Taking a feminist approach to international relations: position paper

This position paper sets out the scope and guiding principles of our feminist approach to international relations.

Ministerial Foreword

Across the world, women and girls face continued systemic issues from economic insecurity to gender-based violence, from violations of sexual and reproductive health rights and climate injustice, to barriers to accessing education. At the same time we are confronting a documented, organised roll-back on the rights of women and girls globally.

The global challenges we face today – climate change, pandemics, conflict – serve as a reminder of our global interconnectedness and the reality that what happens in the Global North also affects the Global South and vice versa. To address these challenges, collaboration is crucial.

Climate change and nature loss are the greatest long-term threats facing people and our planet. We know the impacts of these twin crises are not felt equally amongst all groups. In particular, there is an important gender dimension to the great injustice at the heart of the climate challenge that we must understand and address.

In Afghanistan and Iran, women and girls are being deprived of their most fundamental human rights. In the face of the invasion of Ukraine and the desperate situation in the middle east, nations are being tested on whether they support not just the principle, but the reality, of a rules-based approach.

It is in this challenging context I present below, a concrete commitment setting out how Scotland will seek to deliver a feminist approach to international relations (FAIR) which puts the rights of women and girls, and other marginalised groups, at the heart of our international activities. Our approach is driven by a focus on understanding and addressing the root causes of inequality and the shared global challenges that drive insecurity.

We place a great deal of importance on Scotland being a good global citizen. While foreign policy remains the responsibility of the UK Government, there is a clear role for Scotland in making a constructive contribution to addressing global challenges. We have a proud record of engaging, contributing and leading internationally within the current constitutional arrangements, in areas such as international development and climate justice.

We have adopted a progressive approach to all our international development work, which underpins our new programmes and investments. We are committed to being partner-led and seek to equalise power in our international relationships, including through establishing new mechanisms such as our Global South Advisory Panel. Scotland has also long acknowledged the need for urgent action on Climate Justice and has become recognised globally for our leadership on this key issue. Our world-leading funding for practical action to address loss and damage recognises the differential impacts of the climate crisis on women and girls.

Given the increasingly clear impact international affairs have on achieving domestic objectives and vice versa, it is imperative Scotland engages directly with others to address our shared global challenges. Through our international work, we can contribute to reducing gender and other inequalities and insecurities overseas, including by sharing Scotland’s experience in engaging with these challenges. By contributing globally, we can also learn from others, applying lessons to domestic policies to further reduce gender and other inequalities at home.

In many ways this is not a new approach. Our commitment to women, girls and other marginalised groups is demonstrated in our record – from our investment in Women in Conflict 1325 Fellowships in support of UN Resolution 1325 and other targeted programmes funded through our International Development Fund, through to our partnership with UN Women to launch the Glasgow Women’s Leadership Statement at COP26.

However, I recognise the power in now taking an explicitly feminist stance. Our approach must be driven by those most affected by global challenges. We must be led by the priorities of women and girls and marginalised groups in Scotland and partners overseas, particularly the Global South. It must go further to address gendered inequalities and insecurities by addressing their root causes, towards an international system that works for all.

Drawing on the evidence gathered from a diverse range of sources, the guiding principles and actions below set out our cross-government approach. Our four areas of focus build on work to date and recognise where we can, and will, do more to embed feminist principles in all international policy.

It is vital we go beyond warm words. As a good global citizen we seek to be guided by our values, and in doing so we recognise all of our decisions have implications which can necessitate tough choices. The implementation of FAIR will be a journey that evolves in response to specific circumstances and shared perspectives. The nature of the global challenges we face means governments need be able to respond quickly and adapt to circumstances to collaborate, build trust and encourage greater action and more ambitious commitments from leadership at all levels. That is why we are committed to transparent accountability mechanisms to both assess our international objectives and help us understand where we should go further.

The challenges we face are increasingly connected and complex. We must ensure our feminist approach is transformative and takes us towards a fairer international system that works for all.

Christina McKelvie

Minister for Culture, Europe and International Development


Email: laura.maclaughlin@gov.scot

Back to top