An era for Feminist Diplomacy

On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2022, UN General Secretary António Guterres published an op-ed underlining the need for gender equality in all parts of society, all over the world. He started the article with: “The cascading crises of recent years have highlighted how women’s leadership is more crucial than ever”. Gender equality is a fundamental human right. Advancing gender equality is critical to all areas of a healthy society. But why does gender equality matter?

The need of gender equality

Women and girls represent half of the world’s population and therefore also half of its

Women officers
UNMIL Officers Participate in Medal Parade. (Photo:
UN/Christopher Herwig)

potential. But today gender inequality persists everywhere and stagnates social progress. Women continue to be underrepresented at all levels of political leadership. Across the globe, women and girls perform a disproportionate share of unpaid domestic work. Inequalities faced by girls can begin right at birth and follow them all their lives. In some countries, girls are deprived of access to health care or proper nutrition, leading to a higher mortality rate.


In 2020, women represented only 25% in national parliaments and 36% in local governments. Looking at women in diplomacy, specifically female ambassadors, it is just as depressing. According to a report from Anwar Gargash Diplomatic Academy, the Nordic countries have the highest percentage of female ambassadors in the world with a share of 40.6%. The lowest share is found in the Arab Gulf States (4.8%) and the Asia region (12.9%). The European Union has a percentage of 23.4%. All this show exactly why we need gender equality, and the UN is working hard towards achieving this with e.g. Sustainable Development Goal 5.

Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender equality

In 2015, all UN Member States adopted a development policy on sustainability which centers around the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which are set to be achieved by 2030. Goal 5, labelled Gender Equality, concerns ending all forms of discriminations and violence against women and girls, ensuring women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership, and adopting and strengthening sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality.

Reaching Goal 5 requires universal action to give women and girls equal rights and opportunity, through institutional and legal frameworks. Progress has been made, but the targets by 2030 remain a long way off, highlighting the need for action today.

Feminist diplomacy

Feminist diplomacy, or feminist foreign policy, was a concept introduced by the former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, in 2014. Feminist diplomacy is a segment of development aid, where financing can promote, through diplomatic relations,

Woman fighting to end violence against women in the public and political spheres
Turfa Droobii in the Azraq Refugee Camp. Fighting to end violence against women in the public and political spheres.(Photo: UN Women/Tamara Abdin)

ideals and good practices to achieve gender equality. Objectives of feminist foreign policy include fighting against sexual violence, economic emancipation of women, and education of women and girls, and that of men and boys. Moreover, it also focuses on women in leadership and strive to involve women in politics and decision-making, and to involve women in peace negotiations and treaties.

As described before, the situation is still severe, and countries and organizations need to take the bull by the horn, and make policies directly centered around feminist foreign policies. Some countries are already working hard towards a more equal everyday life.

Feminist foreign policy in action

Sweden, the first country to have applied feminist diplomacy, bases it on three pillars: women’s rights, women’s representation, and the allocation of resources to ensure gender equality. In 2015, Wallström condemned the treatment of women in Arab states of the Persian Gulf, which resulted in the suspension of diplomatic relations between Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

Margot Wallström
Margot Wallström, former Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs. (Photo: UNIDIR)

And referring to diplomacy; in 2017, 40% of Swedish ambassadors were women, which is a clear increase compared to 20 years earlier, where only 10% were women. In 2021 this percentage increased to 48% which makes Sweden have the highest percentage share of women ambassadors in the world.

In August 2018, Sweden presented a “Feminist Diplomacy Handbook” to share the lessons of its foreign policy on women’s rights. The booklet can be found here in Swedish, English, French and Portuguese.


In March 2019, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, and the Secretary of State to the Prime Minster, Marlène Schiappa, published an article named “For a feminist diplomacy” in the French magazine Libération. They wrote: “For the past year, France has been at the initiative of a new dynamic: a genuine feminist diplomacy. A feminist diplomacy that does not forget any subject. A diplomacy for the fight against sexual and gender-based violence. A diplomacy for the education of girls and women, boys and men, everywhere in the world.”

The article ends with “France is back and feminism with it”. And France iterated this statement at the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, a couple of months later. In August 2019, France held the presidency at the G7 summit, and announced its plan to fight against inequality. France set up an “Advisory Council on Gender Equality” with prominent figures such as actress Emma Watson, Ukrainian activist Inna Shevchenko, essayist Caroline Fourest, Nobel prize winners Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege. The Council assembled 79 legislative recommendations, focusing on among others parental leave, domestic violence and education.


Stronger democracies

Other countries such as Canada, the US and Mexico are also working with the concept of feminist foreign policy. But in order to achieve SDG 5, all countries must take the plunge and work with great determination towards advancing gender balance. The op-ed. by Guterres finishes off with: “In societies where women’s rights movements are vibrant, democracies are stronger.” Feminist foreign policy is a different approach to achieving gender equality than what we have seen before, and with its focus on new paradigms for public policies that empower women in international policy and ameliorate women and girls’ opportunities with education and economic emancipation, feminist diplomacy might just be the solution to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 5, Gender Equality. Moreover, it is important to remember that feminist diplomacy does not just concern women and girls. It revolves around making the world a better place and maintaining secure democracies. According to UN statistics, when women participate in the peace-making process, the resulting agreement is 35% more likely to last 15 years. Thus, we need to stand united and work harder for a better, more peaceful and prosperous tomorrow with more women on the front lines.

More information:

Science not silence: Ciné-ONU screening of Picture A Scientist – United Nations Western Europe (

Introduction – Women and Global Diplomacy: From Peace Movements to the United Nations – Research Guides at United Nations Library & Archives Geneva (

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