On the Issues with Michele Goodwin

25. International Women’s Day and a Feminist Foreign Policy (with Karen Greenberg, Gayle Lemmon, Pardis Mahdavi and Lyric Thompson)


March 8, 2021

With Guests:

Listen, Rate, Review and subscribe on:

In this Episode:

As women continue to be hit by job loss, increased home responsibilities, family caretaking, unaccounted for invisible labor, homelessness and domestic violence, it’s clear the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed underlying institutional and infrastructural inequalities in our society.

It’s time to check in on and reimagine the international status of women and girls. What would a feminist foreign policy agenda look like in the United States? How does it look globally? How does it take into account vulnerable women and girls? What hope exists for ending inequality based on race, sex and gender? What differences do women and girls make as social, political and economic motivators for change?

Have a comment, guest recommendation, or just want to say hi? Drop us a line at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

Background Reading:

Celebrate International Women’s Month with us! You can find a full list of virtual events including discussions, exhibits, screenings and more here.


00:00:00 Michele Goodwin: 

Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times. On our show, history matters. We examine the past as we think about what these issues mean for our current times and future.

On today’s show we focus on International Women’s Day and a Feminist Foreign Policy. These issues are critical for these times. For this episode, we want to check in about the international status of women and girls. What does Feminist Foreign Policy look like in the United States and globally? What hope exists for ending inequality based on race, sex, and gender? When will all forms of violence against women be eradicated, and what difference do women and girls make as social, political, and economic actors?

Helping us to sort out these questions and others, how we should think about these issues are very important guests. I’m joined by Karen Greenberg. She’s the Director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law. She is an international studies fellow at New America and a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

I’m also joined by Gayle Lemmon. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller Ashley’s War: the Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield, and she’s also the author of a new book, The Daughters of Kobani. It was published recently. She serves as an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, along with private sector leadership roles in emerging technology in national security.

I’m also joined by Dean Pardis Mahdavi. She’s the Dean of Social Sciences and the Director of the School of Social Transformations at Arizona State University.

And finally, last but not least, Lyric Thompson is back with us and she is the Senior Director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women, and she’s a frequent Ms. Magazine contributor.

Thank you all for joining us on our show to discuss these critically important issues.

00:02:53 Michele Goodwin:

This is such a critical time to have a conversation about a Feminist Foreign Policy. For the first time ever, we have a woman in the White House. Kamala Harris is the Vice President, Joe Biden’s now the President. There’s been so much pushback about the foreign policy under the Trump administration. So, I want to begin our discussion today around what does it mean to have a feminist agenda for foreign policy. Some people think there’s no such thing as a feminist agenda, it just simply is a national agenda. 

So, I want to start with you, Lyric, on that. What is meant by a Feminist Foreign Policy or agenda?

00:03:36 Lyric Thompson:

Sure. So, in 2014 Sweden launched the world’s first Feminist Foreign Policy, and for them they said that meant three things. Women’s rights, representation, and resources in every element of their foreign policy, so more women doing foreign policy, which is certainly something we’re seeing under this administration, more women’s rights agenda in their multilateral and bilateral strategic engagements, and then also more funding for women’s programs.

So, Sweden has kind of always been at the leading edge of that and no one else did it for a while, it was sort of just Sweden’s thing. But then in 2017 Canada launched a Feminist International Assistance Policy and then subsequently has expanded the scope of that, Mexico, France, Spain, Luxembourg. A number of countries have said they’re doing the same thing.

So, we are actually as a coalition of more than 80 organizations pushing for the US to be the world’s next Feminist Foreign Policy, and for us that means what Sweden did but better, a more intersectional approach to this that would take onboard issues like climate change, issues like racism and colonialism. We have specific recommendations for every stream of US foreign policy from aid to trade, diplomacy and defense.

00:04:58 Michele Goodwin:

So, on that note, you know, I noticed that you recently published “A Feminist Foreign Policy for the United States: A Memo to the Next Administration.” So, what are your hopes for the Biden administration, and do you see the Biden administration already picking up on some of what it is that you’ve pushed for in the memo?

00:05:19 Lyric Thompson:

Absolutely. So, we laid out a 100-day agenda and I would say they’re on track on a lot of that stuff. A1A, it means putting the gender equality architecture back in our US foreign policy approach. So, they launched a Gender Policy Council which has both a domestic and foreign policy mandate, that was one of our asks. It has high level leadership participation by all cabinet secretaries, the National Security Council, the Domestic Policy Council, the National Economic Council, you name it. So, they are doing a lot of the right work on architecture.

There were a number of things that needed to be fixed in the blizzard of executive orders that we saw come out of the White House starting from day one, everything from the return to Paris, the return to the World Health Organization, the repealing…or the recension of the Global Gag Rule, as well as staffing commitments to a global women’s issues ambassador, we haven’t seen that yet, but I’m confident it’s coming, a number of other personnel appointments in terms of senior advisors across various agencies. But will they actually launch a “Feminist Foreign Policy”?

