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.

Scope of the Policy

1.8 Cross-cutting actions

In April 2023, the First Minister set out his vision for Scotland and the outcomes the Scottish Government aims to achieve by 2026. Equality, human rights and opportunity are at the heart of this vision. This change will be delivered in a number of ways, including:

  • Introducing legislation to incorporate more international human rights into Scotland’s domestic law;
  • Reforming the Public Sector Equality Duty;
  • Building capacity and changing culture;
  • Strengthening leadership at all levels;
  • Making better use of equality data; and
  • Building equality and rights into our budgeting processes.

The Scottish Government’s international work builds strategic relationships to promote Scotland’s strengths and values internationally. Scotland’s feminist approach to international relations, embedded across the work of the Scottish Government, will seek to support delivery of domestic policy objectives and continue to project the values we espouse on the global stage.

In line with the evidence presented as part of developing our feminist approach to international relations, the Scottish Government will:

  • Prioritise policy coherence in the pursuit of positive outcomes in Scotland and overseas.
  • Support women’s organisations, feminist networks and other grassroots movements, including by providing platforms and resources for activists from marginalised groups and communities to learn and share expertise and meaningfully influence decision-making processes.
  • Take steps to ensure funding allocated by the Scottish Government is in line with feminist principles, and that it is accessible and flexible with proportionate oversight, particularly for small grants.
  • Engage in international knowledge exchange and policy partnerships, listening and learning from others while sharing and reflecting on progressive policies delivered and supported domestically, such as the Wellbeing Economy1, community wealth building, period poverty, just transition and Scotland’s Equally Safe strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.
  • Speak out for structural change. Scotland does not have the full powers of an independent state and the levers in the international sphere that come with that. However, we can, as we did with our commitment to loss and damage, seek to act as a bridge to amplify voices that are too rarely heard. These include young people, women and those from the Global South and their calls for just solutions to the root causes of inequality and insecurity.
  • Explore the development of legislative proposals in a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill to ensure the interests of future generations are taken into account in decisions.

1.9 Focus 1: international development and humanitarian

The Scottish Government is committed to exploring how it can develop an effective feminist approach to international development as part of a feminist approach to international relations.

International development is a key part of Scotland’s global contribution. It encompasses our core values of fairness and equality, and contributes to and promotes good global citizenship. The Scottish Government’s aim is for Scotland to contribute to sustainable development and the fight against poverty, injustice and inequality internationally, by playing our part in global efforts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In the context of the global challenges we face today, we believe Scotland has a valuable development contribution to make, by taking a principled and progressive approach, harnessing Scotland’s own expertise, being innovative, and employing our partnership approach, for global good.

Through our international development programmes, we have a particular focus on working in partnership with Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan, with investments made through our International Development Fund. In 2021, we committed to increase our International Development Fund from £10 million to £15 million per annum within the current parliament.

We also provide additional investments to our partner countries and elsewhere through our Climate Justice Fund (see Focus 2: Climate Justice). Further, in recognition of Scotland’s role as a good global citizen, the Scottish Government has responded to international humanitarian crises through our separate Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

In 2021 we reviewed our approach to international development, in light of COVID-19 and issues raised by global movements, such as Black Lives Matter. Following this review, our programme is evolving, both in terms of what we invest in and how our international development investment is deployed.

One of the key outcomes of our review is the Scottish Government’s new International Development Principles which now underpin all our Official Development Assistance (ODA) work and have been adopted to apply across the Scottish Government. These international development principles align with the themes presented in the evidence to define Scotland’s feminist approach to international relations. The commitments in our International Development Principles include:

  • Embedding a human rights-based approach within our international development work;
  • Being actively anti-racist in our approach;
  • Prioritising the advancement of gender equality and the rights of women and girls
  • Being inclusive; and
  • Being transparent and accountable.

These principles also recognise the enduring and intersectional inequalities that exist, with a commitment ‘to ensure reducing inequalities is central to how we work.’

At the forefront of this is our ambition to drive forward the equalising power agenda, also known as ‘shifting power’ through adopting partner-country led development and amplifying Global South voices with the aim to promote more equitable, people-led development.

In line with the outcomes of the 2021 International Development Review, including our International Development Principles and the evidence presented as part of developing Scotland’s feminist approach, we will continue to explore how our approach to international development can support the equalisation of power and the advancement of gender equality.

In order to equalise power within our international development work the Scottish Government’s international development programming will seek to be led by the Global South. This means working with governments and civil society in our partner countries (Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia and Pakistan) to ensure that our work through our International Development Fund supports local and national strategies to deliver sustainable outcomes.

