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Feminist Foreign Policy in India: A Trifecta Approach to Hope, Imagination, and Possibilities – IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Feminist Foreign Policy in India: A Trifecta Approach to Hope, Imagination, and Possibilities - IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

Shalu Nigam

In the present world order, when the countries worldwide are facing climate crisis as well as other forms of vulnerabilities including rising misogyny, increased emphasis on nationalism, populism, and hate, unique challenges are emerging that need to be addressed. Persistent social, economic, and political inequalities have further sharpened during the COVID-19 crisis while the countries have rolled back policies that could have helped the marginalized. Most affected by these crises are women and children. In such situations, the concept of feminism is being used by the states at the global level to make several interventions. FPP is one of the concepts that is evolving worldwide.

Based on the United Nations Council Resolution 1325 adopted in October 2000, it is proposed that in all aspects of conflict management, security mechanisms, post-conflict reconstruction, and peacebuilding, gender will be prioritized. This paper suggests that FPP may be seen as a tool to examine and rethink the existing domestic as well as global policies, the way these are implemented, and their impact at the ground level.

More specifically, keeping in mind the context of the third world countries and their specific situations pertaining to persisting patriarchy, class bias, casteism, and other forms of prejudices, this work recommends evolving a framework where each policy, law, or decision be put to a test of the trifecta of hope, imagination, and possibility to create a just world order.

Feminist Foreign Policy (FPP): What is it?

Feminist foreign policy is a concept evolved by Margot Wallstrom, former Swedish Foreign minister who believes that including women in peace negotiations makes them more likely to be successful and have positive effects. The policy calls for the state to promote good practices to achieve gender equality and to guarantee all women their human rights through diplomatic relationships. It is developed in response to the systemic and structural subordination and marginalization of women that characterize the lives of countless women the world over.

The priority of FPP is to strengthen women’s participation in establishing peace and preventing conflicts; emphasize women’s economic rights and empowerment, develop trade policies and negotiations based on the concept of gender equality, promote women’s rights in and through the process of governance that also seeks to prevent gender-based violence in all forms. FPP assures the role of women in global politics and promotes feminist-inspired dialogues.

In Sweden, this policy is promoted since 2014 that influences both foreign and domestic relations and is developed to achieve the goals of gender equality and aims to strengthen women’s rights, representation, and resources of all women and girls[1]. The Canadian policy formulated in 2017 prioritized gender equality primarily in the service of broader economic and security goals. France developed a feminist diplomacy approach in 2019 and articulated gender-related priorities which the state addresses through its foreign assistance.  Scholars suggested that the policy in Sweden is about strengthening its laws and institutions whereas in Canada it is about incorporating the private into the public interest[2]

Since then, in many countries, it is advocated that there is a need to develop a feminist foreign policy and some countries have taken concrete steps in this direction including Mexico (2020), Spain (2021), Luxemburg (2021), Germany (2021) and Chile (2022). FPP is rapidly getting traction in the national and international discourse. FPP is tailored as per the distinctive socio-political culture and circumstances, specific needs, and background of each locality. Based on gender understanding, FPP brings in elements of gendered power structures, privileges, and institutions and how these affect the goals of gender equality and gender justice.

Though the term `feminist’ is already being in use by the state and other actors such as non-profit and transnational organizations at the national and local level with the focus on gender mainstreaming and equality in governance while reconceptualizing the left, radical and progressive[3]. Yet, it is stated that using the language of feminism in an affirmative way through the political structures to gain ground in the international context may change the approach of the states in terms of international relations.

The UN Women is also advocating to focus on the militarism-trade nexus, and harmful economic or trade policies, including the role of extractive trade policies, besides migration and asylum policies[4]. FPP is based on the conviction that gender equity and equality are preconditions for long-term peace and security. This is also affirmed by a study that shows that between 1992 and 2022, women constituted 13 percent of negotiators 6 percent of mediators, and 6 percent of signatories in the major peace processes around the world[5]. It is further noted that despite its success, in seven out of ten peace processes women are still not included[6]. FPP, therefore, is rooted in the agenda for peace and justice.

The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy[7] defines FPP as “a political framework centered around the wellbeing of the marginalized people and invokes processes of self-reflection regarding foreign policy’s hierarchical global systems. FFP takes a step outside the black-box approach of traditional foreign policy thinking and it focuses on military force, violence and domination by offering an alternate and intersectional rethinking of security from the viewpoint of the most vulnerable.

It is a multi-dimensional policy framework that aims to elevate women’s and other marginalized groups’ experiences and agency to scrutinize the destructive forces of patriarchy, colonization, heteronormativity, capitalism, racism, imperialism, and militarism”.  