I think that is a question of both political appetite, as well as policy heft. I think there is acknowledgement that there needs to be a knitting together of various specific women’s rights issue policies on gender-based violence, on adolescent girls, on health, on women’s economic empowerment. There needs to be some sort of overarching framework. To what extent will they take that to the next level and say, in the words of the Council on Foreign Relations, we are going to do the most progressive, most ambitious level of this and call it feminist, is still to be determined.

00:07:12 Michele Goodwin:

So, Karen, I want to turn to you and I want to highlight the spectacular podcast that you have, Vital Interest, and the myriad issues that you lift up with regard to American foreign policy. Can you set the stage a bit to help remind us about why we need to re-situate our foreign policy? 

Can you give us a bit of an overview of the last four years, and I know that would be a lot, that would be like ten podcasts to talk about the last four years in whole, but can you set the stage as to what were the things that we saw during a Trump administration or even an Obama administration that needs fixing, that needs recalibration?

00:07:58 Karen Greenberg:

Well, first, thank you so much for including me in this discussion and for having me on again, and thank you for that easy question, really thrilled to answer it. 

Listen, the last four years in terms of many of what Democrats, women and men alike and others, would like to see in terms of foreign policy have been a disaster, and they’ve been a particular disaster for women because on the receiving end of these bad policies women have been, and children have been affected tremendously.

You know, as Lyric said, the pulling out of the International Covenants was in and of itself a signature, you know, premise of the Trump administration, but it wasn’t just that. It was also, and here I’m speaking in terms of perception and gesture and presentation…it was also the embrace of cruelty as an acceptable measure towards people anywhere in the world and not caring about a human rights agenda in any way, and so it didn’t, almost didn’t matter what policy you turned to.

The two I think that really intersect with this conversation the most that I just want to point to are what’s happening with the camps for ISIS families and children abroad in Syria and also elsewhere, which are…have, you know, thousand, tens of thousands of women and children that are at risk, that are without resources, that are endangered, and that countries don’t want to take back.

Syrian refugee women in a cash-for-work tailoring program in the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan, October 2018. (UN Women / Christopher Herwig)

And the other thing, which we don’t often put in our foreign policy bag but is in our foreign policy bag, and this sort of brings in the Mexico part of the conversation as well, is the Southern Border and how the United States has crafted or de-crafted its policy towards immigrants, non-citizens in the country, but particularly at the border, and you’ve seen some very hedgy movements on the part of the Biden administration that have not satisfied activists on behalf of immigrants’ rights.

So, I mean there’s…you know, the other thing that’s persistent in every single administration that we’ve seen in the recent two decades is a…they’re not shy of war, that’s my nicest way of saying it, and we have yet to see a foreign policy that really takes peace and security rather than war and security and it’s time, and this is something…and all of these things that I’ve mentioned, and we could talk about COVID in coming days which I think was, look, maybe the top priority and I should’ve mentioned that, but the inability to handle COVID in a responsible way both in terms of domestic, but international and global policy, is affecting everybody, but economically, physically and in many other ways, security-wise, it’s affecting women and children.

So, that’s just a piece of the story.

00:11:00 Michele Goodwin:

My gosh. And there’s so many different pieces of that. I want to tie in to one of those right away and then circle back to COVID, and that is tell us a bit why you think that the Southern Border has become such a contentious point in our American democracy.

00:11:17 Karen Greenberg:

Oh, my God, because we’ve handled it so poorly. I mean how is it possible that we made family, I don’t like to say we…now is it possible that the country made family separation a lynchpin of how it was going to go forward? How is that actually possible that we still have hundreds of children who cannot be reunited with their families and no real plan on how to do it because the information was never taken down, right? We don’t have the names. We don’t have the numbers. We don’t have the points to connect. But it’s more than that.

It’s also a kind of institutionalized racism that became very robust at the border, not just during Trump, but Trump took it to new levels, there’s no question about it. Obama tried to parse the difference between those already in the country, those without criminal records, and those at the border.

It’s become possible, look, for many reasons. One of them has to do with the weird way in which we overlaid terrorism with any other kind of national security strat, and therefore empowered DHS to be our largest law enforcement agency and to operate at will in terms of what it wanted to do at the border. So, I mean that’s just a, you know, a glimmer into, to what’s happening, but that gives you a sense of…

00:12:30 Michele Goodwin:

So, Dean Mahdavi, I want to turn to you because you’ve been writing about the historic win of the Biden-Harris administration and Kamala Harris being the first Black woman, Indian-American person, child of immigrants to ever hold that office. And you wrote that while her victory stands on the shoulders of many American feminists looking at the activism of women of color around the world, especially over the past decade, that it’s crucial to understand both the importance of her election and how it became possible.

Women's Representation: Kamala Harris as "Partner-in-Chief"
Kamala Harris speaking with attendees at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People hosted by the Center for the American Progress Action Fund and the SEIU at the Enclave in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

And part of that, what you’re speaking to, is an intersectional feminism in the United States and across the globe, and I’d love it if you would just parse that out a bit more for the folks on, you know, the folks who are listening to us today. What does her place within the White House mean in terms of the kind of conversation that we’re unpacking today?

00:13:30 Pardis Mahdavi:

Yeah, absolutely. And I want to thank you so much for having me on the show, and I’m delighted to have an opportunity to be in conversation with such wonderful women, so thank you so much for this opportunity.

