In a time of #MeToo, #UsToo, and #TimesUp, it's important that these discussions on the ubiquity of sexualised violence and gender discrimination turn into profound conversations about power and systematic oppression - about who is represented when and how.
The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) wants to shape this discourse. The CFFP is a membership-based research and advocacy organization that focuses on centering the human experience at the core of policy initiatives.
In this interview, Marissa Conway (Co-Founder and UK Director) and Kristina Lunz (Co-Founder and Germany Director) talk about the movement they're buiding together with volunteers and activists from around the world.
Tell us about the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) - what is your mission and what motivated you to start the Centre?
MC: About two years ago I found myself newly graduated from my master’s program, having just spent the year intensely researching the intersection between feminism and international relations. While I loved my course, I had quickly become frustrated by the sexist and elite structure of foreign policy. Where feminist theory was indeed applied, it was used to produce recycled narratives that only focused on including more women, or constrained women into victim and/or peacemaker roles. There seemed to be a gaping chasm between what feminism was actually calling for, and the political theories, like realism, that were taken seriously and put into practice. Not only could the collision of feminism and realism yield new and different knowledge, but it could also create a path for feminist analysis to be taken seriously in politics.
So ultimately, I thought I could perhaps make some semblance of change, and echoing Emma Watson’s words, thought to myself: ‘If not me, who? And if not now, when?’ And so CFFP was born; we’re a membership-based research and advocacy organization, and focus on centering the human experience at the core of policy initiatives.
"We currently live in a society where the privileged ones decide its rules and its future and where the rest of us are left fighting injustices daily that the privileged ones are not affected by."
KL: I found myself equally frustrated: A few years ago I studied diplomacy at the University of Oxford as a working-class student - quite an experience by itself. It was the first time I realised how exclusive diplomacy and the field of international politics is - hardly any non-white, female or working-class voices lead the discourse. I went on to work for a local women’s rights NGO in Bogotá, specifically focusing on women and the Colombian peace process. Next I worked for the United Nations Development Programme in NYC and Myanmar on gender and extremism. When I first heard of Marissa and CFFP I was beyond excited; I am grateful I could join Marissa as a co-founder and lead the German team in Berlin now.
One of your goals is to challenge the status quo of foreign policy, how do you do this?
MC: The first step to interrupting mainstream foreign policy is as simple as creating the space for alternative foreign policy thought. From the beginning we’ve worked hard to be inclusive of a wide array of voices, with a particular focus on those which have normally been excluded from foreign policy decision making. We have a rolling call for articles for our online journal, publish a print journal biannually, and host events in London and Berlin to encourage different and more nuanced conversations about foreign policy.
KL: On top of this we are currently working on creating a network of women working in the field, based on female solidarity and in the spirit of lifting each other up - as diplomacy and foreign policy remain very male spheres; Germany for example has never had a female foreign minister (the UK only one so far in its history) and only 16% of the diplomats of the 50 wealthiest nations are female.
What has been your social impact to date?
MC: Our first year saw a huge boom in our growth - this project began with just myself and a laptop, and in just over a year we now operate in two countries with a volunteer team of about thirty. We partner with incredible organizations like Chatham House and GAPS for events, and have built a community of incredibly passionate feminists who are fired up to make a change. And though Sweden and Canada have done groundbreaking work with feminist foreign policy, it’s also important for this conversation to be driven by those who aren’t bound to a government agenda. At least in London, we have pushed for feminist foreign policy not just to be on everyone’s radar, but to establish it as a priority, and have been received very well.
KL: And in Berlin we have just started doing exactly the same. For example on the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, I was given the opportunity to deliver a speech on diplomacy and activism - arguing the former needs to embrace the latter for sustainable change towards more inclusive foreign policy - at an event where representatives of the Embassies of Sweden and Canada as well as the German Foreign Office spoke too; we are getting our word out in relevant circles.
The #Metoo, #UsToo and #TimesUp campaigns have made gender inequality very visible in recent months. In your opinion, what needs to happen now to take these movements to the next level and create lasting change?
KL: These campaigns and the feminist movement behind them are essential in the effort of creating a society that leaves everyone better off. What’s important now is that the discussions on the ubiquity of sexualised violence and gender discrimination turn into profound conversations about power and systematic oppression - about who is represented when and how. Who’s heard and whose ideas, needs and demands are listened to and taken seriously? We need brutally honest conversations about power.
We currently live in a society where the privileged ones decide its rules and its future and where the rest of us is left fighting injustices daily that the privileged ones are not affected by.
Imagine how beautiful society could be if non-white people wouldn’t have to endure and fight racism, and where women wouldn’t have to fight for their fundamental rights everyday, but instead invest those resources into envisioning a future where our rights are granted.
In that vein, what’s next for the CFFP?
MC: Kristina and I are working very hard to secure funding right now. We have already accomplished so much just as a volunteer team - imagine what we could do with full-time, paid staff?
KL: We are here to stay. So we are very busy turning CFFP into a sustainable organisation. We want to be better and more impactful everyday.
You currently work with volunteers from all over the world, what opportunities and challenges does this pose?
MC: Because diversity of perspective has been a priority for CFFP, having a very international team means we act out our own values and work hard to see all we do through an intersectional lens. We can think more critically about what we do, and embrace how feminism and feminist foreign policy signifies different things to different people.
One of the downsides is that Kristina and I aren’t able to meet face to face that often, and we have to be creative with how we work together. But we have a great collaborative energy, and so far it’s worked marvelously.
How can people get involved or support you?
KL: We are very lucky and grateful to have so many brilliant people working for us as volunteers as well and receive pro-bono services from law firms, coaches and others. Any volunteer vacancies we have will be listed on our ‘Join the Team’ page - keep an eye out. Whilst we’d love to have all people interested in working with us joining us, our management capacities are limited too. And it’s our priority to make sure everyone chipping in their time and skills for free gets an amazing experience out of it.
Ultimately, the ideal way for everyone who’d like to stay up-to-date on our work, get involved, and support us a little is by becoming a member of CFFP.