The Feminist Peace Initiative Urges Intersectional Feminist Principles in U.S. Foreign Policy

Last February, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, MADRE and Women Cross DMZ convened dozen of women activists, scholars, political strategists and organizers to discuss ways to reconstruct a “movement-driven U.S. foreign policy” with “intersectional feminist principles” driven primarily by social movements. Launching what became known as the Feminist Peace Initiative, they challenged exorbitant U.S. military spending and foreign policy rooted in hierarchy and domination, focusing resources on existential global climate threats, racial injustice, escalating conflicts and wars, and debilitating, post-pandemic socio-economic status.

“We co-founded the Feminist Peace Initiative at a historical moment where people increasingly grapple with the U.S.’s role in the world,” said Diana Duarte, MADRE’s director of policy and strategic engagement. “We live with a powerful ethos of American exceptionalism, a mindset that the U.S. has a unique right to exert its will on the world. We call for a feminist paradigm shift away from a hierarchical, oppressive approach, towards a more collaborative worldview, rooted in care, transcending national boundaries.”

Aiming to transform U.S. foreign policy, the Initiative joins peace, climate and racial justice, and diplomacy activists worldwide to “exchange learnings and strategies” applicable to communities in the U.S. and abroad. Its manifesto  A Vision for a Feminist Peace: Building a Movement-Driven Foreign Policy confronts destructive U.S. foreign policy aspects, offering three groundbreaking frameworks:

●           Defund the police; defund the military.

●           End militarism in our communities and abroad.

●           Stop investment in weapons of war; divert to housing, childcare, healthcare, education, clean environment.

The World’s Biggest Polluter: The U.S. Military

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol exempts the U.S. military—the world’s largest historical polluter and fossil fuel user—from reporting its emissions. Mint Press News reports the armed forces use 21 billion liters of fuel, creating “750,000 tons of toxic waste annually in depleted uranium, oil, jet fuels, pesticides, defoliants, lead and other chemicals.”

With many civil society representatives kept out of COP 26, the fossil fuel industry had the largest delegation–over 500 lobbyists from 100+ companies. Beyond climate perils and the resulting epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in the U.S., Seeding Sovereignty reports “a direct correlation between increased rates of sexual abuse, trafficking and domestic violence against women and children in regions where fossil fuel extraction companies set up ‘man camps’ to house workers.”

We live with a powerful ethos of American exceptionalism, a mindset that the U.S. has a unique right to exert its will on the world. We call for a feminist paradigm shift towards a more collaborative worldview, rooted in care that transcends national boundaries.

“A legacy of corruption and abuse, no serious oversight, transparency, and accountability has led to cases of gender-specific violence: physical assault, sexual abuse, denial of medical care, forced sterilizations with overall inhumane detention conditions, due process violations, and dehumanizing border crossings,” said Ramon Mejia, anti-militarism national organizer at the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.

“The conditions people flee—economic, violence—are push factors often created by U.S. policies, and exacerbated by the climate catastrophe, a result of corporate extraction or militarized pollution. Our membership connects to migrant communities who affirm the right to remain, by demanding a reparative U.S. foreign policy approach, and the right to migrate and seek refuge.”

The “interconnected web” of policing and militarism abroad reinforces and benefits U.S. police departments’ military surplus equipment use against protesters. The Initiative calls for shifting military and police investments (which diminish safety), to community-wide healthcare systems, pandemic recovery sources, and defining human security as the “real needs to keep us safe and healthy.”

“The U.S. military-first approach to foreign policy has direct implications for people living in the U.S.,” said Christine Ahn, executive director of Women Cross DMZ. “Militarism and endless wars not only destabilize other countries but directly rob our communities of the resources we desperately need to live healthy, secure lives.”

Calling “for a peace-first approach to the Korean conflict,” Women Cross DMZ presses that unless the U.S. reaches peace and normalized relations with North Korea, “denuclearization of the peninsula will remain a pipe dream.” The transnational feminist peace campaign, Korea Peace Now!, calls for “centering the voices of those most impacted by the conflict”—the North Korean women and children harmed by U.S.-led sanctions or millions of families torn apart by the ongoing war. Women Cross DMZ helped seed the Feminist Peace Initiative, sharing their model of organizing with other communities impacted by U.S. war and militarism.

“We’ve built a formidable multi-generational grassroots movement largely led by Korean Americans and women pushing an end to the longest U.S. overseas conflict,” said Ahn. “Imagine the world we can create when other diasporic communities also organize to shift U.S. foreign policy away from forever wars.”

A Movement Driven Feminist Approach to Foreign and Domestic Policies

“We have a two-prong strategy: Engage with social movement leadership in the U.S. to breakdown that binary between U.S. and the rest of the world, and connect with progressive U.S. policymakers with demands shaped by grassroots feminist movements,” Duarte said. “Foreign policy decisions can no longer be in an ‘elite rarefied realm’ without access to the communities directly impacted by these decisions.”

For inroads into U.S. policy spaces, the Initiative will ally with progressive voices in U.S. Congress whose firm stance on racial or climate justice can “move the dial.” Offering to engage unheard grassroots voices into policy-making spaces, confronting tokenization of women, Black and Brown individuals, the Initiative calls for injecting wider organized structures, movements and collective voices into policy making to shift to a more feminist, human rights-based structure supportive of a feminist foreign policy.

“While the terminology of feminist foreign policy has come up, we ask what it really means and what kind of transformation it requires. We rally people around the transformative potential of bringing feminist approaches to the table, shaping policies impacting our planet’s climate and for peace in generations to come. We want to put fire in people’s bellies about its possibilities,” said Duarte.

The current paradigm, racialized and rooted in oppressive systems, has distressed marginalized communities and countries. Women of color have stepped up as change makers in worldwide movements–needing more leadership space.

We rally people around the transformative potential of bringing feminist approaches to the table, shaping policies impacting our planet’s climate and for peace in generations to come. We want to put fire in people’s bellies about its possibilities.

Government officials and policymakers can’t tinker at the edges at such gatherings as COP 26, operating in business as usual while frontline communities worldwide are most impacted. Fundamental, transformative solutions, and full fossil fuel industry divestment, is a prevention commitment—playing around with mathematical equations of the carbon market is a false solution, she says, like net zero emissions goals proclamations which beyond “fanfare” offer no fundamental changes.

“Policy makers must take heed to the demands of Indigenous, Black and Brown communities at the front lines of the climate crisis and U.S. wars,” said Duarte. “Those demands taken seriously can transform everything.”

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Jackie Abramian is a social enterprise advisor and board member, committed to amplifying the work of women peace-builders, change makers and social entrepreneurs, empowering girls and women’s equity worldwide, ensuring they have a seat, or two, at the table and are on “the menu” during all negotiations. She’s a member of International Coalition for Democratic Renewal (ICDR) Working Group on Women, Democracy, Human Rights and Security (WDHRS), a corporate communications strategist, and the founder of Global Cadence. Her columns and blogs have appeared in Forbes Women, Thrive Global, HuffPost, GritDaily among others.