You know, in terms of your question, I think what we’ve seen in the last 10 or 15 years is the emergence of pretty strong transnational feminist networks, some of them deploying the spaces of the underground, but really giving birth to a new kind of feminism which many and I agree, we call it justice feminism.

So, rather than focus on career feminism or care feminism, now we’re really focusing on justice feminism. So, what does that mean? What does that look like? Justice feminism is really taking feminism and the analysis of power, the analysis of post-colonialism, the analyses of privilege into consideration as we think about, you know, as Karen mentioned, institutionalized racism, structural racism, and how do we use feminism to bring about justice for everyone?

So, it’s taking feminism beyond just women’s rights and it’s taking an intersectional lens and saying, okay, who are the oppressed, how do we organize, how do we organize to speak back, right? 

And so, what are the movements that this justice feminism has brought about? We’ve seen examples from the Green Movement in Iran in 2009 where feminism was a big part of that. Feminism was a big part of the Arab Spring, in fact it came to be in Tunisia was a group of feminists who brought that about. You had widespread campaigns like Bring Back Our Girls in Nigeria to fight against Boko Haram. You had Mujeres en la Marcha in Chile.

And so, you’ve had these widespread transnational feminist movements rooted in justice feminism, and I think that Vice President Harris really, you know, her feminism is really tethered to that, and so I think she stands on the shoulders of justice feminists around the world who have been lifting as they climb. And so, it’s incredibly important, not only here in the United States, not only for women of color in the United States, but I think for transnational feminism everywhere to have her in this important position.

00:15:49 Michele Goodwin:

So, let’s pick up more on transnational feminism and the US role abroad. Karen, you had mentioned war and how in recent administrations, you know, we’ve just been sort of tethered to war and in fact one would have to think about when was the last time that we weren’t at war. And so, with this I’d like to add Gayle Lemmon to our conversation. She’s been doing this amazing, impactful work including thinking about these issues on the ground. 

You know, Gayle, you recently wrote a piece for Time Magazine about Azeema, who was part of the Women’s Protection Units of the all-women’s force that faced off against ISIS on the ground, each day fighting the men of the Islamic State room by room and house by house. Azeema is part of a large group of women in Syria that fought against ISIS, and one you wrote about and you wrote about this in your new book, The Daughters of Kobani: A Story of Rebellion, Courage, and Justice, and you know part of your work, and you can tell our listeners about it, you traveled to Syria to meet members of this all-women’s force.

So, let’s talk about war, women’s place in war, women’s battling in war. How do we understand it from the perspective of what you’ve done on the ground and what’s the US connection to the wars that are taking place around the world?

00:17:23 Gayle Lemmon:

It’s a privilege to be here with all of you in this great discussion. The book you asked me about, The Daughters of Kobani, just came out this…well, now we’re in March so it came out in February. All the days blend together with COVID, quite honestly.

But the book is a story about the women who fought to hand the Islamic State its first defeat, and the women who had organized really not only around the idea of stopping ISIS, but about fighting for women’s equality and the notion that their community, in this case the Kurdish community, could not be free until women were free and that one could not happen without the other.

A fighter with the women’s protection units of the YPJ, Syria, 2014. (Wikimedia Commons)

And for me, as somebody with ties to the region, my father’s from the region, but certainly am very much raised in the American context, it was fascinating to see this experiment in women’s equality that is among the most far-reaching that has ever happened in the world, happened on the ashes of the fight against the Islamic State, created by women who fought ISIS room by room, quite literally. 

There’s a moment in the book where Rojda, who becomes the American’s interlocutor in the fight in Raqqa to retake the so-called capital of the Islamic State, where she puts her weapon in the wall and brushes up against the leg of an ISIS fighter. I mean we’re talking about people who fought ISIS in that kind of close quarters so that we lived in a place where it would be harder for the Islamic State to launch attacks against the US, against Europe, and certainly across the region, and I wanted readers to understand what it felt like to get up every morning and to go to sleep every night knowing that that is what awaited you and why they did it.

00:19:15 Michele Goodwin:

So, here I’d like to open up the conversation. We’ve got a lot on the ground now, and I want to go back to something that Karen mentioned which was about war and these sort of wars that the United States has found itself entangled in. What’s the status of where the United States is, Karen? Can you tell us a bit about…where are we at, at war, and what’s the kind of geopolitics behind what’s happening around the world, small wars, big wars, what’s going on?

00:19:45 Karen Greenberg:

It depends on how you define war, which I think is one of the issues we need as a society and maybe a globe to think about. But you know, the hostile war on terror that consumed us in Afghanistan, Iraq, and then spread to Syria and Yemen, is still going on. The question is, it is simmer…it’s basically simmering, and what you’ve seen now in the standoff with Iran is that Iraq now has become a contentious space, arguably in our attacking places where, you know, Iran has militias, etcetera. We’ve seen it elsewhere in Syria as well, right, recently.

And so, this is the premise for our being able to have these so-called strategic attacks, like we saw last week, and we don’t know where that’s headed. Is that a one-off that’s a warning? Who knows? If you look at our recent history, that would not be the case. 

