France has made “undeniable efforts” to roll out a feminist foreign policy with women holding top ministerial jobs, but is still falling short in defending women’s rights around the world, according to a new report.
The concept aims to promote gender equality and women’s rights -- particularly sexual and reproductive rights -- and France was an early adopter of “feminist diplomacy” in 2019, following similar moves by Canada and Sweden.
It has resulted in a rise in the number of French women ambassadors and consuls general, who now make up nearly a third of such posts compared to just 14 per cent a decade ago.
But an evaluation of its progress published Monday by the High Council for Equality -- an independent consultative body -- found mixed results, with strides made at home outpacing “timid progress” abroad, council president Sylvie Pierre-Brossolette told AFP.
That was “regrettable in an international context of regression of women’s rights, including in democracies like the United States, Poland and Hungary, which would... require French feminist diplomacy to be deployed as a matter of urgency,” she said, referring in particular to the US Supreme Court’s historic decision last year to erase abortion rights.
How “feminist diplomacy” is defined and executed -- from whether it applies to trade policy or foreign aid delivery -- varies between countries which have adopted it.
While Luxembourg, Spain, Mexico, Germany, and Chile have joined the ranks to embrace feminist diplomacy, according to the United Nations, pioneering Sweden, which launched the concept in 2014, abandoned the effort last year after a change in government.
It’s failed to become mainstream, Pierre-Brossolette said. Although France flaunts the term, “we don’t give it enough importance”, she added.
In his second term President Emmanuel Macron appointed Catherine Colonna as minister of foreign affairs, the second woman to hold the post in French history.
The top diplomat is also supported by two women who occupy two out of the three junior ministerial posts: Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, in charge of development issues, and Laurence Boone who is responsible for Europe.
‘A human issue’
Still, the concept “cruelly lacks an official definition, political support at the highest level of government and the means to deploy it,” Pierre-Brossolette said, noting Macron’s recent speeches make no reference to the strategy.
Looking at the foreign ministry as a whole, “it is still men who often hold the most prestigious posts”, she said.
Diplomatic sources told AFP the policy still has impact.
Colonna herself, on receiving the report, said its approach did “not always fully credit the progress we have made, and the exemplary nature of our track record”.
But she added: “This will far from discourage us... The best response will be to act.”
France’s initiatives overseas include aid to rape victims in Ukraine, sanctions on countries like Iran for violations of women’s rights and aid focused on securing financing for women in Africa.
In a separate push, French human rights artist Guila Clara Kessous launched in April the Sarah and Hajar Accords to promote women in diplomacy and women’s rights in the Middle East.
Signed by representatives from Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Bahrain, it replicated the 2020 Abraham Accords aimed to normalise relations between the four countries.
Men need to be convinced of the necessity to include more women in diplomacy so they take “pride in defending an issue that concerns them” too, Kessous told AFP, adding that women’s rights are “a human issue”.
With concerns over the lack of women represented in African foreign affairs, Kessous said she wants to see a similar accord launched for the continent.
In France, a new strategy to “accelerate” feminist diplomacy is also in the works.
“France, the country of human rights, can be an example for the world,” said Pierre-Brossolette, particularly as Sweden has fallen back from the lead.
“We can try to take up the torch.”