For example, our International Development Fund focuses on areas identified by governments in our partner countries as those to prioritise health, inclusive education, equalities, and renewable energy. Our international development programmes have been designed in consultation with our partner countries so that our development investment in key sectors aligns with their stated priorities:

  • In 2022, we launched a Scottish Global Renewables Centre to facilitate knowledge exchange between our international development partner countries and the Scottish renewables sector; and
  • In the First Minister’s 2023 Policy Prospectus, we committed to launch new international development programmes with our partner countries to tackle non-communicable diseases, to support inclusive education for those who have additional support needs and to advance the rights of women and girls.

Another practical step we have already taken in support of our commitment to equalising power is our establishment, in September 2022, of a Global South Advisory Panel to the Scottish Government on international development policy and programming, the world’s first such panel.

As we design and implement our new international development programmes in collaboration with our partners, we will take further practical steps towards equalising power. For example, we will:

1. Continue to evolve our programmes to provide new direct funding streams for Civil Society Organisations in our partner countries, starting with our new Women and Girls Fund (mentioned below), and a new Global Citizenship Fund which will provide funding in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda, for capacity strengthening and advocacy initiatives.

2. Explore opportunities to provide long-term institutional south-south investment, such as continued support for our long-term partnership with Kamuzu University of Health Sciences in Blantyre, Malawi. This partnership is now supporting south-south collaboration and development through the expansion of research and capacity building with the University of Zambia, driving forward life-saving research in Africa, by Africans, for Africa.

3. Explore further opportunities to invest in south- south knowledge exchange between other stakeholders in our international development partner countries in key agreed areas, such as through our Global Renewables Centre. This Centre will promote and support leadership from the Global South through collaboration with local stakeholders in our partner countries to gather perspectives on energy sector priorities and will design and deliver appropriate knowledge exchange activities. The Centre has cross-cutting themes of climate justice and gender equality embedded in its strategy.

4. Embed participatory methodology, where possible, into programme design, implementation, and evaluation processes to ensure decisions on our new programmes are driven by local expertise, including those who are ‘experts by lived experience.’ Our commitment on equalising power means also working with our Global South partners on our approach to monitoring, evaluation and learning.

5. Review our due diligence framework to build more transparent and accessible processes to encourage a broader range of applications. Again, our commitment on equalising power means also working with our Global South partners on this. We will seek opportunities to remove potential barriers for Global South partners in a way that is proportionate to the scope and scale of funding.

6. Continue to listen to experts in our partner countries. For example, we will continue to work with the Global South Advisory Panel and our other partners in the Global South to consider the future purpose, structure and remit of the Panel as we seek to build strong Global South consultation mechanisms. This will provide an opportunity to further ensure policy coherence and build accountability and transparency.

To support the advancement of gender equality, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, we are seeking to adopt a twin-track approach of mainstreaming gender equality throughout our international development portfolio and creating dedicated gender equality focused programmes. This includes:

1. Providing investment through our International Development Fund’s new Equalities Programme including:

a. Establishing a new Women and Girls Fund, with the aim of providing direct funding to support women and girl-led organisations in Malawi, Zambia and Rwanda, with the advancement of gender equality and the rights of women and girls as a principal objective. Taking a participatory approach, this fund will be co- created with women and girls and women and girl-led organisations in our three sub-Saharan African partner countries.

b. Continued support for the partnership between Police Scotland and the Police Services of Malawi and Zambia. This programme focuses on systems strengthening, the protection of marginalised groups such as women, people with albinism and disabled people, including tackling issues such as gender-based violence and child protection.

2. Mainstreaming gender equality within our international development work. This requires building more gender-responsive international development programmes across our sector portfolios. To support the delivery of this commitment, we will score our new bilateral and multilateral Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding for the implementation of specific projects against the OECD2 DAC3 gender equality policy marker. In doing so, we will seek to fund more work that is gender responsive (strengthens gender equality) or gender-transformative (changes gender-norms and power relations)4.

Using this tool will increase transparency on how the Scottish Government’s ODA spending promotes gender equality and women’s rights. In recognition of the intersectional inequalities that exist, and noting the ways in which gender intersects with other protected characteristics, we will seek to apply an intersectional lens to our approach.

1.10 Focus 2: climate justice

Climate change and nature loss are the greatest threats facing people and our planet and we are already seeing the impact across the globe, including here in Scotland, as outlined by the Climate Change Committee. We know that the impacts of climate change are not felt equally amongst all groups5. In particular, there is an important gender dimension to the great injustice at the heart of the climate challenge6. Across many communities, women are at the frontline and remain disproportionately affected by climate change and nature loss.

The Scottish Government was among the first to put climate justice at the heart of its international action. We urge others to join us in making pledges and mobilising the finances needed to enable communities to take action to address the impacts of climate change. In a climate justice approach, we recognise the inherent injustice of climate change, its ability to exacerbate existing inequalities and the fact that those who have contributed the least to the crisis often suffer the impacts first and worst.

