Foreign ministers vow to champion women’s rights at first all-female summit 0

Female foreign ministers meeting in Canada for the first summit of its kind vowed on Saturday to bring a “women’s perspective” to foreign policy. The two-day meeting, which began Friday in Montreal and brought together more than half of the world’s top women diplomats, focused on topics such as conflict prevention, democratic growth and eliminating gender-based violence.

“This meeting represented a historic occasion,” said Canada’s top diplomat Chrystia Freeland, who also took the opportunity to announce the creation of Canada’s first ambassador for women, peace and security.

“This is not about creating a pink ghetto. This is quite to the contrary. This is about highlighting the importance and the role and the rights of women and girls in the world,” Freeland said.

“It’s about talking about the ways women in leadership positions can be particularly engaged in championing those rights,” she added.

Feminist foreign policy

The idea of feminist foreign policy was first coined by Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström, another summit attendee, who published a handbook in August that shares the lessons and examples from her four years in office.

“In a worsening climate where human rights and women’s and girls’ rights are increasingly questioned and threatened, and in a world of shrinking democratic space, a feminist foreign policy is needed more than ever,” said Wallström.

Canada has embraced the policy too. Freeland, appointed by self-proclaimed feminist Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has overseen the renaming of Canada’s foreign aid programme in 2017. Now known as the Feminist International Assistance Policy, it “targets the empowerment of women and girls”.

But some civil society leaders haven’t been seduced by the spin. “Don’t just call it feminist – don’t just put the label on it,” said Beth Woroniuk from MATCH International Women’s Fund, one of 10 civil society leaders who met with the foreign ministers during the summit.

“We will be measuring you by your actions, we will be measuring your investments, we will be measuring and monitoring coherence across all areas,” Woroniuk said. “Because it makes no sense to have an initiative with women human rights defenders and then support for a Canadian mining company that makes life difficult for those defenders. It makes no sense to say that we believe in women’s human rights and then sell arms to Saudi Arabia.”

Planting a seed

The ministers will share their takeaways from the event during meetings taking place as part of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in the coming week.

The diplomatic chiefs from 17 countries promised to meet regularly — albeit informally — within the next year. “We planted a seed that will grow into, I believe, a plant with beautiful flowers,” said European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, who co-led the meeting with Freeland.

In addition to Freeland and Mogherini, the conference brought together ministers from Andorra, Bulgaria, Costa Rica, Croatia, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Guatemala, Honduras, Indonesia, Kenya, Namibia, Norway, Panama, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, South Africa and Sweden.

At the end of the summit, a dozen of the participants symbolically placed flowers on headstones erected in a Montreal park to commemorate 14 women killed in 1989 at the Ecole Polytechnique engineering school. The shooting, in which 14 other women were injured, was classified as a hate crime.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)