German Feminist Foreign Policy - Speech by Luise Amtsberg


The German Federal Government presented its Feminist Foreign Policy strategy on 1 March  2023. This ten-point strategy was discussed by Luise Amtsberg, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance, during of the colloquium "Feminist Foreign Policy: from ambition to action" of 6 April 6 2023 organised by the Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Paris office and the association Women In International Security - WIIS France.

En français.

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Luise Amtsberg delivering her speech on 6 April 2023 in Paris.

Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed Conference Hosts, Participants and Guests,

I would like to thank the Women in International Security, as well as the Paris Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for hosting this conference on this vital topic and for inviting me to address a keynote to you.

I would like to further thank the previous speakers, Jessica Pennetier and Marc Berthold as well as His Excellency Ambassador Lucas for addressing many important issues and challenges of our time.

Moreover, I would like to thank all of you who are here today, for your work and commitment to a Feminist Foreign Policy, for pushing for change for the better when it sometimes may seem difficult enough to maintain the status quo and not be swept away by the multiple crises of our time.

My last and special thanks goes to the feminist civil society, the practitioners and activists, journalists and human rights defenders, the humanitarian staff and NGO workers. As in many other important areas, you are the driving force behind the feminist movement, you are the key driver for equality, inclusion and respect and I truly value and admire your work.

When I came into office 15 months ago, do you know what one of the first emails I received from a member of the public was? It was a message that criticised me for wanting to exclude men from my human rights work. All because I said, when I was appointed, that I would use a feminist foreign policy as a guiding principle in my work.

Of course, I do not shy away from criticism, that is not the point. But this message – in case it was unclear, it was from a man – did and does show a problem of perception when it comes to feminist foreign policy. And that is that it does not EX-clude anyone; it is an IN-clusive approach. Maybe the first one ever.

It aims to make the experiences, crises, voices and, too often, the violence visible that traditional foreign and security policy leaves invisible or unheard. The issue of making the invisible visible, making the unheard heard is, for me, one of the main cornerstones of Feminist Foreign Policy.

As Ambassador Lucas mentioned, the Foreign Office launched our guidelines for Feminist Foreign Policy on the first of March. I am grateful and happy our brilliant Minister for Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock has taken this step and has made this topic so core to her leadership.

And I want to emphasize just how crucial the launch of these guidelines has been: In Germany, but also internationally, there has been an ongoing discussion regarding the term “feminist”. Why not call it something else? Isn’t the term too divisive?

But, as the wonderful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie aptly put it, “feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender.”

She made it more specific by citing her own family’s experience, she said:

“My great-grandmother, from stories I've heard, was a feminist. She ran away from the house of the man she did not want to marry and married the man of her choice.

She refused, protested, spoke up whenever she felt she was being deprived of land and access because she was female. She did not know that word feminist. But it doesn't mean she wasn't one. More of us should reclaim that word.”

Adichie is right. We should reclaim that word. That is why I am proud that we, as a government, have taken the mantle of this sometimes uncomfortable word to describe the way we want to do foreign policy.

The ten guidelines that currently make up the German approach to feminist foreign policy were developed in cooperation with international partners and Foreign Office staff, as well as through a series of exchanges with civil society.

They cover both the external dimension of how to shape a Feminist Foreign Policy as well as the internal dimension of what needs to change with the way the German Foreign Service works, regarding equal opportunity, diversity and inclusion.

Of course, in addition to the positive feedback on the launch, there was also criticism from feminist civil society in Germany, which I do not want to conceal.

This concerned both: the process of drafting the guidelines in exchange with civil society; and the content of the guidelines themselves, which in some cases fell short of expectations. So while we acted with best intentions, we still have a way to go and to learn, for example about how best to include voices from the global south.

And I want to make one thing very clear: I welcome especially those critical remarks. The political approaches to a Feminist Foreign Policy are not perfect, and the worst we can do is to claim they are.

Instead, I am certain that Feminist Foreign Policy is about listening to all voices, include them in the decision making processes and thus continuously improving through critical evaluation.  Openness, transparency and inclusiveness are core feminist values and therefore they must shape the further process.

Our guidelines are not rigid and fixed, but rather a living concept with the need of constant evaluation and adaptation. In dialogue with civil society, citizens and international partners, we want to develop feminist foreign policy further – with room for critical exchange and discussions. At the same time, we need to be honest about what feminist foreign policy can achieve – and what it cannot. It is a crucial fundamental approach, but by itself it will not end violence against women or topple discriminatory or misogynistic regimes. It can shape and inform our analysis, give us guidelines for implementation and act as an early warning system for coming crises.