As per this definition, the FFP provides a feminist platform through which one may interrogate the violent global system or power that is pushing millions of lives to precarity. It is a mechanism to challenge the dominant neoliberal regime to establish peace, justice, and equality through solidarity using a feminist approach.  FPP aims to interrogate the domestic and foreign policy decisions to push for a global just order. Based on the concept of diversity in terms of representation, the purpose of FPP is to facilitate structural and hierarchical transformations to end oppression and discrimination with a view to elevate the voices of those who have suffered the most from militarized security.

The Critique of FPP

The critiques of FPP argue that first of all, the discourse around the term `feminism’ in itself is vast and includes multiple ways it is practiced in multiple contexts while challenging the hostilities of various kinds[8], secondly, over the decades, the concept of feminism is deployed by the states and the private parties including corporate sector for their vested interest[9]. Rather feminism is co-opted by the neoliberal agenda and loses its original emancipatory and radical impulses[10]. The media, popular culture, and the state deployed the vocabulary of `empowerment’ and `choice’ to push an individualistic discourse or `faux feminism’ to substitute the idea of revolutionary feminism or in a way they are `undoing feminism’[11].

It is also argued that Sweden’s FPP considers gender equality as a goal whereas Canada’s FPP is focused on economic argument while using the term feminism to propagate its liberalization agenda that integrates the private sector into public development policies[12]. Moreover, the efforts made by both Canada and Sweden to formulate FPP are also accompanied by simultaneous arm trade with countries known for women’s rights abuse[13]. Further, most of the policies are written and implemented through male-dominated structures that reinforce patriarchy.

Some scholars argue that increasing institutionalization of feminist practices and gender mainstreaming within governmental and non-governmental institutions have positive effects where feminists have an opportunity to restructure the political institutions with a gendered understanding. While others are of the view that the process of framing UN policies is not free from social and historical factors[14].

Scholars have utilized the post-colonial feminist approach to describe that foreign policies marginalize and exclude the gendered, sexual, and race elements while ignoring the intersection of oppressions[15]. What is suggested is to develop an ethical framework that embraces the lived experiences of women and marginalized groups based on the care paradigm[16].

The Indian Experience

The experiences of development over decades in independent India depict uneven results. There is some progress in the field of education and the health of women, yet new and dynamic challenges are emerging that are reversing the gains and rolling back the rights. The discriminatory implementation of laws and policies still continues despite the constitutional guarantees of equality, liberty, and social justice. The social, economic, and political inequalities are widening and hampering the inclusion of marginalized groups[17].

Pritchett[18] in his lecture while giving examples from India and Indonesia argued that many developing countries lack the capabilities to perform basic functions and therefore enhancing the state’s capability is essential in long run. Though this is seemingly a top-down idea that does not take into account the feminist dimensions of development, the issue is that the state in India has not been able to fulfill the constitutional promises it made to its people for over decades.

Moreover, the free-market approach is being introduced since the 90s that is pushing the concept of a consumer citizen while rolling back social reforms and dismantling the concept of a `welfare state’[19].

Consequently, the rankings of India as measured through the Global Hunger Index, Gender Index, and Democracy index is going down, and little progress is made on the SDGs and other such parameters. The data by the NCRB shows that crime against women is increasing over decades, and the sex ratio is skewed despite the tall promises being made to achieve the goal of gender balance.

All this suggests that there is an urgent need that India takes step toward the inclusion of women and other marginalized groups, advance women’s rights as human rights, promote diversity, eliminate discrimination, and end all forms of violence. India needs to deconstruct the dominant power structures that are hampering the growth of the entire country.

Though India ratified CEDAW in 1993 which indicates its commitment to gender equality yet, it has to take action to implement those promises in reality. In 2007, India contributed to the UN’s peacekeeping efforts by sending an all-women peacekeeping contingent to Liberia[20]. The country is also committed to implementing the UN SDGs while in 2020, India also obtained membership to United Nations Commission on the status of women[21].

However, these efforts are being critiqued as most of these efforts are at the superficial level because of gaps that exist between those on paper and reality[22]. India has not ratified the WPS agenda despite armed conflicts, heavy militarization, and heavy violence against women in some areas[23]. India has also not ratified the optional protocol of CEDAW. Keeping these issues in view, this work suggests a comprehensive and holistic approach that aims for an equitable, just, fairer, and inclusive world.

