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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Feminist Foreign Policy

June 14, 2011

The Guardian had a good article on Sunday about Secretary Clinton’s focus on women’s issues as a key to national security and global stability[excerpt]:

Back in the heady days of 1970s feminism there was an argument that once women achieved political power, there would be no more war. Margaret Thatcher and her Falklands war exploded that myth, and along with it any residual notion that women might do foreign policy differently from men. Indeed, it became a credibility requirement for any women with a senior foreign or defence brief to give a wide berth to anything with a whiff of being a woman’s issue. Women had to work extra hard to look tough on the world stage. Meanwhile, women’s issues were parked in the softer brief of international development.

It is these unspoken rules that Hillary Clinton has been dismantling since becoming US secretary of state two years ago. She is the most powerful politician to advance an explicitly feminist agenda. Even in that most delicate and crucial relationship with China – on which the world’s attention will be fixed this week for the Chinese president’s visit to the US – Clinton has gone out of her way to press feminist issues. In China’s case, she has highlighted the country’s growing gender imbalance caused by the high abortion rate of female foetuses.


From the start Clinton left no one in any doubt where she stood: women’s rights are “the signature issue” of this administration’s foreign policy, she said. She mentioned women 450 times in speeches in the first five months in office. “Transformation of the role of women is the last great impediment to universal progress,” she declared, and began to develop what is her standard line: women’s issues are integral to the achievement of every goal of US foreign policy.

Or put more simply: the empowerment, participation and protection of women and girls is vital to the long-term security of the US. Last month this rhetoric was translated into policy in the long awaited Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which aimed to redefine US foreign policy around civilian power. “We are integrating women and girls into everything we do… in all our diplomacy with other governments… in our work on conflict and crisis,” said the state department’s briefing.

For a security agenda traditionally dominated by weaponry and military expertise, this is radical stuff. It draws on a powerful consensus built up behind the overwhelming evidence that women are vital to a range of key global concerns. Links have been drawn between gross gender inequality and political extremism. Women are crucial on issues such as food security (women produce most of the food that feeds the world), health, education and democracy.


She has carefully chosen key issues and pushed hard. Perhaps her greatest success so far has been to highlight sexual violence as a weapon of war. Anne Marie Goetz of UN Women argues that sexual violence is an “even more destructive weapon than landmines or cluster bombs on communities because its effects are so long term”, but repeatedly the issue was marginalised or ignored in conflict resolution or peacekeeping.

In 2009 Clinton visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo and talked to rape victims, and she has been instrumental in the passage of a series of UN security council resolutions that have put real teeth into tackling the issue: the appointment of a special representative last April – Margaret Wallström – the naming of perpetrators, and a dedicated team of experts to pursue them.

Clinton was also key to setting up UN Women, which started work last week. In particular, she is credited with persuading the former Chilean president Michele Bachelet to take the top job.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. thainjacobs permalink
    June 14, 2011 3:55 pm

    When she is no longer SOS this will be missed- who is going to continue to focus on women’s rights in such a high profile way in diplomacy and foreign policy? Can you see John Kerry doing this? Holding Townterviews? Going to DRC to speak with survivors of rape and torture? Not on your life.

  2. pcfs permalink
    June 14, 2011 9:03 pm

    She will never stop her mission and focus on human rights, never. She will continue I believe to be very high profile in everything she does.

    • thainjacobs permalink
      June 15, 2011 7:53 am

      I know she will continue to focus on it but what other Secretary of State will? John Kerry? Probably not. I can’t see anybody else interacting with average people in these other countries like she does. Other SOS’s were totally hands off, only meeting with Very Important People.

  3. carolynrodham permalink
    June 15, 2011 9:27 am

    Thain, we”ve got to stop agreeing like this!
    I also worry that when Hillary leaves public life, her causes will fade, too. Not that she will totally disappear if she becomes President of the World Bank, but she won’t have the same platform for publicizong these issues.
    How many times do you see Robert Zoelick’s name in the news? I wish and hope and hope and wish she’ll do the World Bank stint for 2 years…then jump into the 2016 race! [I looked it up, and John McCloy and Paul Wolfkowitz served only two years, Eugene Meyer served six months, but most serve five year renewable terms].

    • thainjacobs permalink
      June 16, 2011 9:37 am

      Oh, don’t worry I’m sure we can find something to disagree about like how the Red Sox are much better than the Yankees.

      Or this unbelievable pandering:

      Is it me or are they BRAGGING that we aren’t an honest broker? By the way, WINEP is associated with AIPAC.

      Stacy- you should post about this at the other site! I know how you can’t stand the use of the word “delegitimization” to describe criticism of Israel.

  4. January 14, 2013 11:04 am

    Women are usually taking care of their child not trying to start war. That is silly to say.


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