In my own role as the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Human Rights it is part of my responsibilities to act as an interface between government and civil society and I take this task very seriously.

Thus, in the context of Germany’s Feminist Foreign Policy, I am looking forward to contributing to the monitoring and evaluation of the implementation of certain aspects of the guidelines.  

Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran and women as agents of change

The many political and military crises make it even clearer how important it is to think about such fundamentals, underscoring once again the vital importance of a holistic perspective and the urgent need for a feminist foreign policy.

When I travelled to Ukraine in the beginning of this year, accompanying our Foreign Minister to Charkiv and additionally visiting Kyiv, I could witness the immense destruction with my own eyes and listen to the stories of those who suffer daily under the war.

Teachers who teach their children in shelters, doctors and hospital staff who bring their patients to the shelters with every air alarm and back up once it is over.

A center for those affected by domestic violence which, since the beginning of the war, had to extend their services to psycho-traumatological care for war victims. Or the queer NGO which has doubled their services in the face of the massive violence.

In part due to military conscription for men, the war against Ukraine inherently affects women and men differently.

If we are to see the full spectrum of the horror of the war, we must consider those. It is not just about military operations and effects on combatants. It is also about sexual violence against women and children. It is about providing reproductive health services to survivors of sexual violence, because those atrocities stay with a society for generations.

But it also means that we need to look at our own responses in our countries: For example, Germany is still not doing enough in providing sexual and reproductive health to refugees and survivors or sexual violence, or psycho-social support. But these are critical aspects for the long term!

That is what I mean about making experiences and violence visible: If we don’t see and take into account the experiences of women and children in war, we can’t see the full picture, and we are also not able to provide adequate responses that will allow refugees to heal and rebuild.

In Afghanistan, since the Taliban returned to power, we have seen how women’s rights have practically been eliminated. The Taliban banned women almost completely from public life: from going to high schools, to universities, or even from walking in the park – activities which we take for granted in most other parts of the world.

The crisis in Afghanistan is, above all, a crisis of women’s rights. Again, if we do not make this situation visible and put it at the core of our response, our response will fail.

Banning women from working for international and humanitarian organisations is not just wrong from the point of view of women’s participation in the workplace. It also means that almost all help directed at women does not reach them.

Only women can ensure that women receive help in Afghanistan. So banning women from working will make the humanitarian crisis in the country so much worse.

In Iran, authorities are violently suppressing the legitimate demands for freedom and equal participation of the Iranian people.

The reports of systematic sexual violence in Iranian prisons as well as torture of children, which are part of a deliberate strategy to kill the protestors’ resolve to fight for a better future, are horrific.

And, once again, the women and children from ethnic minorities and discriminated groups suffer most.

I could go on, because these are just a few examples. Examples, which are a stark reminder, that gender equality and inclusive societies are crucial for peaceful and just societies and that we are nowhere near where we need to be.

Women's rights are an indicator of the state of our societies. Societies cannot achieve their full potential as long as women and marginalised groups are being systematically discriminated against.

Societies with equal rights are more peaceful, stable and economically successful. Unfortunately, reality is different – and almost everywhere – Germany included – all genders are not always treated equally.

We know and see that women are disproportionately affected by conflict. But we also know that they can be powerful agents of change to prevent and resolve it.

Thus, the women I met in Ukraine, the teachers, doctors, NGO-workers and psychologists showed me strength more than suffering, hope more than despair.

Similarly, the women in Afghanistan and Iran protest for their rights with enormous courage in the face of such repressions.

Rather than victims of injustice, they inspire me as fighters for freedom and it is them who I think of when I speak about agents of change.

It is inspiring and humbling to see women work for change in the face of such discrimination and even violence.

But it also shows that, as important as government strategies are, they are no substitute for brave women (and men) on the ground who are fighting for their rights, for their voices and experiences to be heard.

Ideally, government strategies like ours can help and support these inspiring individuals and movements.

The Guidelines: The 3 R’s

So that’s some of the analysis that highlights why an inclusive approach that makes all experiences visible is so important. How have we conceptually turned these insights into guidelines?

Our central conviction is that all people should enjoy the same rights and deserve the same freedoms and equal opportunities.

Thus, feminist foreign policy is about strengthening the rights, resources and representation of women and marginalised groups worldwide. The famous 3 R’s. Of course, these core values are not new to our foreign policy, but we now want to go further and deeper, mainstream gender equality and inclusivity across all of our external action, including in aspects where this has maybe fallen through the cracks before. The first R is about Rights. Although a majority of countries have nominally committed to abolishing all forms of discrimination against women, inequality before the law and in practice remains a dramatic reality everywhere.