The principles of climate justice align with our feminist approach to international relations. We do not underestimate the scale of action required to tackle climate change and nature loss. We aspire to create a more inclusive society where women and girls are empowered to exercise equal rights and have equitable access to opportunities, economic resources and decision-making, and live their lives free from all forms of conflict and insecurity, which are often exacerbated due to the impacts of climate change.

We are committed to enhancing the global knowledge and evidence base by funding research on the connections between climate justice, conflict and gender (published in September 2022). This has helped shape the strategic direction for our international climate and gender work.

The Scottish Government has also announced its intention to become a commitment maker under the Feminist Action for Climate Justice theme through the UN Women’s Generation Equality Campaign.

Scotland’s global outlook on climate justice is underpinned by our domestic action on tackling climate change. Scotland’s landmark Climate Change Act is one of the most ambitious legislative frameworks for emissions reduction in the world, our next Climate Change Plan will include a measurable trajectory to 2040 on our path to Net Zero by 2045.

The Scottish Government’s gender responsive climate action will build from our work on:

1. Addressing and reducing gendered impacts of climate change based on existing entrenched gender inequalities which are exacerbated by climate change.

a. In 2012 we launched the world’s first Climate Justice Fund. We were also the first country to declare a climate emergency in 2019. At COP267, Scotland became the first country in the Global North to pledge financial support to address Loss and Damage. At COP27 we again led the way, committing another £5 million for the neglected area of non-economic loss and damage, which recognises the differential impacts of the climate crisis on women and girls. And in September 2023 announcing a further £1 million programme to address loss and damage to be delivered through Scotland’s Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

b. Our climate justice funding strives to minimise downstream reporting burdens, recognising the administrative strain of such reporting on small organisations representing the most marginalised, while maintaining the highest quality assurance standards.

c. All our Climate Justice Fund programming is delivered through a participatory approach where the needs of communities are explicitly recognised.

d. We also recognise the importance of capacity sharing, which forms an important part of our Climate Just Communities programme, a flexible, multi-year programme which will allocate up to £24m in Malawi, Rwanda and Zambia over this parliament.

2. Enhancing women’s participation in climate change policy and decision-making.

a. For the last 5 years, we have funded the Women’s Environment & Development Organisation (WEDO) to support the work of the Women’s Delegate Fund, Gender Just Climate Solutions and the Gender Climate Tracker. Our funding also supports women from the Global South participating in climate COPs.

b. Recognising that people often face multiple barriers to inclusion in international processes, we supported the Climate Youth Negotiator programme and trained and supported young leaders to negotiate on behalf of their country at COP27.

c. At COP27, we announced the creation of a new Gender and Environment Programme at the University of Dundee. The Programme expands on the existing Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship Programme and is being delivered in partnership with civil society organisations. The Programme will give women Human Rights Defenders from the Global South the opportunity to spend several months in Scotland, where they can continue their work in a place of safety. Its focus will be on maintaining and building gender and environmental capacity.

3. Securing transformation to a just and inclusive global economy by taking steps towards a long- term goal for structural change that reduces inequalities.

a. Through our support of WEDO, we also support indigenous women leaders to invest in and scale up climate solutions, for example the Gender Just Climate Solutions project which supports gender-responsive initiatives to scale up their projects.

4. Our Human Rights Bill is due to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament during the 2023/24 parliamentary year. We are considering how to progress the inclusion and recognition of the right to a healthy environment through this proposed Bill.

1.11 Focus 3: trade

In 2021, the Scottish Government published Scotland’s Vision for Trade (the Vision). It sets out five principles that underpin our decisions on trade: wellbeing, inclusive growth, sustainability, net zero, and good governance. The Vision recognises the roles of women as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, carers and public service users, and the barriers they face in participating and accessing the full benefits of international trade.

The Vision sets out underlying elements that could support the application of a feminist approach to trade, including a values-based approach and the positioning of trade within a broader economic, social and environmental context. The Vision connects international and domestic policy. For example, it highlights the importance of trade complementing domestic policy that aims to address gender inequality in Scotland. It also recognises the differential impacts of trade within Scotland, including within social groups according to gender, ethnicity, disability, and age, amongst other factors.

Our recently published Annual Report outlines the work we have taken over the last year, including engaging with a range of stakeholders to identify practical steps that the Scottish Government can take to put into practice those ambitions in the Vision that relate to a feminist approach to trade. We have also consistently called on the UK Government to take account of the impact of trade policy and trade deals on women in all their multifaceted roles.

In line with the evidence presented as part of developing Scotland’s feminist approach and our engagement with other stakeholders on gender and trade, our focus on gender and international trade will include:

1. Promoting our principle-based approach as set out in the Vision for Trade to international partners and stakeholders, including highlighting our work on the differential impacts of trade on marginalised groups, including women, and the barriers they face in accessing the full benefits of international trade.

