Unidas is a women’s network with more than 330 members from Germany and a number of countries in Latin America. It is a central component of the German Federal Foreign Office’s Latin America and Caribbean Initiative and a building block of its feminist foreign policy. The goal of Unidas is to enable women’s equal participation in politics, society, culture, media, science, and business. To this end, the network fosters dialogue and the exchange of insights and ideas. Dr Renata Giannini has been a member of the network since 2020 and is part of the subgroup on feminist foreign policy. She has a PhD in international relations. GIZ was commissioned by the Federal Foreign Office to coordinate the Unidas network and manage its communication platform.
‘Promoting gender rights across continents’
The German Federal Foreign Office has introduced a new feminist foreign policy. Brazilian Renata Giannini from the Unidas Women’s Network is an expert on the topic; in akzente, she gives insights into her work and explains what this means and how it could or should influence German-Latin American relations.
You are a member of the Unidas network. What is the network about and how is it connected to Germany’s feminist foreign policy?
The women’s network was established in 2019 and has the goal of promoting gender rights across continents, in this case between Germany, Latin America and the Caribbean. Within Unidas women meet on a regular basis – virtually and in person – to exchange views on how women’s rights could be strengthened and how their representation in all spheres of society could be improved. To pursue its goals, Unidas organises workshops and other professional events, sometimes also in subgroups. In one of the latter, we deal explicitly with feminist foreign policy.
In order to achieve something, you have to get in touch with the people on the ground, including women. Something conventional foreign policy usually does not do.
Can you tell us about some of your activities in this subgroup?
We have been discussing what feminist foreign policy means, what it involves and how it should be shaped. For that purpose, we conducted a survey, asking women which aspects should be included in German feminist foreign policy towards Latin America. More than 30 women from Latin America, the Caribbean and Germany responded to the survey, which was open for nearly a month in August 2022. Based on the results, we wrote a summarising report that was published in January this year and we organised a workshop for members of Unidas from Latin America and Germany, during which we reflected on the findings.
What is the major finding of the survey?
There are three main results, the first being the most obvious one: gender equality. It was identified as the main guiding principle for feminist foreign policy. Despite all the rhetoric, and sometimes even despite the law, there is hardly any place where women enjoy the same rights and privileges as men. Yet at the same time, some of the major challenges we are facing today can only be solved when women are included, like social cohesion, health and education improvements as well as climate change mitigation. Therefore, it is clear that we have to create the conditions so that women can participate, and so that their needs are respected in foreign policy too.
What is the second major result?
It’s human security. Conventional foreign policy follows a certain concept of security, mostly emphasising military and police aspects. But if you ask any woman from a poor community in Rio, she will probably have a totally different idea of what real security means. She will be talking about having food for her children, a safe home, etc. This concept of security is much more holistic. According to the results of our survey, feminist foreign policy should focus more on human security than on the traditional concept. In a humanitarian crisis, for instance, it should first be analysed who the target group is, how many women and children are among those in need, before aid is delivered. Because it could mean that sanitation products and diapers are more urgently needed than other items.
You mentioned a third important finding…
The last one might be a bit surprising. It’s the environment; that might have to do with the fact that we are living on a nature-rich continent that is home to the largest rainforests in the world. All this is under threat, which worries people.
Is that a particular problem for women?
They suffer more from environmental degradation. Take illegal mining, where mercury is often used. Since women are in charge of getting water, they are the ones who are more exposed to this kind of contamination. Or there are toxic spill-overs from soy plantations. Since women usually take care of the gardening, they suffer more from these impacts. Which means that a feminist foreign policy towards Latin America should contain environmental aspects as well.
What would you like to see happen with these results now?
We hope that they will be included in concrete policies. I would like to emphasise that Germany is conducting this process in an exceptional way. I don’t remember any other country engaging in such broad consultations.
What is the main difference between conventional and feminist foreign policy?
Foreign policy is usually high politics, something that touches matters of the state and national interests. But it often does not include people, especially those who have historically been more in private than in public spheres, like women. Their views are seldom heard, their needs often overlooked. Feminist foreign policy in contrast is more open and thus ultimately more successful. Studies by UN Women have for instance shown that peace processes are more stable and sustainable when women were part of the peace negotiations.
Is it more of a new way of thinking or an operational approach?
It is both. It starts with the mind-set because you look through a different lens when designing this kind of foreign policy. At the same time, it changes the concrete political measures because it also works below the state level.
Is there a conflict in Latin America where this kind of thinking could and should be applied?
In Latin America we do not have traditional conflicts where one country fights another. Conflicts within states are more common where large proportions of territories suffer from power vacuums, like in Colombia, where paramilitaries control parts of the country, or in Mexico, where drug cartels threaten people. Then the state is basically absent. So in order to achieve something, you have to get in contact with the people on the ground, including the women, something conventional foreign policy usually does not do. But feminist foreign policy would take that into account, get in touch for example with women’s groups in those areas and in general be more inclusive.
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