Mar 20, 2024 |

What is feminist about Germany’s current foreign and development policy?

This article was written in October-November 2023 and is part of an article series conducted by Miriam Mona Mukalazi.

It has been now almost one year since Germany officially introduced its feminist foreign and development policy. For FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders this endeavour meant to influence especially the German process of implementing these feminist policies with a particular focus on advocating for feminist global collaboration.

Instead of already investing major financial resources into peace negotiations with civil society present when the annexation of Crimea happened, European states chose to accelerate ad hoc funds into the military complex after many Nowadays, the status quo of Germany’s feminist foreign and development policy raises many questions. The biggest one being what is actually feminist about it? To answer this question, I spoke with six feminist advocates about feminist funding (Michelle Reddy, Amina Doherty), climate justice (Gina Cortés Valderrama, Katy Wiese) and feminist security (Hilina Berhanu Degefa, Barbara Mittelhammer). They shared their expertise and voiced their concerns. In three articles, you can dive into examples of what advocating for feminist policies could look like. But above all, this article series serves as a reminder that when states claim feminist policies, they have to demonstrate feminism in their actions. It is now more time than ever to start an honest conversation by asking the question, what is feminist about Germany’s current foreign and development policy? 

Claiming to be feminist requires honest conversations. 

The German feminist discourse has shifted in light of Germany’s political response to Israel’s massive violence and killings in Gaza and the West Bank, which the Israeli government rapidly accelerated after the terrorist group Hamas killed and kidnapped people in Israel on October 7th 2023. Germany’s current raison d’état requires honest conversations about how the German government is failing to realise its feminist foreign and development policy.  

Right at the beginning, when the German foreign office and development ministry announced its feminist policies, some of us BIPoC activists and scholars asked curious questions. We required feminist responses concerning Kurdistan, Kashmir, and South Sudan, to name only a few. Yet, many of us remained unheard or even silenced. The current situation is even more alarming. Various human rights defenders and feminist researchers living in Germany, explained that they could not participate in this series. They fear reprisals for themselves and their families when openly criticising the German government. Many added that they do not feel protected enough by the German justice system or fear losing their jobs. This reality is not in alignment with a democratic state promoting feminist policies.

Claiming to be feminist comes with obligations. 

In 2023, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development both published their feminist strategies. Both guidelines embrace a wide range of feminist principles, values and obligations. One of these obligations is to put human rights first. The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development declares in its feminist strategy that a human rights-based approach forms the basis of its feminist development policy. By emphasising that it is a state’s responsibility to ensure the rights of everyone, the ministry is committed to putting human rights at the centre of all its policies and programmes.  

“As duty-bearers, states have a responsibility to fulfil their human rights obligations.

BMZ Strategy for a feminist development policy, p.15.

Germany’s attempted commitment to feminist principles in its guidelines bears the potential for transformative change. That is why our series dives into the challenges and the opportunities Germany has faced since its introduction to get a better understanding of what the F actually stands for. When it comes to Germany’s commitment to feminist funding, we cannot yet see how Germany’s feminist reflex has transformed into concrete actions (see interview with Aminata Doherty, Co-Founder of the Black Feminist Fund and Michelle Reddy, the Co-Lead of the Pacific Feminist Fund).  

Moreover, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development claims to reflect on its own role and position in the geopolitical power structure and critically analyse its own understanding of “good development” (BMZ Strategy for a feminist development policy, p.11). Yet, renewable energy policies still prioritise economic exploitation instead of peoples’ rights (see an interview with Gina Marcela Cortés Valderrama, Co-Focal Point UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency and Katy Wiese, Policy Manager for Economic Transition and Gender Equality at European Environmental Bureau).  

Another reason why Germany is struggling to fulfil its commitments is the missing coherent feminist strategy for the whole government. Although it is progress to having the Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development on board, it is not enough. Feminist peace and security policies cannot be fully implemented without the commitment of other ministries, such as the Finance and Health Ministry (see interview with Barbara Mittelhammer, Political analyst and Hilina Berhanu Degefa, feminist activist and researcher). Only by listing a few challenges, it already becomes clear that implementing feminist policies is not an easy task. Nevertheless, all interview partners see the potential of feminist policies. They go even further by underlining that feminist policies are a necessity for just societies.  

Claiming to be feminist starts with you. 

In spite of the challenges, feminist actors are advocating feminist policies every day. This work can be overwhelming and complex. For these reasons, our series includes bits of advice on how to practice feminist advocacy on a daily basis. We talk about examples of how to apply intersectional approaches, how to share the immense workload, as well as of how civil society and governmental institutions can work together in a better way. The objective is to illustrate how each person can contribute to making feminist policies a reality. This also includes practising feminism within our own organisations. For example, Michelle Reddy from the Pacific Feminist Fund shares the importance of well-being as feminist activists often suffer from burnout. Michelle’s team takes twice a year one week off, which is not part of their annual leave or public holiday. Michelle defines the opportunity to recharge and recover as a feminist tool to ensure the well-being of her staff.  

Another practical piece of advice comes from Hilina Berhanu Degefa. Hilina emphasises that a feminist journey includes asking curious questions and openness to learn. Her advice is, therefore, the red thread of this article series: We all should be willing to learn in order to get a better understanding of each other. On the way towards a system of Feminist Global Collaboration this advice is more necessary than ever. 

The Author

Portrait of Miriam Mona Mukalazi
Miriam Mona Mukalazi

Miriam Mona Mukalazi is a leading scholar on feminist security policies. Currently, she is a Max-Weber-Post-Doc Fellow at the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence. Recent consultancies include the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, the World Bank, and the EU Commission.

During her PhD at Heinrich-Heine-University in Duesseldorf, Miriam compared the African Union’s and European Union’s legitimation practices with regard to gender, peace and security policies. She has taught Feminist Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne and was part of a research project at the Philipps University of Marburg. As a visiting researcher, Miriam worked at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and the Institute for Peace and Security Studies in Addis Ababa. Moreover, Miriam was selected for the International Charlemagne Prize Academy to conduct research on EU Gender Policies. She has received other scholarships from the Bertelsmann Foundation, ZEIT as well as the Deutschlandstiftung Integration scholarship with the German Chancellor as patronage.

Before her academic career, Miriam worked at UN Women Germany, specialising in the UN’s Women, Peace and Security agenda. As an expert on feminist security policies, she was invited to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag.

Moreover, Miriam regularly comments on security policies in German-speaking media such as SWR, WDR, Deutschlandfunk Nova, Wiener Zeitung, and DER Standard.


Contact information
Twitter: MiriamMonaMu; EUI_Schuman
LinkedIn: Miriam Mona Mukalazi; Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies
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