Indian foreign policy needs more women
Whenever India has undertaken big foreign policy engagements, very often, women experts and diplomats are conspicuous by their absence. Women account for only 16% of the Indian Foreign Service and only 18% of top leadership positions in embassies around the world.
In a recent seminar on gender mainstreaming in India’s foreign policy, Ranjana Kumari, director, Centre for Social Research, spoke of how Indian foreign policy should become more gender-inclusive and adopt a feminist foreign policy (FFP) framework. Sweden, Canada, The Netherlands, and Mexico are countries which have adopted this framework and, she feels that India could benefit from doing so too.
There is a misconception that women tend to veer away from what are described as hard issues of security and trade and focus on relatively soft issues. But today, nothing is considered a soft issue. Health, human rights, women and child trafficking, economic and political migration, and conflict are all issues that impact the security of nations. And it is in these that women’s voices must be heard much more.
Former foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh, feels that gender inclusion in foreign policy could lead to changes in priorities. “It is impossible to separate any one issue from the larger canvas of national security today,” says Singh.
An FFP framework would work to acknowledge women’s agency in matters of national and international import in dealing with other countries and organisations. The participation of women in foreign policy would strengthen democratic institutions and make them more inclusive, it would provide a fresh perspective on how we view the world, and how it views us.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar says that the representation of women in his ministry is being actively promoted. “I agree that we need to look at the world from the perspective of women, we need a gender-balanced foreign policy. We need to look at three things here: Getting more women to engage with foreign policy issues, reflect women’s interests in foreign policy, and bring in a feminist perspective to foreign policy.”
But he is not sure that the FPP as it exists in other countries can be replicated in India easily. “These countries have different cultures, different historical traditions. We need such a framework to evolve organically for it to work. But, yes, certainly, we need much more rebalancing in this area.”
It is not as though India has been averse to the inclusion of women in what has been termed hardcore security issues internationally; the problem is that it has been piecemeal. An all-woman police force from India was deployed under the aegis of the United Nations (UN) in Liberia back in 2007. Such units have been sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2019 as well as the Republic of South Sudan.
Indeed, the role of women in conflict resolution and peace processes — vital cogs in foreign policy — cannot be understated. But so far, this has not become an integral part of the foreign policy and security narratives. Nandita Baruah, country head of The Asia Foundation, says “The FFP is aimed at giving voice to a gender perspective in foreign policy which, in turn, contributes to sustainable development and human security.”
Much more needs to be done to include women at various policy levels in foreign relations. India is a member of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, a forum where India can influence gender perspectives globally. We need to lead by example.
The views expressed are personal