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Proposal from the Advisory Board for International Human Rights (IONK) to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs (IONK’s decision on 22 Feb 2022)

20 Apr 2022

Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP)

The UN Human Rights Council elected Finland as member for 2022-2024. Finland’s campaign, as well as the Council, prioritises working on women’s and girls’ rights, which are being weakened around the world. Pekka Haavisto, Minister for Foreign Affairs, has highlighted the importance of listening to the civil society when conducting the Human Rights Council’s work. Finland’s strong international and public commitment to promoting equality requires a systematic approach and target setting in the Foreign Service and the whole government. The National Council of Women of Finland, an expert in women’s rights and the largest women’s organisation in Finland, proposes the implementation of Feminist Foreign Policy to make equality work more organised and target-oriented; following the example of Sweden, France, Canada, and Mexico.

Finland has advanced a human rights-based Foreign Policy and emphasised the rights of diverse groups, such as disabled women, gender and sexual minorities, and other women in vulnerable positions. Although Finnish Foreign Policy highlights women’s rights and gender equality, Finland lacks a strategy and action plan directing this equality work. This makes it challenging to conduct and follow up equality work in a systematic way, with optimised resources.

Countries committed to Feminist Foreign Policy

In Sweden, Feminist Foreign Policy has meant extensive training and engaging of staff, concrete gender equality acts by the embassies, reviewing resource allocations, drafting action plans, and streamlining reporting and effectivity. The work is directed by a strategy extending across parliamentary terms. Equal rights for women, women’s representation especially in leading positions, and equal subsistence for women are at the centre of the Foreign Policy and the evaluation of gender impacts is integrated into the whole Foreign Service.

France’s 3rd International Strategy for Gender Equality is ongoing, covering 2018-2022. France reports on its work systematically and provides extensive training on gender equality to their officials. The French Feminist Diplomacy includes indicators for measuring the development.

Canada’s Feminist Vision includes eliminating poverty and creating a more peaceful, more inclusive, and wealthier world. Canada has incorporated advancement of women’s rights for example into their trade policy, where mainstreaming gender equality has been in place since 2017. 

In 2020, Mexico committed to advancing intersectional women’s rights in their Foreign Policy. Mexico’s Foreign Service also strives for gender equality and prevention of sexual harassment. France and Mexico were among the organising countries of the Generation Equality conferences in 2021.

Spain’s Feminist Foreign Policy, launched in 2021, is based on engaging the Foreign Service, promoting committed leadership, boosting alliances, and intersectionality and diversity. The tools to achieve these goals include mainstreaming gender sensitivity in Foreign Policy; bilateral, regional, and multilateral diplomacy; the European Union; and the Foreign Service’s equality plans.

In Germany’s new coalition contract, published at the end of 2021, the government has committed to globally strengthening women’s and girls’ rights, resources, and representation, “in accordance with Feminist Foreign Policy.” In addition to the three Rs, the goal is to advance gender diversity.

In these countries, gender equality is a cross-cutting objective with extensive definitions. Concrete means to promote it have been identified, and they are measured and reported on regularly. Gender equality is being advanced in a coordinated manner, which enhances information exchange and facilitates better resource direction. These countries are international experts of women’s rights.

Women’s rights and gender equality in Finland’s human rights-based Foreign and Security Policy

Women’s rights and gender equality are also central objectives in Finland’s human rights-based Foreign and Security Policy. The Foreign Policy definition of Finland’s government programme states: “Finland will pursue a human rights-based foreign and security policy. The central aim of this policy is to systematically promote gender equality and the full materialisation of girls’ and women’s rights.” According to the strategic priorities of the Foreign Service, “the Foreign Service will intensify efforts to strengthen the position and rights of girls and women, for instance by supporting the work of international actors and through advocacy and resources.”

One of the main goals of the Foreign Ministry’s development policy is strengthening the status and rights of women and girls, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive health and rights. Development cooperation considers cross-cutting objectives such as gender equality; non-discrimination, especially the status of disabled people; climate-resilience; and low-emission development. Reporting and evaluation are carried out regularly. As mentioned in the report on development policy extending across parliamentary terms, strengthening the rights of women and girls also requires Finland’s contribution to global influencing activities. Finland could support this by visibly committing to Feminist Foreign Policy.

The Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy stresses the importance of assessing the human rights impacts of all actions taken in Foreign and Security Policy. The key elements of the set of values Finland applies in its foreign and security policy include the promotion of gender equality, human rights, democracy, the rule of law, peace, freedom, and equitable treatment. 

The Government Report on Human Rights Policy stresses the importance of strengthening non-discrimination, gender equality, and participatory rights. Finland’s international human rights activities emphasise non-discrimination and gender equality and the rights of the persons and groups in the most vulnerable situations and positions.

Finland is committed to advance gender equality also in the cross-cutting Agenda 2030 objectives. The term “Feminist Foreign Policy” may sound unfamiliar, but Finland is already committed to concrete actions.

The Gender Equality Group under the Advisory Board for International Human Rights has compiled recommendations for the Advisory Board to execute Feminist Foreign Policy in Finland more clearly and more systematically than now. The purpose of the recommendations is to serve as a tool for translating commitments to human rights and gender equality into the work and objectives of foreign policy.