FFP: Towards Trifecta of hope, imagination, and possibilities

This piece of work suggests the trifecta approach while drawing on experiences of FPP as adopted in other countries and examining the Indian situation rooted in colonial experiences looks at the ideas from which one can draw an FFP, through the lens of feminism that underpins the policy and its linkages with the ground level realities.

It suggests that FPP should seek to challenge the historical, patriarchal, casteist, class-based, neo-colonist imbalance of power that plays locally, nationally as well as globally in a holistic manner. It recommends for a series of trifectas besides the trifecta of testing any policy, law, or decision.

The Trifecta of testing a workable policy or a decision consists of

Test of rationality/ reasonability, Test of constitutionality (constitutional values of democracy, pluralism, justice), and Test of feminist principles (power to people)

Any policy or decision could be put to the above trifecta of testing to ensure that the policy is rational and reasonable and is made within the limits of constitutionality while upholding the principles of democracy, pluralism, diversity, and social, economic and political justice as enshrined in the constitution. The third test is of feminist principles which focus on inclusiveness, welfare, equity, and justice. 

Trifecta of Situationality (Where it will apply)

The broader vision of FPP cannot remain limited to international relations but it should permeate within the national and local policy/law/decision-making and implementation to address the issues relating to marginalization and exclusion.

Trifecta of Goals (What to achieve)

Much focus needs to be laid on intersectionality in a hierarchical society where patriarchy, casteism, class bias, religion, and similar factors operate to hinder the democratic pathway. The symbiotic relationship exists between domestic and foreign policy and both should be reworked to address structural oppression. Emphasis is laid on the dimensions of inclusivity with the right-based perspective.

Trifecta of Actions (How)

By developing the mechanisms of transparency and accountability at every level reiterated by the mechanisms such as documentation of information, research, and data collection as well as sharing of data and by building mechanisms of accountability at every level. 

Trifecta or Talisman of Reaching out to Last person approach (Gandhian principles)

The talisman by MK Gandhi stressed thinking about the last person, the trifecta of the last person approach is inspired by this concept.

FFP: Towards Trifecta of hope, imagination, and possibilities

  Trifectas T 1 T 2 T 3
1 Trifecta of Situationality (Where) Global National Local
2 Trifecta of Goals (What to achieve) Inclusivity Equitability/ intersectionality Right-Based Perspective
3 Trifecta of Actions (How to do it?) Transparency/ Accountability at every level Need to develop a stringent mechanism for checks and balance Allocation Of resources and responsibilities Timeliness and sharing of information
4 Trifecta or Talisman of Last person approach (Gandhian principle) Empowerment of the last person People-centered Decentralization Or Bubble up approach Gender Just and Feminist Oriented
5 Trifecta of Capable Governance Corruption Free Non-bureaucratic approach Scientific Knowledge Based With continuous training/ participation at all levels Innovation/Creativity/ Solidarity  
6 Trifecta of Happiness Ending Poverty, Malnutrition, and Hunger with a focus on health, education, and employment Ending power-based oppression and structural discrimination to achieve the ultimate goal of democracy within families, societies and communities Achieving goals of Happiness Index  

Trifecta of Capable Governance

To eliminate corruption at all levels, a non-bureaucratic approach based on scientific knowledge with continuous training at all levels is essential. Encouraging creativity and innovation with a scientific temper is also mentioned in Article 51 of the constitution.

Trifecta of Happiness

This is the ultimate aim of any policy or law or decision-making where success is measured not in terms of economic parameters but more on the parameters of sustainability, a happiness index that focuses on holistic development that prioritizes wellbeing and not just economic prosperity[24]. (Finland, Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, and other countries are on top of the list as prepared by the World Happiness Report 2022[25])

Marching Ahead

In short, FPP or any policy decision or law in order to achieve the vision of a gender-just world cannot afford to work towards creating only symbolic equality but should be based on meaningful political transformation. Keeping in mind the critiques of the policies being made and the situation that exists at the ground level, it is suggested that the FPP should be designed as a comprehensive horizontal approach that goes beyond the trade, security, defense, or diplomacy issues to imagine an equitable world.

The trifecta approach points out a potential area for analysis of constitutive links between domestic ethical settings in which FPP is contextualized from the point of view of people and is based on a bubble-up approach. More specifically, it requires to create of a strong accountability system based on the profound commitment to the norms of gender justice and constitutional values of equality, liberty, and justice while reflecting on the voices of women and capturing the localized lived realities and experiences while recognizing the intersectionality framework and the way the structure of oppression work. The trifecta approach is a vision for an inclusive and just world based on the pillars of hope, imagination, and possibilities.