Afghanistan is actually a very interesting thing to look at right now. What’s going to happen in terms of the draw-down that was promised in May with the Taliban? Is that…are we really going to honor that and if we do, what’s going to be the cost? And so, this is what’s being weighed right now and we don’t know.

But there are other kinds of war going on. One of them we call cyberwar. I would call it cyber and economic war and they intersect, and I’m thinking about great power rivalries right now which of course doesn’t exclude Iran, but includes I think primarily China. This administration has appointed Chinese expert after Chinese expert and has made it clear in all of its early statement that China is going to be a main focus of this policy.

We’re not at war, but we’re in a mode of we don’t know where we’re going to be headed, right, and you layer on that which is not a sense of war. The sudden, all a kind of focus on nuclear weapons which we took…you know, removing ourselves from treaties during the Trump era now, you know, re-engaging with START for the next five years with Russia which Biden did, that is within the conversation of warfare, right, as a deterrent, a standoff, however you want to describe it.

But in other words, we’re not at war in terms of the declaration of war other than the fact that, listen, I mean our authorization for the use of military force from 2001 still exists, right, it’s still on the books and we’ve used it to expand a country after country, excluding Iraq which has its own. 

So, I just want to say we’re in sort of mini wars in a lot of places and in potential wars in a lot of other places, but you do see diplomacy back on track with the Biden administration and that’s what we could hope for.

00:22:32 Michele Goodwin:

So, let’s open up this conversation to others. You know, Gayle, Dean Mahdavi, what’s your sense on this in terms of war, where we’re at, where women stand within the context of war, something that really people don’t spend much time thinking about at all? Who wants to start?

00:22:51 Pardis Mahdavi:

I mean, I could just jump in just because Karen was talking about terrorism and this question of the war on terror.

00:22:56 Michele Goodwin:


00:22:57 Pardis Mahdavi:

You know, I think what’s interesting is that, you know, the war on terror has this sort of hyper masculinized component that if you think about it, right around the same time as the war on terror came about we had the war on trafficking, which was the hyper feminized antidote to the hyper masculine war on terror, but both of them really kind of castigating Muslim majority countries into the kind of victim and villain trope, and this is where I think intersectionality has to come in, right, is this sort of sense of brown women need saving from brown men with typically, you know, white saviors as a justification for war, right?

And so, I think it’s interesting for us to think about the war on trafficking as a possible justification for what we saw in Afghanistan, for what we saw in Iraq, for what we’ve seen throughout the Middle East. I think that’s a really interesting component just to add to Karen’s really important points.

The other point I wanted to make is of course the impact of these smaller wars that Karen was talking about on feminist groups that are organizing, right? So, you have these really robust, you know, sometimes underground feminist groups, sometimes above ground feminist groups. Afghanistan is a great example. Iran is another great example, right? 

This is where, you know, I’m from Iran, I’ve been working in Iran for decades, you have powerful underground feminist groups that are organizing, and then when the US intervenes in this way, you know, these groups are destabilized, and yet we have a group of ready-made allies, right, if we want to engage US foreign policy in a way that doesn’t include war. We have ready-made allies.

00:24:34 Michele Goodwin:

So, I love you bringing up this point because I think it’s something that people don’t think about. So, how are feminist groups that are working underground, above ground, destabilized by some of the US actions, because I think some people would think, oh, the US is the brigade coming in to help support the feminists, and when the US comes in the feminists rise. So, tell us what’s not happening and why that narrative is wrong?

00:24:57 Pardis Mahdavi:

So, let’s take the example of Iran, and I know Gayle could take that great example of Syria too. Your book is phenomenal, Gayle. I can’t wait to assign it in all my classes.

But let’s take the example of Iran for instance, right? And so, in Iran you have these feminist groups that have been pushing back on the regime, right? This is an Islamic regime that came to power under a fabric of morality. So, you have these feminist groups that are attacking the regime by attacking that morality and actually moving the needle.

But part of the power of this regime, they get their power by being juxtaposed against the West and against the United States. So, when the United States does something like kill General Soleimani, which happened about exactly a year ago, all that does is give more fuel to the fodder of the regime who says, see, you need us to protect you against the United States who’s going to come in and do all these terrible things, so it actually gives the regime, which is a very anti-feminist regime, it gives them more fuel.

Whereas the approach that you saw under President Obama with the JCPOA, the US-Iran Deal, that was a much more robust approach because that was an approach that was reaching across the oceans, working with these underground groups, and trying to make progress, so that was an approach…so, it’s not to say that US intervention isn’t helpful, but it’s the kind of intervention. So, something like the murder of Soleimani, something like the strike that we saw just last week, those things actually set in the causes of these groups who are really bringing about the reform that is needed, and that organic reform that has the potential for sustainability, it sets them back.

00:26:42 Gayle Lemmon:

But one thing too, if I could talk about Afghanistan for a second, which is that, you know, I think it…it is always an either/or and on the ground and in women’s lives it’s grey. It is neither all good nor all bad, and I would say that particularly if you look at the US and Afghanistan there are people who I think are among the most heroic I have ever met, people who created shelters for women and girls facing marriage at the age of 11, standing up to their communities, even with allies in their communities, who found it very hard for their own physical security to give them shelter, but have created a series of shelters around the country, and they’ll talk about how it’s actually very important that the US has some kind of presence there.

