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Is Biden’s foreign policy feminist?

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According to the Washington Post’s Pundit Power Ranking, Biden’s first 100 days lacked leadership on foreign policy. As many a pundit has aptly pointed out, the administration’s assertion that all foreign policy decisions must pass a test of advancing the interests of middle-class Americans is a form of “America First” thinking.

What’s needed today is the antidote to that kind of blind self-interest: a feminist foreign policy that recasts the global goods of people, peace and planet as in the national interest. While this may seem like an impossible dream, it’s actually already in the works — and the stage is set for the U.S. to break new barriers.

Evidence suggests such an approach is sound. Research from McKinsey suggests that if women’s participation in the economy were increased to match that of men, the world would add $28 trillion to the global economy. United Nations data suggest peace agreements last longer when women are at the negotiating table. And female leaders around the world are increasingly credited with deploying the most effective responses to the coronavirus pandemic on the global stage, or securing democracy and civil rights on the national one.

What other assessments of the president’s performance so far have left out, with respect to a gender-specific analysis, my colleagues and I in the Coalition for a Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States have addressed with an evaluation of our own. Our new scorecard assesses to what extent the Biden-Harris administration is delivering on its campaign promises to champion women’s rights in foreign policy, as articulated in our white paper.

Our review finds strong leadership in the area of policy articulation, where a flurry of executive orders has sought to renew American cooperation on the world stage toward shared goals of women’s health, response to the climate crisis and ending gender-based violence. Importantly, the administration has mandated a national strategy on gender equality, including the foreign policy areas of defense and development, diplomacy and trade. There’s ample room to lead here.

Although the damage dealt to women’s reproductive rights globally was largely wrought by a dramatically expanded Global Gag Rule and therefore is an American-made problem we must fix, there is room to break new barriers and establish standards where none has been bold enough to lead before. No country has penned a trade agreement that treats women’s rights with the same level of emphasis as environmental or labor protections, for example. With women at the helm of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), this could be a long overdue beginning of leadership for gender equality in global trade.

It’s not only trade that is unfolding as a new frontier for women’s leadership. The Biden-Harris administration also has demonstrated unprecedented leadership for gender equality in its design of new White House and agency offices on gender, and elevation of the level of that leadership on the global stage. A White House Council has been established to review all areas of domestic and foreign policy to ensure they advance gender equality, with cabinet-level representation and a role for the National Security Council. 

March marked the first time in history that the White House has been represented at the Commission on the Status of Women — the annual U.N. meetings on women’s rights — with Vice President Kamala Harris co-leading the U.S. delegation alongside U.N. Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield. This is the cherry on the top of a larger, administration-wide effort to build a government that looks like America, with unprecedented gender, racial and other forms of diversity across the administration and a special focus on diversifying the State Department in particular, led by a first-ever Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Ambassador Gina Abercrombie-Winstanley.

It isn’t all roses and rainbows, however. There have been some missed opportunities and areas where progress is incomplete. Secretary of State Antony Blinken failed to mention gender among a list of eight priorities for foreign policy in his March 3 address. The summary “skinny budget” that the administration released last month — while including a billion dollars to prevent and respond to gender-based violence in the United states — failed to mention women’s rights or gender equality among its foreign policy priorities.

There is some concern that the “inward-looking posture” the Post’s review critiques in the Biden administration’s foreign policy may apply to gender equality as well. Most of the work and staffing of the White House Gender Policy Council has focused on domestic policy and, so far, the administration has yet to name key roles for gender equality at the National Security Council, State Department, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The 100-day window, however, is an admittedly narrow one — and there’s general optimism that when our analysis is repeated at the first anniversary there will be more to report in this regard.

The best and boldest way to assure the naysayers would be for the Biden administration to use an upcoming moment on the global stage to announce the world’s next feminist foreign policy — following in the footsteps of Sweden, ever a leader on gender equality at home and abroad, and, more recently, our neighbors in Mexico and Canada. The G7 might suit, where Canada, France and the European Union are leading the way, or the G20 alongside Mexico. France and Mexico are co-hosting a major women’s rights summit this summer on the heels of the G7, in which U.S. officials have indicated the U.S. will likely participate.

The stage is literally set for it.

Lyric Thompson is senior director of policy and advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women, a leader of the Coalition for Feminist Foreign Policy in the United States, and a member of the faculty at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University. Follow her on Twitter @lyricthompson.

Tags Antony Blinken Gender and society Gender equality Presidency of Joe Biden

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