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Irene M Santiago On Three Important Lessons For Feminist Foreign Policy – IMPRI Impact And Policy Research Institute

Irene M Santiago on Three Important Lessons for Feminist Foreign Policy

Session Report
Trisha Shivdasan

Feminist Foreign Policy in the Asia-Pacific Region an Online International Workshop Program, a Two-Day Immersive Online Discussion Workshop was conducted on 19 and 20 September 2023 by IMPRI, Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.

Feminist Foreign Policy, relegated to the margins for decades, is slowly gaining much-deserved recognition as a result of the efforts of peace-making, peacebuilding and peacekeeping by transnational feminist solidarity.

A feminist foreign policy provides a powerful lens through which we can counter the violent global systems of power, i.e., patriarchy, racism, cultural nationalism, imperialism, and militarism, that leave the majority of the population in perpetual states of vulnerability and despair. It puts promoting gender equality and women’s rights at the centre of a nation’s diplomatic agenda.

On the first day our first speaker, Irene M Santiago, peace negotiator from the Philippines and Chair Emirata plus chief executive officer of the Mindanao Commission on Women, began the discussion by talking about three lessons which she believes is way of reflecting and moving forward in the feminist foreign policy arena.

Lesson One: Personal is Political

In the yesteryears of the early feminist movement, a lot of time was spent on “consciousness raising”. Women had to unload the scripts in their heads and hearts that made them behave in a certain way in a patriarchal world. Then came “personal is political” and these powerful three words helped move our personal issued to the public realm where they were openly discussed. There was no more hiding of women’s issues in the private sphere.

Lesson One: Personal is Political

“Add women and stir” isn’t something that works if we’re looking for true representation of women. When we asked for more representation and participation of women, we got more women in the labour market but these women were at the bottom of the pile. Important questions need to be raised about the kind of representation women are receiving and where and how.

Lesson Three: Everything substantial is about power

Irene Santiago talks about how- who wields power, how, why, for what purpose are all important questions which tell us about everything that is substantial in this world. After the Fourth World Conference on Women, gender mainstreaming became the main approach towards becoming gender inclusive. This approach shifted the focus from power and made gender inclusivity an issue of data segregation and budget allocations, etc.

The 4 Rs: Rights, Representation, Resources and Reality

A lot of countries which have constituted a feminist foreign policy have focused on these 4 R’s of rights, representation, resources and reality. Irene asserts that these are all political issues. Some countries have been pushing for these four R’s in trade, defense, diplomacy and development which is certainly commendable but how can a foreign policy of this nature tackle oppression and exploitation when they entirely operate on the existing socio-economic order?

As was discussed before, “add women and stir” doesn’t work to help achieve gender inclusivity. Theres an urgent need to examine the structural underpinnings of the four R’s especially because of the current major crises that our world is facing like the climate, health and economic crisis. They are all transnational in scope and therefore its important to analyse whether we are able to deal with these crises in a way that changes power relations.

Notion of Sovereignty  

The notion of sovereignty is something which needs to be thoroughly examined if we are to face current day transnational crises. “Sovereignty” came into our language only in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia that ended the 30 years’ war in Europe.

The Treaty of Westphalia established the nation-states, each one being “sovereign” within its own boundaries. It helped countries function independently of each other. The practice of diplomacy was initiated as negotiations of peace treaties became the mode of ending any disputes. However, the same concept of sovereignty has been invoked by nation-states to keep people out of their borders, to keep large standing armies, to go to war, etc.

As we discuss feminist foreign policy, there is a need to reformulate “sovereignity” as an approach to solving our major crises in a transnational setting. We might even have to formulate a completely different approach because just adding women to everything won’t help us to achieve our goals.

There is a need to re-conceptualize “feminism” in light of this point in history and the daunting challenges facing humanity, and not just in Asia and the Pacific. As we re-conceptualize “sovereignty”, it’s also important to analyse how other mindsets make it ever so easy to divide people and create hatred and anger for others as we can see in many parts of our increasingly polarised world today.

Devastating OR vs Awesome And

According to Irene Santiago the most devastating word in English is the two lettered word OR which has led the world to suffer genocide, war and the most brutal atrocities. Me or you. Us or them. My country or your country. This thinking has led to a lot of injustice in the world. For some reason we are conditioned into thinking that some people have to be superior and the others inferior; some strong, other weak.

The antidote to this devastating OR is the three-letter word AND which Irene Santiago terms as the Awesome And. Me and you. Us and them. We are all superior, strong winners and its possible for all of us to co-exist with each other and with nature.

Way Forward

Irene Santiago asserts that to plan any strategy for change, she looks at three barriers: the conceptual barriers, the technical barriers and the political barriers. These barriers must be broken down; the conceptual barriers must break down not only patriarchy but other systemic evils as well.

The technical barriers can be broken by building our capacity to think and to do it with effectiveness and efficiency. Whereas the political barriers are broken down not only by solidarity but also by using power in a transformative manner. This can be done by redefining power to act for what is good. If feminists can put the 4 R’s within this solid framework of foreign policy then Miss Santiago believes that it is within our reach to build a just and equal world.

Acknowledgement: Trisha Shivdasan is a research intern at IMPRI.

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