And then, there are others who will say, but it’s also I think, you know, your point, Pardis, is very important, right, but I just want to make sure that we realize there is always a continuum and women’s lives sit in-between, and in the in-betweens, and it’s so important that we actually are speaking to people who are pushing for change on the ground.

You know, Kamala who was the, some protagonist in the first book I had the privilege of writing, was part of a group of teenage young people who started businesses under the Taliban that created hope and opportunity when their economies did not function, and really created places for girls to go so that even the Taliban sent some of their daughters to go work with them because everybody needed to survive and needed to get through it.

So, it is really important that we listen and amplify homegrown agents of change in their own communities who are risking their safety to advocate for a better future for the next generation to live in a world that is more just, and the whole notion of women not being forgotten at the center of national security and foreign policy matters to everybody because suffocated opportunity is the enemy of global stability. It is in the interest of all of us.

00:28:42 Michele Goodwin:

Well, what’s amazing is as part of this conversation is how central women happen to be to these conversations in so many ways, I mean other than just the position of victim and survivor by playing key integral roles as feminists on the ground, underground, and so much more. And it is important to shine a light too on the horrors and victimization that women experience during war. 

We see even some of that contestation playing out very recently, and we won’t necessarily go there in this particular show, though we should probably have one about it, just about the horrors experienced by Korean women, right? That’s a kind of narrative that’s taking shape right as we’re on this show.

But I want to turn to you, Lyric, because part of…you know, when one thinks about violence there’s a physical war violence and then there’s also economic violence, and there are issues of trade that are also connected to this as well. So, what’s part of the story in terms of that? How does trade fit into these kinds of discussions about power, about foreign policy, and how do women fit into those conversations about trade, power, and foreign policy?

00:30:00 Lyric Thompson:

Sure. So, I think it’s a very similar equation to what’s being described on the defense side which is to say, yes, women are central to what our goals of these foreign policy streams and yet totally absent from the rationale and decision making as it has been traditionally done.

So, I think what we were hearing previously is often described by activists as nothing about us without us. Sure, intervention can be helpful, but do that in concert with and in listening to the voices of women who are affected and other marginalized people using that intersectional analysis that was talked about.

I think on the trade front it’s actually very exciting to think about what we could do because the baseline is so low. We have at least been talking about the experience of women in conflict for several administrations, and I think there has been an increase in drumbeat of saying you can’t ignore these issues, you have to look at this.

On the trade front not a single trade agreement in the entire world has any binding provisions on women’s rights, so this is a real opportunity to take a chapter from the labor movements, to take a chapter from the climate and environmental sustainability movements and say, all right, there are provisions that say if there are guardrails, if a trade agreement is entered into, and if labor protections are not being observed, then there is standing to go contest that, and to ask for accountability and for, yes, justice.

Similarly, on the environmental front, we have only begun to see a few countries initially led by I believe Chile and Uruguay, and then subsequently Canada’s been picking this up quite a bit, to enter some language on women’s rights as part of trade and gender equality as a goal of trade in the trade agreements that they have been pursuing, however it has been in this preambular, non-binding language.

So, I think this is a real opportunity to step that up, particularly as this is an administration that cares very much about rejoining the climate table which is obviously something that is top of mind for trade discussions and how do we trade differently in a way that is more sustainable for the Earth. There is brilliant activism by ecofeminists who are looking at how do we take some of the green financing and make sure that that’s advancing some of these indigenous women’s groups who are organizing against extractives and that work.

There’s also, I think the whole conversation about how are we structuring our economy differently in light of what we learned. Several people for the first time, but for several feminist economists who have known all along that our entire labor structure is built around a reliance on free subsidized labor by mostly women caregivers, and you layer on pandemic to that and it’s just a prescription for disaster.

So, I think in all of these elements the Biden-Harris administration has been pushing hard on gender, talking about an investment in childcare, eldercare, disability care, sick care, and those are elements that we want to see show up in our global conversations and our foreign policy as well.

00:33:22 Michele Goodwin:

All right, so let me roll that back just a little bit and again, open this conversation up a little bit more because I want to stitch this together, it may look like a bit of a quilt. 

But I’m wondering how this, when we talk about the sort of economic violence and the kind of physical violence also stitched together, can you help our listeners to sort of understand how women and girls fit between those spaces as workers who are, you know, who are not appreciated, who are doing most of the globe’s labor but not being paid effectively for it, I mean, how do these issues come together? Can someone help our audience to understand that?

00:34:02 Pardis Mahdavi:

I can take a stab at it. I mean what you’re talking about is the global care chain, right, and this question of intimate labor. Absolutely what Lyric mentioned, we are in a global race to the bottom in terms of, not just the supply, you know, a flexible oversupply of product, but of labor and of bodies and it really depends on that flexible oversupply of women’s bodies, right? So, how do we see the link? 

I’ll give you an example. The best example in my view is the Philippines, right? So, we have structural adjustment policies that are created and designed mostly by men, mostly in Washington, DC, by the IMF and World Bank. So, the structural adjustment policies that have been designed for the Philippines say that in order for the Philippines to pay back their debt, their structural adjustment policies are tethered to migrant remittances.

