, the illiteracy rate among Iraqi women soared to 77 per cent as education rates dropped. Further, the collapse of healthcare meant that women were disproportionately affected. As a result of the sanctions, pervasive malnourishment meant child-bearing became increasingly dangerous and infant mortality rates rapidly escalated. Facing economic austerity, many Iraqi women engaged in prostitution as a means of survival, and, as patriarchal social conservatism intensified under the sanctions regime, women were punished as sexual violence in all forms increased. The impact of sanctions on Iraq reduced the life expectancy of women by 11 years, from 68 to 57. The total devastation of the state will affect Iraqi women’s lives for decades to come. The security of Iraq depended on its most vulnerable citizens at the domestic level: women. Iraqi women’s insecurity is observed through job insecurity, the inaccessibility of healthcare, and the increase in violence against women in all forms. The weakened security of the state made it more vulnerable to external threat or invasion, which is observed through the 2003 US-led coalition invasion of Iraq. The endangered, unprotected status of Iraqi women at the microlevel contributed to the insecurity of Iraq at the international level.
Feminist foreign policy asks crucial questions about the structure of governments, politics, and policies; but what is the meaning of a feminist foreign policy in a system of misogyny? In light of the domestic impact of the sanctions on Iraq, along with the injustice in the UK justice system, it is clear that the domestic practice of misogyny affects the international subordination of women, thus contributing to the insecurity of the state at the international level. As Mary Caprioli states, “gender equality is not merely a matter of social justice but of international security in predicting state aggressiveness internationally.” Accordingly, before feminist foreign policy attempts to influence relations at the international level, it is vital to address what is happening at the domestic, through a bottom-up approach. I want to consider what questions we—as activists, politicians, organisations, and everyday people—are not asking: Specifically, are we looking closely enough at misogyny within our own communities before trying to impact the global?
Feminist foreign policy offers new routes for dealing with domestic as well as foreign affairs. It presents three central pillars for implementing feminist foreign policy into the world: “Broadening the understanding of security; Decoding (international) power relations; Recognising women’s political agency.” By applying these pillars as principles for confronting domestic daily misogyny for all women, we will effectively disrupt the power hierarchies upholding traditional foreign policy practices and effect a transition to feminist foreign policy. As Cornelius Adebahr and Barbara Mittelhammer note, “Feminist foreign policy begins at home.”
Isobel Dodd is the Fundraising Officer at Welsh Refugee Council in the UK. A Cardiff University graduate, she has a Bachelor of Arts with Honours degree in History and further qualified with a Master of Economic and Social Studies degree in International Relations. She can be reached at Isobel.email@example.com
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Tickner, J. Ann, and Laura Sjoberg. “Feminism.” In International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 5th ed., edited by Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith, 182-196. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021.
 Cornelius Adebahr and Barbara Mittelhammer, “A Feminist Foreign Policy to Deal with Iran? Assessing the EU’s Options,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2020, 1-36, https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/11/23/feminist-foreign-policy-to-deal-with-iran-assessing-eu-s-options-pub-83251.
 Laura Bates, Misogynation: The True Scale of Sexism (London: Simon & Schuster, 2018); Mary E. Hawkesworth, “Knowers, Knowing, Known: Feminist Theory and Claims of Truth,” Signs 14, no. 3 (1989): 533-557, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3174401; Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Misogyny – A Human Rights Issue (Edinburgh: Scottish Government, 2022), www.gov.scot/publications/misogyny-human-rights-issue/.
 Laura Bates, Everyday Sexism: The Project that Inspired a Worldwide Movement (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2014); Bates, Misogynation.
 Kimberlé Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Colour,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (1991): 1241-1299; R. Marie Griffith, Making the World Over: Confronting Racism, Misogyny, and Xenophobia in U.S. History (London:, University of Virginia Press, 2021).
 Crenshaw, 1241-1299.
 Harriet Johnson, Enough: The Violence Against Women and How to End It (London: Harper Collins, 2022).
 Bates referencing Andrea Simon in Laura Bates, Fix the System, Not the Women (London: Simon & Schuster, 2022).
 Lola Olufemi, Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power (London: Pluto Press, 2020).
 Johnson, 107.
 Rhiannon Lucy Cosset, “Let’s Call the Overturning of Roe v Wade What It Is: State-Sanctioned Forced Birth,” The Guardian, June 27, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/27/roe-wade-forced-birth-america-abortion-ban-misogyny.
 John J. Mearsheimer, “The False Promise of International Institutions,” International Security 19, no. 3 (1994-5): 5-49, https://doi.org/10.2307/2539078; John J. Mearsheimer, “Structural Realism,” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 5th ed., ed. Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 51-88.
 Mary Caprioli, “Gender Equality and State Aggression: The Impact of Domestic Gender Equality on State First Use of Force,” International Interactions 29, no. 3 (2003): 195-214, https://doi.org/10.1080/03050620304595.
 Yasmin Husein Al-Jawaheri, Women in Iraq: The Gender Impact of International Sanctions (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2008).
 J. Ann Tickner and Laura Sjoberg, “Feminism,” in International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, 5th ed., ed. Tim Dunne, Milja Kurki, and Steve Smith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2021), 182-196.
 Samia Saliba, “Regendering Iraq: State Feminism, Imperial Feminism, and Women’s Rights Under Sanctions,” Western Libraries Undergraduate Research Award 17 (2019): 1-14, https://cedar.wwu.edu/library_researchaward/17/; Nadje Al-Ali, “Reconstructing Gender: Iraqi Women between Dictatorship, War, Sanctions and Occupation,” Third World Quarterly 26, no. 4/5 (2005): 739-758.
 Caprioli, 195-214.
 Adebahr and Mittelhammer, 1-36.
 See Marieke Fröhlich, “Masculinities in Peacekeeping: Limits and Transformations of UNSCR 1325 in the South African National Defence Force,” Peace Research Institute Frankfurt, February 24, 2020, 1-31, https://reliefweb.int/report/south-africa/masculinities-peacekeeping-limits-and-transformations-unscr-1325-south-african.
 Adebahr and Mittelhammer, 1.
Photo credit: Naksh