In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron elevates the fight for equality between women and men to “great national cause”. Its exterior component took shape in the feminist diplomacy announced in 2019. Four years later, the results are nuanced.
The High Council for Equality between Women and Men (HCE), an independent advisory body, evaluates public policies relating to equality and makes recommendations to the government. On July 3, it publishes its final evaluation report of France’s international strategy for equality between women and men (2018-2022).
Internally, the HCE emphasizes the efforts of the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs and its operators (French Development Agency, Campus France, French Institute, etc.). High-level steering has been set up within the Ministry for Strategy, and the network of equality referents has expanded, from 147 in 2017 to 214 in 2022. Progress has been made in terms of representation , the proportion of female ambassadors having increased, for example, from 14% in 2012 to a third in 2022.
Abroad, France has increased its financial contributions and made strong commitments. She has distinguished herself in the defense of women’s right to control their bodies, as well as health, sexual and reproductive rights. She was also a driving force on gender issues at the G7 in Biarritz in 2019 and during the Generation Equality Forum organized in Paris in 2021 and launched by UN Women.
At the Council of Europe, she supported the ratification of the Istanbul Conventionand played a role in the institutionalization of gender equality in the structure and programming of the International Organization of La Francophonie in 2018. Finally, the establishment of the Support Fund for Feminist Organizations made it possible to fund up to 138 million euros over three years for feminist organizations in the South.
As the HCE reminds us, conducting feminist diplomacy is a demanding task. There is considerable room for improvement for France, and the efforts made are not sufficient: despite the importance of the Istanbul Convention, the situation of women in countries like Hungary, which refuse to ratify the Convention, remains worrying. The Support Fund, on the other hand, has encountered difficulties in its application, the bureaucratic requirements linked to obtaining funding having excluded many organisations.
These shortcomings reveal fundamental problems for feminist diplomacy, the first of which is the absence of definition. Without a clear definition, it is impossible to establish a transversal and intelligible action framework for the actors concerned.
This absence is reflected in the shortcomings linked to the “operational accountability framework”: in other words, it is difficult to evaluate the policies put in place. From lack of data and fuzzy indicators to hard-to-fill Excel spreadsheets, access to comprehensive information is limited for feminist diplomacy. Such lack of transparency has also been highlighted in Canada by the Auditor General in March 2023: without proper data, it is difficult to assess the real impact of aid on girls and women.
The main source of these difficulties is financial. Due to the low number of internal staff, “the biggest efforts are based on goodwill, too often female”, points out the HCE. This results in major performance gaps between the regional representations, the ministry and its operators. For now, the area of development receives more attention than others, such as trade or the fight against climate change.
Similarly, the “Women, Peace and Security” set of resolutions is not recognizable in the ministry’s strategy. The gender issue was not mentioned in the G20 review in Bali in 2022, nor in foreign policy speeches on the war in ukraine. Yet women and girls are particularly affected by the violence of war. The HCE recalls that “it is this apparent opposition, leading to considering women’s rights as accessories, that feminist diplomacy invites us to reconcile”.
Taking the example of Canada, the HCE thus suggests the creation of a pole devoted to feminist diplomacy as well as of an ambassadorial post, the incumbent of which will have the task of ensuring its coordination.
Urgency to do better
If the assessment of the application of feminist diplomacy is nuanced, the needs for a good implementation are urgent. With the rise of anti-feminist rhetoric and politics and the constant instrumentalization of sexist and sexual violence in conflicts, the HCE recalls that “advocacy in favor of women’s rights is adopting an increasingly defensive posture”.
France is part of the select group of States that have adopted a feminist foreign policy in 2023. As the seventh largest economy in the world, it does not contribute to the height of its ambitions and its means. Remaining only the seventeenth contributor to UN Women, the country continues to treat gender as secondary and optional in its foreign policy. For the term “feminist” to be deserved, the HCE calls on France to better define, assume and finance feminist diplomacy, and recalls that it “cannot be reduced to consensual issues”.