IGC Podcast: Shifting paradigms: Feminist perspectives in foreign policy

For the March 2024 episode of the IGC podcast, we are joined by Ambassador Dr. Katharina Stasch, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Geneva.

She discusses the importance of grounding foreign policy in feminist theory and practice, shares concrete examples on how to implement a feminist foreign policy on the ground, and reflects on how leaders can leverage their influence for gender equality.


Ambassador Katharina Stasch: Yes, it’s true women are more vulnerable. But there’s another thing and I always like to stress this. And this is, women are agents of change. And we know that societies that are more equal are also more stable, they are more peaceful, and also, more economically prosperous. And for instance, when it comes to peace talks, we know that the results are more sustainable when women are involved. And something very similar is true when it comes to combating climate change, because women play a very important role in sustainable resource management and the management of community organisation. 

Hannah Reinl: Hello and welcome to a new episode of the IGC podcast. My name is Hannah Reinl, and I’m with the International Gender Champions Secretariat in Geneva.

Today, we are going to talk about feminist approaches to foreign policy. For that, I am joined by Ambassador Dr. Katharina Stasch, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations in Geneva. Let’s start off with a little introduction: Ambassador Stasch has fifteen years of experience in international and national politics. She was appointed as Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN in Geneva in August 2021. She is currently Chair of the UNHCR Executive Committee and Chair of the IOM Council. Ambassador Stasch has previously served as Vice-President of the Human Rights Council and as Chair of the Government Group in the International Labour Organisation.

Prior to her appointment in Geneva, she was Chief of Staff and Head of the Minister’s Office at the Federal Foreign Ministry and at the Federal Ministry of Justice back home in Germany. Important projects during this time include the shaping of the Alliance of Multilateralism, Germany’s Membership in the UN Security Council, the Law on Equal Rights of Women and combating hate speech. Ambassador Dr. Stasch holds a PhD in law. Welcome, Ambassador, welcome, Katharina!

Ambassador Katharina Stasch: Thanks a lot. It's great to be here.

Hannah Reinl: We are very happy to have you here with us. So, let's dive in! The German government first committed to a feminist foreign policy in 2021. And then last year, the Minister of Foreign Affairs officially launched guidelines to implement this policy. Can you please walk us through the main elements of Germany's feminist foreign policy?

Ambassador Katharina Stasch: Yes, happy to do so. Let me first talk about why we actually decided to have a feminist foreign policy. And by the way, also a feminist development policy. And there are two main reasons for that, really.The first one is that we see that women are more vulnerable, and this is particularly true when it comes to crisis. Let me give you two examples. For instance, when there is a natural disaster, the likelihood that women and girls become victims, is 16 times higher and also, in times of conflict, women are much more vulnerable to suffer from sexual violence and abuse. And there's another figure I could hardly believe when I actually saw it. And that is: 80% of those fleeing from natural disasters are women.

Now, yes, it's true. Women are more vulnerable. But there's another thing., and I always like to stress this, and this is: women are agents of change. And we know that societies that are more equal are also more stable, they are more peaceful and also more economically prosperous. And, for instance, when it comes to peace talks, we know that the results are more sustainable when women are involved. And something very similar is true when it comes to combating climate change, because women play a very important role in sustainable resource management and the management of community organisation.

Hannah Reinl: Great. Thank you, Ambassador Stash. This is also something we really like to stress from the International Gender Champions perspective that women are agents of change. They are leaders and they drive progress for the larger social good. So, one of your commitments as an International Gender Champion is to promote a feminist foreign policy with the focus on the famous three Rs: rights, resources, and representation. So, from your experience, what are the challenges and misperceptions that a feminist foreign policy has to address, if we want to promote gender equality and social inclusion effectively across these three domains? And then I'm also curious to hear how you successfully implement a feminist policy on the ground in your day-to-day work. We'd love to hear some examples from your time here in Geneva if you'd like to share.

Ambassador Katharina Stasch: Before I share the misconceptions and maybe also the challenges, I would really like to give you a few examples on the famous three Rs and you already said so, these are the very important instruments of the feminist foreign policy. It's the rights, the representation, and the resources. This is nothing abstract. We really try to implement this here in our daily work in Geneva. And let me just give you one, two, or three examples. So, one example, and that is, I thought about it, it's really an example not only about rights, but also about representation. And this is when I went to Ethiopia in my function as the IOM Council Chair. We went to see an IDP camp and there was this town hall kind of format where we met women as well as men. And as always, the first five speakers, out of the first five speakers, there were four men and one woman. But I saw that there were several women who actually raised their hands and wanted to speak. So, although there was not much time left, actually there was no time left, I said I really want these women to actually raise their voice. And indeed, the first one who spoke said, ‘there's no electricity in the camp at night. Can we please have torches?’ Because obviously it's not very good for women to be alone in the camp outside the tents, without light for obvious reasons. And the second one who raised their hands said, ‘please, can my girls also go to school because there are more boys in the school than girls?’ And this really led to something because we followed up and we asked questions and I think this is also a very good example how women can act as agents of change. Very simply by giving them the voice and then following up. And hopefully things will change because obviously education is important for girls as well as for boys.