2. Pressing the UK Government to include gender chapters in all Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with trading partners, including identifying mechanisms to address any potential negative impacts of trade and the inclusion of structured consultation mechanisms that ensure women and representative groups are active participants and able to provide feedback on an ongoing basis.

3. Pressing for UK trade agreements to include gender-specific impact analyses, labour provisions on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and girls, and strong monitoring and institutional support around these provisions.

4. Exploring other avenues to build our evidence base on gender and trade in Scotland, as part of our wider work on the differential impacts of trade, such as through further engagement with our stakeholders and the Centre for Inclusive Trade Policy.

5. Identifying and reviewing policy levers available to the Scottish Government to mitigate or address the differential impacts of trade, including to widen underrepresented groups’ access to the opportunities from trade. This includes identifying practical actions that the Scottish Government could take to increase the benefits of trade for women.

1.12 Focus 4: peace and security

As a good global citizen it is incumbent on the Scottish Government to demonstrate our own commitment to securing democracy, the rule of law and fundamental human rights – the vital underpinning of a feminist approach. We know conflict drives inequality and poverty, including specific, gendered impacts on women and girls.

Scotland has a responsibility to lead by example and we will therefore introduce a new Human Rights Bill for Scotland during the 2023/24 parliamentary year. This will build on existing human rights and equality protections enshrined in the Scotland Act 1998, Human Rights Act 1998 and Equality Act 2010, within the limits of devolved competence. It will seek to incorporate into Scots law, within the limits of devolved competence:

  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women;
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and
  • International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.

We will seek to ensure the rights are incorporated in a way, within the limits of devolved competence, that creates and promotes a multi-institutional approach, provides a clear set of duties for public bodies, ensures they can be enjoyed and accessed by everyone without discrimination, and ensures there are routes to remedy available for when there has been an individual or systemic infringement of people’s human rights.

In line with the evidence presented from gender peace and security stakeholders as part of developing Scotland’s feminist approach, our focus on peace and security, will continue to:

1. Recognise the importance of equal participation in all efforts for the promotion of peace and security.

a. The Scottish Government supports female activists so they can be heard in policymaking and peace-building processes. This is delivered through the Women’s Environment & Development Organisation and through our Climate Justice Fund and the Women in Conflict 1325 Fellowship.

2. Support Human Rights Defenders and civil society activists so that they can work to promote human rights, accountability and good governance.

a. We recognise the importance of the work of Human Rights Defenders in international policymaking and engagement.

b. We fund the Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship Programme, which offers Human Rights Defenders working in difficult conditions temporary respite and an opportunity to undertake research, further develop skills and build enhanced networks.

c. We will continue to learn from the experiences and expertise of Human Rights Defenders.

d. We will continue to encourage the UK Government to consult directly with Human Rights Defenders, including alumni of the Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship, and with Scottish civil society. We stand ready to assist in facilitating that engagement.

3. Continue to protect Scottish interests and values in our engagement with the UK Government on defence policy, an area which is fully reserved to the UK Government, including:

a. Pressing the UK Government in the strongest terms to refuse or suspend licenses when there is a risk that arms could be used to violate human rights.

b. Support the Ministry of Defence’s Climate Change and Sustainability Strategic Approach alongside encouraging other efforts to reduce the environmental impact of the UK’s armed forces.

c. Remain firmly opposed to the threat and use of nuclear weapons, pursuing the safe and complete withdrawal of all nuclear weapons from Scotland.

4. Work with local community-led organisations and partners to support migrants, refugees and people seeking asylum, including through:

a. The New Scots refugee integration strategy, which sets out Scotland’s approach to welcoming and supporting refugees and people seeking asylum, including in relation to social, cultural and economic activities and sets out a framework to support integration. The Scottish Government has committed to work with partners to refresh the strategy.

b. Funding for organisations supporting migrants including Worker Support Centre and Talent Beyond Boundaries.

5. Seek to influence the UK Government to take a progressive stance on immigration and asylum matters, which are currently fully reserved to the UK Government.

a. Our ambition includes providing an evidence base to lobby UK Government to ensure asylum seekers in Scotland have the opportunity to work to improve their integration and general wellbeing and demonstrate the wider benefits to an inclusive society.

b. The Scottish Government has been clear on its position in response to the Illegal Migration Act 2023, prior to that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, and in a number of reserved policy areas which impact people living in Scotland.

c. Migration: Helping Scotland Prosper sets out how a tailored migration policy, within a UK framework, could operate to meet Scotland’s distinct needs.

d. We are committed to introducing a Talent Attraction and Migration Service, providing immigration information and advice to employers looking to attract talent to Scotland as well as supporting people considering Scotland, from across the UK and abroad, as a place to live and work.


Email: laura.maclaughlin@gov.scot

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