So, what that means is that the Philippines is more invested in sending in particular its women abroad because women remit more than men than they are necessarily in creating jobs at home. this results in a situation where over 50 percent of children in the Philippines are growing up without their moms. Oftentimes their moms are here taking care of our children, they’re in different parts of the world. 

So, that’s the kind of suturing of economic violence and racial and systemic violence where you have these policies that are incredibly disconnected from the lived realities of labor, right, where a mother has to make a difficult decision in the Philippines between staying home and watching her children starve and going abroad and not being able to raise her children. So, that’s just one example.

00:35:41 Michele Goodwin:

And that truly is geopolitical in that, right, because it’s not the Philippines alone. And Karen, I’m wondering if you want to add to this, right, because there is the demand that they’re caught in because it’s not as if the US isn’t immune or doesn’t want that labor that’s coming in, in its own form. Karen, was there anything that you wanted to add to that?

00:36:04 Karen Greenberg:

I just think what Dean is raising is incredibly important. You know we talk about the things we can see, right, but what about all these things we can’t see, and it kind of makes me a little embarrassed for focusing so much on, you know, the visible foreign policy effects.

But I do think that the time has come to look at this, you know, underground, unseen economy that’s going on, and this has been going on for way…for decades. I mean this is not new. And by the way, you know, and I’d love to know more about this, but the consumer in this, the people who are, you know, taking these women and using their services. I think the world would be surprised by where they’re going, and by which I mean what companies are using them, what military apparatus are dependent on them. I think this is, you know, I would love to see a mapping out of what this is all about and I think its importance cannot be underestimated…overestimated.

00:37:09 Michele Goodwin:

All right, so I want to turn to healthcare globally, and in thinking about healthcare why don’t we start by talking about COVID, COVID in relation to a Feminist Foreign Policy agenda. What were the successes, count successes coming from the United States with regard to COVID? What are the areas in which we can do better that you expect from a Biden and Harris administration to do better, and are there countries that we could point to where one could say that was the model and that’s part of a feminist foreign agenda?

00:37:46 Gayle Lemmon:

Can I just start by saying, somebody who was left out or pretty early on if you think about the displaced, right? So, we now have more displaced than since World War II, and I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time with girls who have been displaced by conflict, and the future that they are facing without education and then comes COVID, so it gets even harder now to have access to water, access to sanitation, and when you are risking your physical security to go get clean water you end up choosing between staying alive and staying healthy.

00:38:21 Michele Goodwin:

Wow. Who would like to join in with that? Lyric, I know that these are issues that are on your mind and that you’ve been talking about and writing about.

00:38:29 Lyric Thompson:

Sure. So, I think the first step was obviously the return to the World Health Organization and early on I appreciated Dr. Fauci, you know, staying up late to be able to actually live have a conversation with colleagues in Geneva. I was disappointed candidly that the language that he used, particularly on women’s health, was retrograde to…we had better language even in the second term of the Obama administration.

So, bear with me as I get a little bit wonky here on…obviously the Trump administration had dramatically expanded the Global Gag Rule which is then invoked in every Republican presidency since Reagan, which includes a provision that says that previously any US family planning assistance abroad could not be used for any abortion-related activities. That has been rescinded in Democratic administrations. The Trump administration actually applied it to all global health fundings, which is roughly 16 times larger slice of our US foreign assistance pie.

So, that has typically been a day one issue to rescind that just as a first step. That’s not even feminist. That’s just baseline, right? That action actually was delayed within all…actually over the first week and they had this big global health day, but they were using language that included sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights. The language that the global women’s health community uses now on these issues is sexual and reproductive health and rights. So, the slice of sexual rights, which is everything for your…from your ability, your right not to be raped, to your ability to have sex with, you know, safely and with consent with anyone you choose. That’s…those are the kinds of issues in that slice.

Now, I am willing…they have subsequently published better language and I think it’s just clear that they were trying to get the right people on board who knew the terminology and maybe didn’t get the briefing right at first, but I think this whack-a-mole that we play every administration in the whiplash of our fundamental rights and healthcare and our bodies, it will be up to whoever has the pen as to what the United States supports which ends up translating into lifesaving care.

Clinics that were receiving US family planning assistance or US global health assistance and did not want to be gagged had to close, so then they also cannot provide COVID relief. So, there’s this massive reduction of the availability, accessibility, and quality of care that it’s going to take years to dig back from.

And then, there’s also just the question of the gendered impact of the COVID pandemic and to what extent the United States is standing up for those issues, everything from the massive spikes in domestic violence, child marriage, female genital mutilation, the disproportionately female healthcare workforce and protections, and provision of equipment and support for their labor. I mean the list goes on, but I think we haven’t actually seen as much of an ambition there with regard to a Feminist Foreign Policy as we would have liked to.

00:42:06 Michele Goodwin:

So, let me open it up again because there’s some people who push back and say, well, the United States should be spending its resources on matters here at home. Why should the US care about what’s happening around the globe in terms of poor women and girls that those are terrible stories, wish they wouldn’t happen, but really, that’s not really where our focus should be. Let those places do their own things. Let’s stay at home.