According to a study by UN Women, 600 million women live in countries that do not penalise domestic violence. 600 million women who do not even have a chance at justice in the case of abuse in their own homes. To ensure that rights are being protected for all, all must be included in decision-making at all levels.

So secondly, Representation matters. All genders and all groups that make up a society must fully, equally and meaningfully participate in public life and at all levels and all stages of decision-making processes. In Germany, too, we must catch up in this area. For example, women make up fewer elected representatives in most rural councils. In Asia, this ranges between 1.6 percent in Sri Lanka and 31 percent in Pakistan.

Our own Federal Foreign Office is running behind with only 27 percent of missions abroad currently being led by women - while the overall average of female employees is at 50%. In the German Bundestag, only one third of the members are women. Other countries are doing far better, showing us the way. In Rwanda, for instance, 61 percent of members of parliament are women. But let’s be honest – Rwanda is the only country in the world that has a majority female legislature. Feminist Foreign Policy is also about making that visible.

Thirdly, equal access to Resources is both a condition and ideally an outcome of equal representation. The need of gender-specific resources is tremendous: For every budget, every promotion of foreign investment and every climate package, we must consider their gender-specific impact.

We are not asking that women be given special treatment, we are asking that all genders be given equal access to the same resources.

The Guidelines in Practice

Next, let’s look at how the three R’s translate into practice:

Feminist Foreign Policy focuses on human beings’ own experiences of their security – no matter what their background, belief, ability status or sexual or gender identity is.

It makes visible marginalized communities who are targeted by violence and up until too recently ignored by mainstream security analysis.

"As long as women are not safe, no one is safe." – these words from a Ukrainian woman describe the core of many challenges we see all over the world.

What used to be called “women’s issues” are a core component of any contemporary definition of security that puts human security at the center, not just the military dimension.

Far from weakening or diluting foreign and particularly security policy, it makes it stronger. A concept that is more comprehensive is almost naturally stronger.

It is the aim of our Feminist Foreign Policy to include a gender perspective and an inclusive approach in everything that is done.

That is what we refer to as mainstreaming. When we say Feminist Foreign Policy, we don’t mean it is an area of policy next to other areas.

We mean it is a way of doing politics in all areas, it is a lens through which we view the world.

At the political level, this can mean pushing inclusive, progressive and where possible gender transformative language, through representation in conferences and at peace talks, by giving access to women and marginalised groups to those who make decisions and by including them at the table.

What do we mean by this? For example, when it comes to conflict-related sexual violence, we must take a broad approach when it comes to who we are talking about: All survivors means first of all to not ignore that survivors means all genders. Often legal systems take a binary approach to justice and accountability.

It is crucial to tackle the taboo of survivors coming from all genders. And particularly for LGBTQ*, nonbinary and transgender survivors, there are mostly still very few paths to justice and to having their needs met.

Once again, making the experiences of these marginalised groups visible is at the heart of our approach – which is why amplifying their voices it is part of a feminist foreign policy.

What is clear, is that we must not only put the needs of the survivors at the heart of justice and accountability, we must put the survivor her- / him or themselves at the centre of any approach to justice and accountability.

We need to let them speak for themselves wherever possible. And we need to accept the reality of their genders.

At the financial level, this can mean ensuring that our funding benefits all genders, by including a gender-analysis in our funding, by addressing gender equality in our exchange with implementing partners, by supporting as many gender-transformative programmes as possible.

One of the main instruments to ensure equal access to our resources is gender-budgeting. Simply put: gender budgeting is about creating more transparency.

If we understand better whom we are reaching and how our funding is used, that will lead to greater clarity and efficiency in the use of our resources.

Thus, we aim to allocate 85 percent of project funding on a gender-sensitive basis and 8 percent on a gender-transformative basis by 2025.

Underlying all of this is a principle which has always been very important to me, that is to make sure to accompany the external goals or criticism with a self-critical look at our own conduct and structures.

This also holds true for our Feminist Foreign Policy, which therefore has, as mentioned before, two dimensions: an external and an internal one.

The external dimension aims at all areas of German Foreign Policy: be it peace and security policy, humanitarian assistance and crisis management, human rights policy or climate diplomacy.

At the same time, by looking inward, Feminist Foreign Policy seeks to make our internal structures and processes more inclusive.

This has to include not only the representation of women and marginalised groups in the Foreign Service, which I have mentioned before, but also the circumstances under which the staff in the Foreign Service work, the process in which they are selected and of course training and complaint mechanisms within the Ministry.

A credible, values-based foreign policy requires critical self-reflection.

We have to be honest enough to admit that there are many more issues regarding equality within Germany, which we need to address in order to render our Feminist Foreign Policy credible: Thus, the Gender Pay Gap within Germany is with 18% significantly higher than the EU average of 13%.

