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A New Tool for Feminist Foreign Policy

Joe PowellandAllison Merchant|

A small but growing number of countries have committed to championing feminist approaches to foreign policy. Sweden, France and Canada, to different degrees, have all pledged in recent years to make gender equality a goal of their international assistance and diplomatic policies. In 2018, Canada made gender equality one of the major themes of their G7 presidency, which France has continued in 2019. This political momentum is encouraging, but its impact will be limited without complementary approaches from a much wider group of countries and other parts of the international governance system moving the compelling Feminist Foreign Policy rhetoric to action.

One encouraging development is Canada’s decision to put gender and inclusion at the heart of its co-chairing of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). With its 79 national members, an increasing local government cohort, and thousands of civil society participants, OGP has become an increasingly useful platform to translate global policy processes into national implementation. It could be a powerful mechanism to help ground feminist foreign policy approaches in support of reform processes in OGP member countries. This is because OGP is an action-oriented partnership, with each member required to submit an open government action plan every two years that is co-created with civil society. To date, however, only 2% of the nearly 4,000 commitments made using the OGP platform since its founding in 2011 have focused on gender, either with gender equality as an explicit objective or with gender perspectives integrated into a wider open government reform.

OGP is an under-tapped resource for feminist foreign policy and feminist national policy alike. Next week we have a chance to change that when Canada hosts the sixth global OGP Summit with inclusion as a major thematic focus. Minister Maryam Monsef – who leads both the International Development and Women and Gender Equality briefs, and Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland are both featured speakers at a side event on Feminist Open Government will bring together advocates of open government and gender equality. The Summit presents an opportunity to challenge the OGP community to step up on gender equality, and follows the launch of a new campaign – “Break the Roles” – that aims to have 30% of OGP’s members take a gender action by the end of 2019.

We are convinced that the OGP and Feminist Foreign Policy communities have much to benefit from working together on these actions. Our recently published briefing paper provides suggestions of  the different types of gender actions OGP members could consider, informed by what works across country experiences and development initiatives.

First, governments can use OGP to deliver on gender equality pledges, such as Germany’s commitment to collect data on the gender balance in public and private sector leadership to help inform a new law to close the gap in C-suites and top offices across the country. In Sri Lanka, the government used the OGP process as the implementing body for targets under CEDAW, including a targeted effort to increase women’s political participation through enacting a 25% mandatory quota for women in public office within local governments.

Second, governments can consider ways to mainstream gender into their current OGP commitments, which Canada has piloted with its GBA+ review of its latest open government plan. Kenya is attempting to use a  broader open contracting commitment to include the implementation of the Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (AGPO) law which promotes a  30% earmark for women, youth, and persons with disabilities. This has the potential to open up government contracts to a new market of women entrepreneurs by proactively making the public procurement process more accessible to all.

Third, governments and civil society leaders in OGP countries should also consider making their action plan co-creation processes more inclusive by engaging a broader group of stakeholders. Too often OGP plans are made with a narrow range of inputs from core open government advocates, which misses out the experiences and contributions that broader civil society has to offer. Through OGP, women’s rights organizations and gender groups have the opportunity for a seat at the table with government actors, informing open government policy that better addresses the needs of their communities and holding them accountable as action plans are implemented. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that promoters of Feminist Foreign Policies have been advocating for, and it is readily available across OGP’s 99 national and local government co-creation processes.

Leveraging OGP to advance a Feminist Foreign Policy comes with one other major built advantage. Every commitment made using the OGP platform is tracked and assessed by the Independent Reporting Mechanism. This ensures there is accountability for implementation, and a solid basis for learning how to improve in the future. Increasingly bilateral and multilateral donors are using OGP’s reporting mechanism to identify where best to target their assistance, and to monitor results. For Canada, France and Sweden, each of whom are pledging to better target their development assistance funds in line with a Feminist Foreign Policy, this is a potential opportunity to support governance reforms that meaningfully advance gender equality.

Governments around the globe are looking for opportunities to reduce inequality, empower women entrepreneurs, close health and education gaps, and ensure equal access to justice and government services. If the countries adopting Feminist Foreign Policy approaches spot this opportunity and integrate OGP into their thinking, then there is the chance to truly leverage the partnership to help implement open governance reforms that advance and accelerate gender equality across the world.

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