Gayle, I know that this is something that you might want to speak to.

00:42:39 Gayle Lemmon:

I think a lot about this question. I have this debate a lot with my own family, Michele, so you know, I’m glad to talk about this. 

The truth is that we need every bit of talent that is available in this global economy that has proven once again, if we needed more proof with COVID, how deeply interconnected we are, whether we choose to be or not, and what happens to a girl at age 11 facing child marriage when we don’t get the benefits of her intelligence, of her knowledge, of her contributions, of her understanding, of her education, right.

Just mathematically, the economic loss, forget having to care about people as individuals, from the pure economics perspective we need every bit of talent. Suffocated opportunity is the enemy of global stability, and we are all in this together, whether we have chosen to be or not.

00:43:34 Michele Goodwin:

Dean Mahdavi, join in. Help us understand why or account for when people say when it’s not my issue, Boko Haram is terrible, sad that little girls in Nigeria kidnapped from middle school, sexually assaulted and raped and murdered, but not our issue because that’s not Oklahoma, it’s not Utah, and it’s not right here at home. What…?

00:44:02 Pardis Mahdavi:

The answer to that is really hard to come by because, you know, I have to say some things that may be disconcerting, which is that this is something that we’ve ignored for all too long in the United States. This is tied primarily to racism, anger, and violence sort of coming together.

But the real answer to this is figuring out a way to talk to people in this country who don’t understand the larger agenda of justice, equality, tolerance, kindness, compassion, and that is right now a very hard thing to do. We haven’t figured out how to do it well globally, and now we have to figure it out at home.

But the answer, of course there’s a measure of, you know, approaching this through law enforcement, but that is just, can’t be the way we answer this. There is going to be, have to be some kind of dialogue and some kind of rethinking what creates this and how to…we’re never going to have one narrative in the country, but we could at least have a narrative that speaks to an increasingly inclusive group.

And by the way, this is an extremely important role that women can play in this conversation, you know, in terms of the diplomacy at home, not just diplomacy abroad. So, I know that’s…there’s no adequate answer to that right now, but we should be thinking about it.

00:45:33 Michele Goodwin:

So, before we end our show we talk about silver linings, but before we get to silver linings I have a question for you, Karen, that circles back in some ways to a visit that you did with our show back in the fall, and I want to talk about homegrown US violence and how that fits with something that is larger.

We saw on January 6th an insurrection in the United States, we saw the Confederate flag make its way to our capitol building, something that didn’t even happen during the Civil War. It’s a certain level of violence and a certain perspective about how the US should situate itself. 

You know, I’m wondering how we understand that Proud Boy Movement which you’ve written about, the Wolverine Watchmen, I’m wondering how that all fits together with understanding the values of our nation, how we understand who we are and our relationship to each other here at home and also abroad. It’s a wide and open question, but you’re so brilliant that I’m hoping that you can give us some insight as to how we understand going forward with a feminist foreign agenda when here at home we’re in such a struggle.

00:47:01 Karen Greenberg:

Yeah, so you know, one of the things that I think 2020 helpfully made clear to everyone is that there is an absolute link between health, health justice, race, and social justice, and climate, and that the world’s most wicked problems don’t respect borders or boundaries. So, something like kidnapped girls, Boko Haram, something like trafficking, trafficking doesn’t respect borders, climate emergencies don’t respect borders, and certainly viruses don’t respect borders. 

We’re in a triple pandemic here, right? We have the viral pandemic of COVID, we have the re-rearing of the social pandemic of racism, and we have this very intense pandemic of inequality exacerbated by climate. Women sit in the middle of all this and feminism, particularly justice feminism, can lead us out, right, because the focus on justice actually looks at how all of these issues are interconnected and how the wicked problems are interconnected.

So that a trafficking ring…so, as you know, I’ve been studying traffic, I’ve written four books on human trafficking. A trafficking ring that let’s say is based in Dubai may be involved with Boko Haram, but they may also be trafficking folks here to the United States as well, and so we should care because it does affect us. And if we take feminism to its core, right, we need to care about power and oppression and injustice everywhere because nobody’s free, while anybody is un-free.

00:48:32 Lyric Thompson:

There’s also just the issue of the fact that Americans have a greatly inflated sense of how much we’re spending on these issues. Most Americans think we’re spending somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 percent of our budget, and it’s closer to one percent, so I think that’s often a helpful talking point is it’s just correcting the record on that.

00:48:51 Michele Goodwin:

It’s something that’s searching for us all, right, you know, it’s the kind of searching question. You know, and as I think about the last points that were being made about safe reproductive healthcare, a reproductive justice agenda that’s global, clinics shutting down, you know, one can see that right here at home. 

Those very same struggles and the results, high maternal mortality, and that high maternal mortality being connected to the failure of people that have places to go to get reproductive health care services because they’ve been shut down in the backlash against abortion rights. So, what’s playing out at home is playing out abroad. What’s playing out abroad is playing out at home. 

So, with all of that one may wonder, were there any silver linings? What are the things that you all are hopeful about where you see changes that are going in the right direction? 

And I want to start with you first, Gayle, in helping us to understand, with all that we’ve talked about and so much more, are there pathways for hope and progress that you see through your work and what you’ve been looking at?

