St. Cross Talk: The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy: Event Summary

St Cross College Oxford University Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy Marissa Conway

On May 8th 2018, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) brought together several panelists for a lively discussion on feminist foreign policy and diplomacy at the St. Cross College of the University of Oxford. With CFFP co-founder Kristina Lunz moderating, the panelists - Marissa ConwayDr. Jennifer Cassidy and Sharinee Jagtiani -  explored the evolution of feminist foreign policy, ethnocentrism in IR thought, and the fight to ‘decolonise’ foreign policy – starting with the reading lists.

Building off her recent book Gender and Diplomacy, Dr. Jennifer Cassidy analysed the impacts of the historical and institutional scarcity of women in diplomacy. Based on her research, she argued that the artificially-low number of women serving at diplomatic posts in war-torn regions subsequently limits their opportunities for promotions later in their careers, including ambassadorships. Even when women are diplomatic actors in the room, Dr. Cassidy reiterated the importance of time and place in choosing one’s battles in a professional setting. She advised listeners to remember that leaders today started from somewhere and should not necessarily be considered as exceptions in their efforts to challenge institutions. Dr. Cassidy cited the example of Ambassador Anne Anderson, who advocated for spousal pay for her husband when she was a junior diplomat serving in Geneva and went on to serve as Ambassador in New York, Geneva, Paris, Brussels, and Washington.

CFFP co-founder Marissa Conway began by sharing her path into feminist foreign policy, which started with her frustration that conversations about feminist foreign policy were tightly linked to the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda, and had a tendancy to focus in on increasing the number of women in leadership. While an important aspect, she thinks it's too narrow a view of feminism, and has a tendency to leave out a broader coversation which includes a more intersecitonal approach. Instead, Conway sees feminist foreign policy as a means of examining power structures and putting people first when it comes to policy-making, including, but not exclusively, having a curiosity about women’s lives as Cynthia Enloe has suggested. As the movement continues to grow, so does the importance of cultivating conversations within feminist foreign policy. For instance, Conway cited a recent CFFP article that argues for more women in the military. This article sparked a vibrant discussion about the role of women in the military and whether it is a needed evolution or a perpetuation of violent - and often toxic masculine - structures. In closing, Conway emphasized the importance of a mindful approach to media consumption so that echo chambers, which are often fortified by algorithms, are not further reinforced. Often, white, Western, and male narratives dominate the discourse on any given subject matter, and, in this sense, intentional exposure to a diversity of news outlets is key to prioritising the inclusion of more marginalized voices in foreign policy conversations.

Sharinee Jagtiani, co-founder of the Global Thinkers of International Discussions series at St. Cross College, highlighted the existence of notable political actors throughout the years, especially those beyond the Western world, and how the impetus should be to draw attention to those stories. For example, Vijay Lakshmi Pandit was the first woman to be President of the General Assembly but few audience members knew her name prior to the event. These efforts require formal funding to identify, analyse, and promote female voices, whether the records lie in family attics or old academic papers. In another example Jagtiani iterated the need for revised reading lists that both challenge assumptions driven by ethnocentrism and reflect the wealth of ideas and thinkers in the field of international relations. Dr. Cassidy agreed that diversifying these lists would also help to move beyond the narrative that only women can or should speak on gender.

Event summary originally posted at The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy