Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Feminist Foreign Policy
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.