Baroness Liz Sugg CBE is a Conservative peer.

Liz Truss has stamped her mark on the office of Foreign Secretary by launching an impressive campaign to tackle violence against women and girls globally, and committing to restore funding to women and girls to the level before the recent regrettable cuts to UK aid.

This is a promising first step. But while gender inequality remains endemic in society, there is a need for stronger action from this Government. The Foreign Secretary should launch the UK’s first Feminist Foreign Policy.

A Feminist Foreign Policy is a bold next step for this Government’s international policy and would be a central plank of a progressive Global Britain. It is an approach I advocate in my essay as part of the International Rescue Committee and Royal United Services Institute’s (RUSI) series examining how Britain can be a force for good in the world.

A feminist approach would place gender equality at the heart of all areas of the UK’s foreign and development policy. It offers a powerful and coherent vision for strategically deploying British resources, expertise, and soft power to address the most pressing challenges facing the world today.

The concept is gaining momentum amongst world leaders. Feminist foreign policies have been adopted by allies like France, Sweden, Canada, and Mexico. The US has also launched a National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality, which outlines ten key priority areas for action in both foreign and domestic policy. If the UK were to adopt a similar approach, this would bolster our strategic alliances with the US and other progressive states.

Why is this important? Gender inequality is still prevalent in every country around the world. Even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, it was estimated that 129 million girls were  out of school and one in three women were subjected to gender-based violence. Women are still significantly underrepresented politically, making up only 25 per cent of all national parliamentarians, and are rarely included in peace processes. When women are able to work, they are paid less than men, with a global gender wage gap of around 23 per cent.

Violence and a lack of education hold back many women and girls. But clearly, the barriers to equality have deeper roots. This is why a cohesive feminist foreign policy is needed, above and beyond our current approach. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it is the smart thing to do – and will benefit all of society.  

Gender equality leads to a more peaceful and prosperous world. Evidence points to the fact that societies which oppress women are far more likely to be violent and unstable. Empowering women has economic benefits for all: gender parity in the global economy would raise total GDP by up to US$28 trillion.

Gender is also an important aspect for tackling climate change. A feminist approach to climate mitigation and adaptation would harness the knowledge women have developed on the frontline of the climate crisis and build women’s capacity to adapt and respond to the effects of climate change.

The Foreign Secretary can apply a feminist approach to three key areas immediately.

Firstly, take a feminist approach to crisis response. In times of crisis, women are often leaders and deliverers of service as well as drivers of political change. Yet, they are disproportionately impacted. The UK can improve the delivery of UK aid by using feminist principles to ensure women and girls are included at every level of design and decision-making.

But aid alone is not enough. Britain needs to maintain a sustained strategic approach across our diplomatic corps and armed forces to promoting gender equality on the frontlines of crisis response.

Secondly, take a feminist approach to Covid recovery. The G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council, chaired by the current Foreign Secretary, put forward strong recommendations which include: redressing the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women and girls; investing in girls’ education; reducing women’s unpaid care burden; increasing women’s access to markets; ending gender-based violence; and strengthening data to monitor progress on gender equality.

The UK should lead the way on implementing these recommendations and ensure they are carried through to the next presidency of the G7, Germany.

Finally, take a feminist approach to trade and economic diplomacy. This will expand women’s inclusion in the economy by widening their access to finance, assets and professional training. A feminist approach would also systematically address the barriers to women’s economic inclusion, including gender-based violence, by directing UK trade deals to include legally binding safeguards and standards that promote safe and decent work.

These suggestions are just three elements of what could be a much wider ranging and transformational policy.

The disproportionate impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on women and girls, and daily reports of women’s rights being undermined around the world, are a reminder that progress towards gender equality is fragile unless we tackle the root causes of inequality once and for all. The pandemic has impressed on us all that we are interconnected, and that the UK’s peace and prosperity cannot be secured until progress is made across the world.

Both the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister want to ensure that women and girls are able to play their full part in society  and placed at the heart of a UK-led network of liberty – a Feminist Foreign Policy is their best way to achieve this. It would be to the benefit of our own country and the rest of the world.

This was published in connection with the ‘Britain as a Force for Good‘ series by the Royal United Services Institute and the International Rescue Committee.