00:50:06 Gayle Lemmon:

I deeply believe that there are ample reasons for hope, and every time you spend time with people who are fighting in their own communities for the next generation you leave so inspired. And I know in Washington there can…it can feel like no positive change is possible, and I frequently joke that I have much more hope when I’m interacting with people in Northeastern Syria than in Northwest Washington because there is just this spirit of getting on with it.

When you spend time with a young woman who survived the violence of ISIS and who then, as we talk about in The Daughters of Kobani, goes on to be part of units that protect other people, and you say why do you do this and she said because my life means that this should not stand, and you can’t help but be inspired by the courage that you see in people all around you.

I mean I grew up in a community of single moms in Prince George’s County, Maryland, not one of whom had graduated from college, let alone gone to graduate school, and they taught us to go to work every single day and to not look for things to be easy, but to press through the hard and that is what inspires me. All those women all around the world fighting every day for us and for their children, for our children, and for the notion that you can’t care about one without caring about the other.

00:51:21 Michele Goodwin:

Thank you so much for that. Lyric, what do you see on the horizon that our listeners should be guided by and perhaps hopeful about?

00:51:31 Lyric Thompson:

A few things for me, the first is that I think we’re almost through with the case-making which I feel like is where we’ve been for a lot of years and now the answer is more likely to be from policymakers, it’s more likely to be how which I think challenges us to bring our best ideas and move to the action phase as opposed to the like continually asserting your relevance to the policymaking process which is a relief.

The second thing to me I think is the fact that the unprecedented confluence of events as we’ve described in this podcast have led us to a place where we don’t talk about these issues the way we used to anymore and specifically every event that I do, every podcast, every conversation, the conversation is about intersectional feminism and I think, I hope that the days of sort of white standard of American feminism or of American exports of our feminism globally is if not behind us, at least increasingly visible and being checked. 

And so, I think that I am optimistic about the knitting together of these issues and the taking of more of a power-based analysis than even just a gender-based analysis, which I think has only been real movement in the last couple of years.

00:53:00 Michele Goodwin:

And Karen, what about you?

00:53:02 Karen Greenberg:

You know, I think that we are in a period of such fluidity in so many ways, identity issues and fluidity, but also institutional issues, nothing— from personal identity issues to the nation’s state. The nation’s state is not what it…what we’ve known it to be for, you know, until this century, and in this new global transnational world that’s been decimated by COVID where institutions have suffered throughout, this is opportunity. 

This is opportunity to join together, to build, I don’t want to say to build back better, but you get it…to build a place that is actually a world we want to live in and that we’re proud to live in and that we feel like we’re being good human beings to live in it.

And so, I think there is some possibility in all of this devastation to build anew. And I think women will…there’s not even a question, it’s not that they should be, there’s no question they’re going to take the lead and I look forward to that.

00:54:05 Michele Goodwin:

That’s wonderful. That actually makes me think about Greta Thunberg, right, so that we see women, and we see girls, right, lifting up around the world. And Dean Mahdavi, I’ll close with you. What should we be looking forward to? What’s the silver lining?

00:54:20 Pardis Mahdavi:

Well, I think, I agree with everything that’s been said, and you know, Lyric mentioned the case-making, you know, we finally have made the case, so I think I agree with that and that gives me hope.

One of the biggest things that I see as a silver lining is, you know, we’ve talked in this podcast about economic violence, about structural violence, about institutional violence, one of the biggest things that gives me hope as a dean now, we are combatting epistemic violence. We are creating new ways of knowing. We are creating new knowledges that are not just rooted in sort of white male, the sort of great…the great dead white men. Our syllabi are changing. The way we think about knowledge is changing.

And so, the way that we’re teaching our students…you know, I love teaching our students because I see these young people and you know, at ASC we have…we’re the biggest university in America, and so thousands of students are graduating with this huge epistemic change. Thank goodness we’re finally combatting epistemic violence because we’re never going to be able to combat other violence until we have new ways of knowing.

00:55:23 Michele Goodwin:

Thank you all so much for being on my show.

Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests, Karen Greenberg, Gayle Lemmon, Pardis Mahdavi, and Lyric Thompson for joining us and being part of this critical and insightful conversation.

And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you join us again for our next episode where we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is with special guests tackling issues related to whether the two state senators model really works. We’ll be joined by Barbara Arnwine, Rick Hasen, and Cynthia Richie Terrell. It will be an episode you will not want to miss.

And for more information about what we discussed today head to msmagazine.com. Now, if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important then be sure to rate our show, review it, and subscribe to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” in Apple Podcast, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Google Podcast, and Stitcher. 

We are an ad-free and reader-supported show. Help us reach new listeners and bring the hard-hitting content you’ve come to expect by rating, reviewing, and subscribing, letting us know what you think about the show, and please support independent feminist media, and look for us at msmagazine.com for new content and special episode updates. 

And if want to reach us to recommend guests for our show or topics that you want to hear about, then write to us at ontheissues@msmagazine.com.

This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers. Our producers for this episode are Roxy Szal and Mariah Lindsay. We thank Oliver Haug for research and digital assistance. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandy Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Allen, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.