I have previously mentioned the unsatisfactory representation of women in the Foreign Service, but also in the German Bundestag. When it comes to women in leadership positions, the Foreign Ministry is one of the worst performing ministries within the German government, and we will almost certainly not reach the legally required participation of women in leadership roles by 2025.

We need to be honest and transparent about that as well. But we need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

The Guidelines in practice: the external dimension

In the external dimension, it is about empowering women during and after conflicts: Without equality and participation and as decision-makers, there is no sustainable peace.

We do this through our project work in many contexts, for example in Yemen we funded a coordination group of women to reach out to vulnerable women to raise awareness for humanitarian and development assistance during the conflict there.

This is the agenda of “Women Peace and Security”, which I am sure you are all aware of. While it is not perfect, it is a good example of how feminist foreign policy can work in practice.

Without women, there can be no peace, at least not a lasting and inclusive one. Studies and reality show us that, when peace processes are inclusive, they are reached faster and last longer.

When women participate in negotiations, it becomes more likely that an agreement is reached.

And, according to „A Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325” by UN Women, chances that it will be a sustainable agreement are twenty percent higher when women are meaningfully involved.

True equality, however, is impossible when we do not take intersectionality into account, that is how multiple forms of inequality intersect. Those who are discriminated against are often among the most vulnerable. Take for example climate change, one of the most pressing issues of our time.

In times of drought, women are usually the ones who have to travel longer, unknown distances to fetch water where they are at increased risk of sexual violence. Among those who fled their homes in 2021 due to climate-related disasters, four out of five people were women.

Refugee women and children are more frequently affected by sexual violence and exploitation, children lose their access to education and all the benefits that come with it. According to OECD studies, women are more often affected by energy poverty. Other studies show that women are many times more likely to die as a result of climate events.

These inequalities and vulnerabilities need to be recognised. Women are after all not only victims of the climate crisis but also important stakeholders in the fight against it. At the same time, women are also under-represented at negotiations regarding climate action and adaptation measures.

This was of special interest to Germany as co-chair of the Commission of the Status of Women in 2022 and I am very happy that the member states adopted concrete measures to promote women's rights in efforts to tackle climate change for the first time ever. Other concrete examples of feminist foreign policy can be ensuring equal representation at bilateral and multilateral discussions, peace talks or conferences such as the one today. It can take the form of providing shelters in Iraq or pressuring the Taliban, to grant Afghan women their fundamental rights. Feminist foreign policy can also mean supporting an NGO in Nepal that provides counsel to survivors of sexual violence. Or supporting networks of women experts in disarmament and arms control.

In this context, I would like to emphasize once again how much, at the end of the day, our Foreign Policy depends on our partners –first and foremost our partners in civil society.

Conclusion and Outlook

Before I conclude, I would like to return to the idea of visibility, of making the previously invisible visible, the previously silent heard.

This idea of visibility is key when we look at the example of Iran. We are often criticized as the German government that the Iran situation shows that feminist foreign policy does not work. I believe it shows the opposite.

We are highlighting a feminist perspective on those protests, making marginalized experiences visible and giving them a voice, showing solidarity.

This has led to a fundamental change in our Iran policy. For example, we included a strong focus on gender-based violence in the Human Rights Council resolution on Iran that Germany introduced last November.

We are thankful to our partners in the Council that supported this important resolution. And it is the right thing to do.

Just because the regime persists it does not mean the feminist foreign policy has failed.

This is a narrative with which the patriarchy is trying to undermine the feminist foreign policy and we cannot allow that to happen.

Looking at the conference day ahead, I am especially glad about the aim to look at FFP from a Franco-German and European perspective.

Because our aspiration is for a global alliance to establish and apply feminist foreign policy in all parts of the world. By cooperating and sharing ideas and experiences, states can learn from each other. Those states which have already adopted feminist approaches or even an explicit “Feminist Foreign Policy” do so in many different ways. And this is a variety we should use, exchange ideas and practices, improve together as a community.To make our feminist foreign policy successful we need as many people on board as possible.  

We must support networks where leaders of all kinds and all walks of life can exchange ideas and grow solutions together.

Therefore I am especially glad that Germany supports the African Women Leaders Network since its establishment in 2017 as well as UNIDAS in Latin America and the Caribbean.

From solving conflicts to tackling the climate crisis and achieving, we will only solve the great challenges of our era together and if all people have a hand in shaping the solution.

In this spirit, I wish you all a great conference day. I am impressed with the diverse voices, and variety of experts and practitioners who have come together in the panels, workshops and audience and am certain that there are many fruitful discussions ahead.

Thank you for your attention.


This article was first published in French on