Carrying on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy — through foreign policy

Hundreds of teary-eyed mourners shuffled in what seemed like a never-ending line a few blocks down the street from where I live and work from home. They were there, of course, to pay respects to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as she lay in repose on the steps of the Supreme Court. 

Some, to be sure, followed Justice Ginsburg’s career closely, as she chiseled away at the injustices that plague our judicial system. Others, donning lace-collared masks reminiscent of the justice’s signature look, may have found her in her newly found fame as a pop culture icon deemed affectionately as the “Notorious RBG.”

With her passing, many are not only mourning the life of a woman who crossed ideological lines with her friendship, dissented in some of the most influential cases of our time, or inspired hilarious “Saturday Night Live” sketches. They — we — are mourning the possibility of a better and more just future for women, people of color, LGTBQAI+ folks, and other marginalized groups that are on the receiving end of discriminatory laws in the United States.

Fortunately, RBG was and is not the only one in the struggle for social justice. I think she would be proud of Representatives Jackie Speier, Barbara Lee, and Lois Frankel, who introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives this week that could help women both here in the United States and abroad claim their rights. 

With COVID-19 threatening to set back women’s rights and the possibility of a supreme court justice who does not believe in women’s right to reproductive freedom, the resolution is a welcome respite from a year of bad news. 

The resolution, which supports feminist foreign policy, “[W]ould help build a more peaceful, cooperative world that dismantles age-old systems of oppression and gives every human being the chance to thrive,” said Representative Lee.

Racist, patriarchal, and male-dominated power structures compound the effects of crises, like the coronavirus, on women, BIPOC, and other marginalized groups. Over time, this framework could help reduce the backsliding of women’s rights and the disproportionate loss of life people of color experience in future crises. 

“This Resolution is an unprecedented step forward by Congress, and given the state of the world, such an approach couldn’t be timelier,” said Lyric Thompson, senior director for Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women and lead author of “Toward a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States.”

When I asked Marissa Conway, cofounder of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, just how the framework could help mitigate the negative impacts of the coronavirus on women, she said, “This pandemic is exacerbating existing inequalities. For example, women are largely bearing the brunt of household management and care responsibilities and losing their jobs in higher numbers than men. Feminist foreign policy reduces systemic inequality, and so using such a framework would help to relieve the gendered impacts of this pandemic.”

The resolution also acknowledges gender-based violence, education access, child marriage, reproductive healthcare, and female genital mutilation among the gendered consequences of this pandemic. With each passing three months of lockdown, the resolution goes on to say, 15 million additional cases of gender-based violence are expected to occur around the globe. That is just one of the staggering statistics that feminist foreign policy would work to address.

Foreign policy encompasses more than just our nation’s stance on the individual injustices on women around the globe, it also “reflects how a government defines and prioritizes peace and security, structures international trade, provides humanitarian aid and development assistance, and works with other nations and non-state actors.” Achieving gender equality on a global scale has the potential to increase global gross domestic product by $28 trillion over 10 years, enhance the longevity of peace agreements, and reduce the number of hungry people across the planet by 50 million, the resolution states.

The resolution would also work to mitigate the failings of our own government to have equal representation where monumental decisions are made. “Decision making bodies established specifically for COVID–19 do not reflect a gender balance, such as the Coronavirus Task Force, appointed by President Trump, which is comprised of mostly men.” The U.S. should practice what it preaches to the rest of the world by ensuring that not only the foreign policy apparatus are representative, but also those that govern domestic responses to global problems.

The United States has the opportunity and responsibility to again assume a leadership position and be among the first few nations to endorse and implement a Feminist Foreign Policy. The next stop on what is sure to be a long journey is for members of Congress to cosponsor this new resolution. 

As Justice Ginsburg said in a landmark dissent on women’s right to equal pay, “the ball is in Congress’ court.”

Corey Greer is the Communications Director at Women’s Action for New Directions, a member of ICRW‘s Feminist Foreign Policy coalition, and serves on the Executive Committee of the U.S. Civil Society Working Group for Women, Peace, and Security.

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