[1] Government of Sweden (2014) Feminist Foreign Policy https://www.government.se/government-policy/feminist-foreign-policy/

[2] Thomson Jennifer (2020) The Growth of Feminist (?) Foreign Policy, E International Relations, February 10, https://www.e-ir.info/2020/02/10/the-growth-of-feminist-foreign-policy/

[3] Eschle, C. and B Maiguashca (2014) Reclaiming Feminist Futures: Co-opted and Progressive Politics in a Neo-liberal Age. Political Studies, 62: 634–651.

[4] UN Women (2022) Feminist Foreign Policy: An Introduction https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/2022-09/Brief-Feminist-foreign-policies-en.pdf

[5] Council on Foreign Relations (undated) Women’s participation in peace processes,  https://www.cfr.org/womens-participation-in-peace-processes/explore-the-data?_gl=1*1cokbr1*_ga*MTA4MDYyODk4My4xNjY1ODA3Nzk2*_ga_24W5E70YKH*MTY2NTgwNzc5Ni4xLjEuMTY2NTgwNzkwMi4wLjAuMA..

[6] Council on Foreign Relations https://www.cfr.org/womens-participation-in-peace-processes/

[7] Centre for Foreign Feminist Policy What is Feminist Foreign Policy? https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/feminist-foreign-policy consulted on 15.10.2022

[8] Watkins Sylvia (2018) “Which Feminisms?” New Left Review, Jan–Feb, 5–76

[9] Thomson Jennifer (2020) The Growth of Feminist (?) Foreign Policy, E International Relations, February 10, https://www.e-ir.info/2020/02/10/the-growth-of-feminist-foreign-policy/

[10] Fraser Nancy (2013) Fortunes of Feminism: From State managed capitalism to neo-liberal crisis, Verso, London

[11] McRobbie Angela (2009) The aftermath of feminism: Gender, Culture, and Social Change, Sage, London

[12] Thomson Jennifer (2020) What’s feminist about feminist foreign policy? Sweden’s and Canada’s Foreign Policy Agendas, International Studies Perspectives, 21 (4) 424–437

[13] Thompson Lyric and Rachel Clement (2019) Defining Feminist Foreign Policy, ICRW,  https://www.icrw.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Defining-Feminist-Foreign-Policy-Brief-revised.pdf

[14] Gibbings Sheri Lynn (2011) No angry women at the United Nations: Political dreams and cultural politics of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, International Feminist Journal of Politics, 13:4, 522-538

[15] Achilleos-Sarll Columba (2018). Reconceptualising Foreign Policy as Gendered, Sexualised, and Racialised: Towards a Postcolonial Feminist Foreign Policy (Analysis). Journal of International Women’s Studies, 19(1), 34-49.

[16] Aggestam Karin, AB Rosamond, and A Krosnell (2019) Theorizing feminist foreign policy, International Relations, 33(1) 23-39

[17] Nigam Shalu (2014) From the Margins: Revisiting the concept of `marginalized’ women, countercurrents.org September 3, https://www.countercurrents.org/nigam030914.htm

[18] Pritchett Lant (2013) Folk and the formula: Fact and fiction in development, UNU WIDER Annual Lecture, https://www.wider.unu.edu/sites/default/files/News/Documents/Folk-and-formula-fact-and-fiction-Lant-Pritchett-5766.pdf

[19] Raja D (2021) Dismantling public sector and subverting welfare state, Mainstream weekly, LIX(9) Feb 13, http://mainstreamweekly.net/article10476.html

[20] DW.com (2022) India: Female troops take on UN peacekeeping missions, March 8 https://www.dw.com/en/india-female-troops-take-on-un-peacekeeping-missions/a-61042763

[21] Scroll. in (2020) India elected member of UN Commission on Status of Women, pip China to the post, September 15,  https://scroll.in/latest/973128/india-elected-member-of-un-commission-on-status-of-women-pips-china-to-the-post

[22] Magan Tapakshi (2022) A closer look into the Feminist Foreign Policy in India, January 16 https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/a-closer-look-into-feminist-foreign-policy-in-india/  

[23] Global Network of Women peace Builders (undated) India: A Case study on the complementary use of GR 30 and UNSCR 1325 https://gnwp.org/wp-content/uploads/India-Case-Study-.pdf

[24] Oishi Shigehiro and Ed Deiner (2014) Can and should happiness be a policy goal? Policy insight from behavioral and brain science, 1(1) 195-203

[25] World Happiness Report 2022, https://worldhappiness.report/ed/2022/

About the Author

Shalu Nigam, Advocate, Author, and Researcher, Gender and Human Rights.

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