Book chapter

Feminism in Foreign Policy (2017)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

The traditional/mainstream international relations (IR) study of foreign policy has primarily focused on state behavior in the international system, examining factors such as the influence of decision-makers' attitudes and beliefs, regime type, domestic political actors, civil society, norms, culture, and so forth on foreign policy. Much of this research has neglected to address women and gender in the context of studying foreign policy actors, decisions, and outcomes. Given that women are increasingly gaining access to the political process in terms of both formal government positions and informal political activism, and recognition by the international community of women's roles in peace and war, feminist international relations (IR) scholars have challenged the assumptions and research focus of mainstream IR, including the study of foreign policy. Feminist international relations (IR) scholars have shown that countries with greater gender equality have foreign policies that are less belligerent. How do we account for foreign policies that are explicitly focused on women's empowerment and gender equality? The main questions motivating the research on feminism in foreign policy are as follows. Is there a gender gap between men and women in terms of foreign policy? If so, what explains the gender gap? Research shows that the evidence is mixed—for example, men and women often agree on foreign policy goals and objectives, but sometimes differ on what actions to take to achieve those goals, primarily whether to use force.In considering where the women are in foreign policy, scholars examine women's representation and participation in government, as gender equality is related to women's representation and participation. While an increasing number of women have entered formal politics, whether as heads of state/government, cabinet and ministerial positions, and ambassadorships, for example, women remain underrepresented. The question also arises as to whether and how women's participation and representation (descriptive and substantive representation) impact foreign policy. Does increased women's participation and representation lead to a foreign policy focused on "women's issues" and gender equality? Is a critical mass of women necessary for policies that promote gender equality and women's empowerment? Finally, what does it mean to have a feminist foreign policy?