The group defines Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) as systematically striving towards gender equality targets across the Foreign Service. The recommendations aimed to support this work include defining clear and measurable equality targets, identifying concrete acts to achieve these targets, and measuring and reporting on the progress as part of the Foreign Service’s corporate governance.

The minimum level reflects actions which, when fulfilled, will speed up Finnish Foreign Policy’s objectives to achieve women’s rights and gender equality. The minimum level actions are concrete and executable in the short run. The target level actions are wider, cross-cutting actions to be executed in the long-term by countries committed to Feminist Foreign Policy.

Definition of terms

Feminist Foreign Policy. Foreign Policy that advances gender equality in a cross-cutting, intersectional, and human rights-based manner. Advancing gender equality is included cross-cuttingly in all Foreign Policy sectors from budgeting to operational objectives.

Gender Equality. Different genders genuinely have the same rights and opportunities.

Women’s Rights. Equal rights of women and girls.The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women states: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as sex.”

Human rights-based approach. Consistent integration of human rights in all actions and targets. This includes commitment to supporting, respecting, and advancing human rights.

Intersectional approach. Taking into consideration the intersectional and interconnected nature of power relations. Factors affecting a person’s position and risk of discrimination, such as age, gender and gender identity, abilities, ethnic background, beliefs, and sexual orientation. It is particularly important to consider the discrimination risk of women and girls in vulnerable positions.

IONK’s proposals to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs

  • The Ministry for Foreign Affairs shall commit to Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP)
  • The Ministry for Foreign Affairs shall begin to draft an equality strategy and plan regarding External Relations, including cross-cutting methods to reach the targets which are applicable to the whole Foreign Service, as well as a follow-up system, indicators, and reporting
  • The theme of the Meeting of Heads of Mission 2022 shall be gender equality and women’s rights
  • The Ministry for Foreign Affairs shall establish a Gender Policy unit
  • The Ministry for Foreign Affairs shall request and fund non-governmental organisations for a collateral report on Resolution 1325 – Women, Peace, and Security, regarding the situation of women in Afghanistan
  • An external report of Finnish Foreign Policy shall be ordered in collaboration with, for instance, UN Women: How gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights are currently fulfilled in Finnish Foreign Affairs
  • Skills needs shall be surveyed, and equality work resources purposefully increased in all departments of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Minimum level

  • Support the structural work of diplomatic representations and Foreign Service: Incorporate concrete targets for gender equality and women’s rights in the embassies’ annual plan objectives
  • Appoint gender focal points to ensure the integration of gender equality into their unit/ministry. Arrange focus moments to internally evaluate how the human rights-based approach and gender equality are working
  • Report on human rights work to identify the required resource capacity
  • Support local women’s rights defenders, monitor their situation, create connections to local civic organisations
  • Provide training in gender equality and women’s rights for all departments of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs
  • Define organisation-specific gender equality targets for multi-lateral collaboration

Target level

  • Continue applying a dual approach to advance gender equality: cross-cutting themes and targeted action
  • Introduce gender-responsive budgeting
  • Introduce binding gender equality targets to ministries and embassies
  • Connect equality to the areas of international climate policy, expand the binary gender concept (intersectional approach) 
  • Take the equality requirement of climate financing and biodiversity into consideration(set clear criteria for equality considerations; for instance, in Sweden one of the conditions to receive funding is taking gender equality into consideration; regularly evaluate climate policy from an equality perspective), and the global backtracking of gender equality caused by the Covid-19 pandemic

IONK’s decision to establish a gender equality working group in 2020

16 June 2020, the Advisory Board for International Human Rights (IONK) working in connection with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs decided to establish a working group to prepare a proposal of recommendations of commitment to Feminist Foreign Policy and present it to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The working group was open for all members, deputy members, and experts of IONK. The chair of the group was Terhi Heinilä, deputy member of IONK.

The following members and deputy members of IONK and their representatives participated in this work:

Eva Biaudet, Chair of IONK; Member of Parliament
Terhi Heinilä, Chair of Gender Equality Working Group of IONK; Secretary General of The National Council of Women of Finland
Atik Ali, Master of Laws with court training; Chair of Human Rights Forum
Ossi Heinänen, Secretary General, and Hanna Wendelin, Advocacy Expert, Plan International Finland
Katja Ilppola, Expert (South Asia), and Elina Vuola, Expert (East Africa), KIOS Foundation
Leena Kumpulainen, Director of International Programme, Finnish Refugee Council
Niina Laajapuro, Human Rights Policy Director, Amnesty International Finland
Anu Tuukkanen, Policy Officer, Human Rights Defenders and Country-specific Work, Amnesty International Finland

Furthermore, the following have represented Ministry for Foreign Affairs at the meetings:

Katri Viinikka, Ambassador for Equality Issues
Saara Heinola, Unit for Human Rights Policy
Aurora Saares, Desk Officer; Secretary of IONK; Unit for Human Rights Policy

Secretary of the working group was Annika Hinkkanen, advocacy specialist of The National Council of Women of Finland. Johanna Mantere, parliamentary assistant to Eva Biaudet, participated in the preparation. Liisa Ketolainen, project manager, and Merja Kähkönen, advocacy specialist, (partly) represented the National Council of Women of Finland in the meetings.

The Advisory Board for Human Rights processed and accepted the proposal in their meeting on 22 Feb 2022.

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