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The fight for feminist foreign policy

Written By Emma Laroche

At the end of last year, BBC published their top 100 women of 2022. The list features women from all across the world; efforts of development, creation, and social, scientific and political contributions that are noteworthy. If not to be inspired and empowered, it can teach you, as it did for me, a thing or two about current affairs that you may not have read on your news app this year.

The thing is, women in positions of power and influence should not be empowering. They are working people whose contributions are exceptional on their own. Does the list promote women who overcame barriers because of their gender? Or does it negate the value of their works by encapsulating it as merely female advancements?

Let me retrack. Women in positions of power can be empowering, but if patriarchal social structures could be reversed and rebuilt, it would just be normal: accustomed even to see women achieving great things. As much as I support applauding women on outstanding accomplishments, we might then find more female climate activists on lists rewarding environmental achievements in general, rather than a compilation of the ‘top 100 women’ of the world.

However, what I found most striking from this list was the casual mention of the severe mistreatment of women around the world. The causes which these women were supporting. From the severity of femicide and rape of 1.8 million women in 2011 in the Democratic Republic of Congo; to the deprivation of women to human rights and access to freedom in Afghanistan; and the use of rape and sexual violence in Myanmar as a direct tool to terrorise and punish ethnic minorities, to name but a few.

These women on the BBC list continue to fight these causes on the very day you are reading this. Whilst being on that list brings some personal recognition, I think all what agree they desire something different other than personal accolade. Take Aye Nyein Thu and Maeen Al-Obaidi, for example. What they have in common isn’t their gender, but rather their fight for women’s protections with very little to no international support, let alone with government support to aid the literal lives of women and people they are trying to save.

Aye Nyein Thu, Myanmar, Medical doctor *Image taken from BBC

Maeen Al-Obaidi, Yemen, Lawyer *Image taken from BBC

It may be easy to dismiss the horrors that happen in some countries; everyone knows injustices happen and we are merely desensitised aren’t we?

Global Network of Women Peacebuilders estimate that 80% of victims of war are women and children. The use of sexual violence towards children and people isn’t coincidentally targeted to women - it's tactical. The targeting of women, labelled ‘femicide’, is a form of national marginalisation and discrimination, a strong indication of a country’s degree of equality and development. And these victims aren’t just numbers on a piece of paper. At the risk of repeating what you may have heard for years, these are living, breathing humans who are suffering terror daily.

The education and protection of women is more important than many might think. When women aren’t educated, alternatives become sex trafficking, child marriage, forced prostitution. This isn’t to say that men, or other social minority groups don’t need education, but female populations have faced limitations and barriers that means there is a long way to catch up.

These alternatives mean that countries become ‘trapped in a complex web of economic paralysis, poverty, poor health’. Indeed, mothers who are educated live a healthier and safer life, and with an estimated 90% of income directed to their children, the younger generation grows up in better health, better living conditions, and are more likely to be educated themselves. It is thus a means of economic development as much as it is a human right concern. According to a UNESCO study, if all women went through primary education there would be 15% less child deaths. Moreover, maternal deaths would decrease by 60%. What we must consider is that many of these maternal deaths were children themselves whose fate were forced upon them. The degree of economic and human advance cannot be ignored or put off; protecting women is crucial in many aspects.

Many of the women published on this list are fighting crucial fights, but this global issue needs global support. The United Nations, their Security Council, the FCDO and the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence must stop simply agreeing on the urgency of the matter and instead pledge to put feminist foreign policy at the heart of their efforts. It deserves to be one of the top matters of concern in human rights efforts to save the economy, to preserve human rights, and above all, to help each and every human who finds themselves in these horrendous conditions.

It is tough, as a privileged student, to look at these situations and to analyse how useful my words on this page can be. Acknowledging your privilege only goes so far, and often not as far as one would like. What I do know is that being educated and aware of global humanitarian topics like this should be essential to people. Many have the chance to donate, to volunteer, to find out how ethical choices can be made as a first, very small step. I know that for many of the people in my life, women’s rights are always in their hearts and motivations, and I hope one day we can make a real difference in turning the lives of these women around.

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