Now another example. What we can do here in Geneva and what we actually do. It is one thing I think if we look at the policies of the organisations and we ask them to adapt their policies to the needs of women, but also to reflect the fact that women are agents of change. But it’s another thing to really look inside what the organisations can do internally to foster the representation, for instance, of women. So, what we decided with a couple of Ambassadors whose countries also have a feminist foreign policy, that we from time-to-time invite or talk to heads of agencies here in Geneva. And then really, things change. And one very good example is at a very early stage, we talked to the head of WIPO, Darren Tang, and we actually had a dinner. And the topic was, and he knew that, women in IP and at the time we did not find that much what he was doing. But then he came up with this entire list, which he presented and then he said, we will have the World Intellectual Property Day, I think it's called, under the heading ‘Women and IP’, then they drew up an IP Gender Action Plan, and they also promised to enhance the amount of women in leadership. And since then, he's actually been following up and in front of a big audience, he tells what he has been doing in respect to gender and IP, and he's actually, since then, come up with more and more projects and I think this is a really great example of what we can do here in Geneva.

And my last example is about rights. So, what can we do when it comes to women's rights actually also in an international scene, and this is the example of the resolution and the special session on the women and girls in Iran. And maybe you remember, but in autumn 2022 there were many women and girls marching in the streets in Iran after the death of Mahsa Amini, asking for their rights. And that was when our Minister back home decided that she wanted to send a signal and that she wanted to ask the Human Rights Council to pass a resolution for a fact-finding mission to support the women and girls who asked for their rights in that country. And I can tell you, it was not easy to get a majority for this. And I think I talked to 80 ambassadors myself, and there was a lot of skepticism. But in the end, we made it. And why, it was because we really focused on women and girls. There was no politicisation whatsoever, a very clear mandate. And I was overwhelmed, really, by the amount of support we got.

Hannah Reinl: Thank you for these very comcreete examples. And I love of course the little shout-out to your fellow Gender Champion Darren Tang and WIPO for their great work. So back to the challenges and I know we did not want to dwell for too much on this and really create a bit more of a constructive outlook. But I think we cannot ignore that we are facing unprecedented challenges of global scale these days. How do you see the role of feminist foreign policy evolving and addressing these challenges? And how do think we can build a truly global network between countries that can hold different interpretations of feminism, and what a feminist foreign policy means?

Ambassador Katharina Stasch: Of course, there are challenges. And of course, there is one main challenge and this is the very famous pushback. And this is not a theoretical concept. It is there and it is also here in Geneva. Of course. Maybe we feel it the most when it comes to the rights of LGBTQI+ persons and the most prominent example where we actually experienced this year in Geneva was the negotiations on the budget of the ILO. We really had difficulties to pass the budget of the ILO because in the text of the budget there had been a sentence - and it was a very factual sentence- alluding to the fact that there is discrimination on grounds of and then there was many reasons, inter alia sexual orientation. This was enough for a number of countries not to accept the budget anymore, and the important thing is, it was only a factual reference, and it was an old text which had been sitting there for a while already. So, what we did was. we really organised ourselves and it was a cross-regional group who actually fought for the budget, including that very sentence. And I think we spent, I don't know, I didn't really count, but four days and each day six hours in closed rooms without windows, negotiating that budget. And in the end, we got it through. Of course, there was a compromise, but we did not compromise on substance, and I think this was a very good example. And with the backing of the feminist foreign policy, we knew that it was important, but we also had the backing from back home to really invest the time and get a good result and in the end, we really made it.

Also, I want to say what you were saying so how to deal with different perceptions of feminism. I think I always concentrate on what unites us rather than what divides us because there are so many things, we can do fighting for equality also between men and women, and in my experience it is a bridge builder in fact. For instance, here in Geneva from time to time, the female ambassadors do things together and one small example, but one example where you can see that fight for equality really brings together women from all regions, from all kinds of backgrounds. It's a very small example, but I think it was on the initiative of the Ambassador of Mauritius that female PRs here in Geneva collected signatures and we went to UNOG, and we asked for sanitary towels and tampons to be installed in the bathrooms, in the washrooms of the UN building and we actually managed to do so. So, I think this is also a nice example of how women can act as agents of change. So, it really is also a very big unifier to fight for more equality.

Hannah Reinl: Feminism as a bridge builder, as a unifier, I really like that. And it's reassuring to hear that there is a feminist alliance emerging to counter the pushback in the multilateral sphere. So, I could just continue going on, but unfortunately, we are already at our last question. Katharina, is there a piece of advice that you would like to share with our IGC community, with your fellow champions- it can be from your wider career or your personal life?

Ambassador Katharina Stasch: Yes, my advice is, never give up! You as a woman, you are an agent of change and change is, I mean, we know it, it is sometimes difficult and you have the pushback. You have the wind blowing in your face. But it is really worth fighting for it. And also always remember you ae not alone. We are many.

Hannah Reinl: So, on that very inspiring note, Katharina, thank you so much for joining us today and for helping us understand how we can ground foreign policy in a feminist understanding.