The fragile frontiers of feminist foreign policy

Inclusive Politics,Knowledge brokering,News19 Oct 2023Charlotte Stam

Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) is ‘THE’ new approach in foreign policy for reaching gender equality. Several countries have already committed to it, and so has the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). But what does this mean in practice? Rather than waiting for the evaluation of the policy’s results, The Broker, together with Cordaid and Women’s International Peace Centre aim to get ahead and do an ex-ante reality check of the Dutch FFP. We will look into possible unintended outcomes, trade-offs, assumptions and local perspectives involved when applying FFP in fragile contexts. The ultimate goal is to inform future interventions, making sure that supporting feminist foreign policy remains effective and relevant despite these challenges.

An approach to tackle structural inequality 

There is no agreed definition of FFP and what it should entail, and so FFP manifests differently in each country that commits to it. Nonetheless, the underlying principles and ultimate goal are often the same: achieving equal rights and equality for all by tackling the root causes of power imbalances and structural inequality. According to the UN Women Gender Snapshot 2022 report we are almost 300 years away from reaching gender equality. So can FFP live up to its objective?

The main aim of the Netherlands is to reduce inequality and to achieve gender and LBGTIQ+ equality all over the world. The Dutch government bases the Dutch FFP on four R’s: rights, representation, resources and reality check. According to Dutch MoFA the four principles lay the foundation for meaningful participation and decision-making of women and LGBTIQ+ people. The assumption is that gender equality will lead to reducing poverty, economic inequality, extremism and conflict, and thus a safer and more prosperous world. To achieve this, policy coherence is key, FFP should be overarching and integrated in all foreign policy instruments.

Policy interactions: trade-offs and opportunities

Implementing a FFP in a fragile setting can be risky. There can be trade-offs, especially when trying to balance different goals. For example, what does a FFP mean for policies on security and the rule of law? Additionally the social, cultural, and political dynamics of fragile contexts can limit and provide opportunities for realizing a FFP. For example, when the central government’s support for FFP cannot be established, trade-offs can occur between inclusive transformation and the prevention of violent conflict. A policy trade-off of implementing FFP in fragile settings, like Afghanistan where the Taliban has been in power since 2021, could be a deterioration of the negotiating position of The Netherlands. Implementation of FFP could also lead to denial of access of development professionals to the area. In such contexts an inclusive policy instrument like FFP might even have exclusive outcomes.

On the other hand, implementing FFP can create synergies with other policy interventions and accelerate development processes. Gender equality (SDG 5) can drive progress across the SDGs, and benefit poverty reduction policies (SDG 1) and the promotion of peace and justice (SDG 16). For example, The Broker’s SDG interactions project demonstrates that food security can be increased by improving the position of women through access to resources and education. Also, research has shown that a stronger position of women in peace processes has a positive impact on the durability of peace agreements.

Assumptions and unintended outcomes 

What are the underlying assumptions and principles that inform a FFP? And how do these relate to the contexts of our case studies South Sudan and Afghanistan, both with unique social and political dynamics? Understanding the underlying assumptions and potential unintended outcomes is crucial when evaluating the effectiveness of FFP. It allows for a more comprehensive analysis, helping to identify potential challenges, risks, and areas for improvement.

As part of the reality check we are developing a policy theory for the Dutch FFP to better understand the assumptions. At its core, a policy theory is like a roadmap that helps us understand why certain policies are made, how they work, and what impact they might have. To make this policy theory more true to reality we will further validate and discuss the policy theory by engaging with those who are working on FFP or other gender related policies and programs. On October 31st, we’ll conduct a workshop “Feminist Foreign Policy theory and trade-offs” to engage in an inclusive dialogue with development professionals, discussing the potential challenges, risks, and areas for improvement.

To further finetune FFP to local contexts, rules, and norms, in-country we will organize workshops that will be organized with local (female) experts, embassy staff, activists and other stakeholders in Afghanistan and South Sudan. Together, opportunities to alter existing policy instruments can be identified to increase the impact of FFP to reach gender equality.

Working towards proactive policy adaptation

At The Broker we build bridges for knowledge exchange between policy and practice. Dialogue and knowledge exchange between Dutch policymakers and local experts helps to get a better context-specific picture of what FFP might look like in practice. By informing policymakers about the impact of FFP sharing our insights and recommendations at the start of the development of the Dutch FFP policy, we aim to inform the decision making process so policies can become more proactive rather than reactive.

Feminist Foreign Policy has the potential to play a transformative role in advancing gender equality and promoting women’s rights on a global scale. Only when possible unintended outcomes, trade-offs and opportunities on the ground are taken into account, can FFP fully thrive to tackle the root causes of power imbalances and structural inequality, even in challenging contexts. To make sure Dutch FFP can live up to its objectives we need to continuously evaluate the policy and pay attention to changing local dynamics in the countries where FFP is applied. FFP instruments and programming should be flexible and informed by local perspectives and expertise. So what’s your take on the Dutch Feminist Foreign Policy?

The collaborative project of The Broker, Cordaid and Women’s International Peace Centre is funded by the Knowledge Management Fund of the Knowledge Platform Security and Rule of Law. For more information about this project and the upcoming workshop, please reach out to