What is feminist about Germany’s current foreign and development policy?


It has been now almost one year since Germany officially introduced its feminist foreign and development policy. For FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders this endeavour meant to influence especially the German process of implementing these feminist policies with a particular focus on advocating for feminist global collaboration.

human chain of graphical persons in red and dark blue

Nowadays, the status quo of Germany’s feminist foreign and development policy raises many questions. The biggest one being what is actually feminist about it? To answer this question, I spoke with six feminist advocates about feminist funding (Michelle Reddy, Amina Doherty), climate justice (Gina Cortés Valderrama, Katy Wiese) and feminist security (Hilina Berhanu Degefa, Barbara Mittelhammer). They shared their expertise and voiced their concerns. In a total of three articles, you can dive into examples of what advocating for feminist policies could look like. But above all, this article series serves as a reminder that, when states claim feminist policies, they have to demonstrate feminism in their actions. It is now more time than ever to start an honest conversation by asking the question, what is feminist about Germany’s current foreign and development policy?

Claiming to be feminist requires honest conversations

After Hamas' attack on Israel, the German feminist discourse has shifted in light of Germany’s political response to Israel’s military operations in Gaza and the West Bank that have killed thousands of Palestinians and caused a humanitarian catastrophe. The Israeli government resorted to this massive violence after the terrorist group Hamas killed and kidnapped hundreds of people in Israel on October 7th 2023. Germany’s current raison d'état requires honest conversations about if and how the German government can still implement a feminist foreign and development policy.

Right at the beginning, when the German foreign office and development ministry announced their feminist policies, some of us BIPoC activists and scholars asked curious questions. We required feminist responses concerning Kurdistan, Kashmir, and South Sudan, to name only a few. Yet, many of us remained unheard or even silenced. The current situation is even more alarming. Various human rights defenders and feminist researchers living in Germany, explained that they could not participate in this series. They fear reprisals for themselves and their families when openly criticising the German government. Many added that they do not feel protected enough by the German justice system or fear losing their jobs. This reality is not in alignment with a democratic state promoting feminist policies.

Claiming to be feminist comes with obligations.

In 2023, the German Federal Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development both published their feminist strategies. Both guidelines embrace a wide range of feminist principles, values and obligations. One of these obligations is to put human rights first. The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development declares in its feminist strategy that a human rights-based approach forms the basis of its feminist development policy. By emphasising that it is a state’s responsibility to ensure the rights of everyone, the ministry is committed to putting human rights at the centre of all its policies and programmes.

“As duty-bearers, states have a responsibility to fulfil their human rights obligations.” (BMZ Strategy for a feminist development policy, p.15)

Germany’s attempted commitment to feminist principles in its guidelines bears the potential for transformative change. That is why our series dives into the challenges and the opportunities Germany has faced since its introduction to get a better understanding of what the F actually stands for. When it comes to Germany’s commitment to feminist funding, we cannot yet see how Germany’s “feminist reflex” has transformed into concrete actions (see conversation with Aminata Doherty, Co-Founder of the Black Feminist Fund and Michelle Reddy, the Co-Lead of the Pacific Feminist Fund).

Moreover, the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development claims to reflect on its own role and position in the geopolitical power structure and critically analyses its own understanding of “good development” (BMZ Strategy for a feminist development policy, p.11). Yet, renewable energy policies still prioritise economic exploitation instead of peoples’ rights (see conversation with Gina Marcela Cortés Valderrama, Co-Focal Point UNFCCC Women and Gender Constituency and Katy Wiese, Policy Manager for Economic Transition and Gender Equality at European Environmental Bureau).

Another reason why Germany is struggling to fulfill its commitments is the missing coherent feminist strategy for the whole government. Although it is progress to having the Foreign Office and the Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development on board, it is not enough. Feminist peace and security policies cannot be fully implemented without the commitment of other ministries, such as the Finance and Health Ministry (see conversation with Barbara Mittelhammer, Political analyst, and Hilina Berhanu Degefa, feminist activist and researcher). Only by listing a few challenges, it already becomes clear that implementing feminist policies is not an easy task. Nevertheless, all interview partners see the potential of feminist policies. They go even further by underlining that feminist policies are a necessity for just societies.

Claiming to be feminist starts with you.

In spite of the challenges, feminist actors are advocating feminist policies every day. This work can be overwhelming and complex. For these reasons, our series includes bits of advice on how to practice feminist advocacy on a daily basis. We talk about examples of how to apply intersectional approaches, how to share the immense workload, as well as of how civil society and governmental institutions can work together in a better way. The objective is to illustrate how each person can contribute to making feminist policies a reality. This also includes practising feminism within our own organisations. For example, Michelle Reddy from the Pacific Feminist Fund shares the importance of well-being as feminist activists often suffer from burnout. Michelle’s team takes twice a year one week off, which is not part of their annual leave or public holiday. Michelle defines the opportunity to recharge and recover as a feminist tool to ensure the well-being of her staff.

Another practical piece of advice comes from Hilina Berhanu Degefa. Hilina emphasises that a feminist journey includes asking curious questions and openness to learn. Her advice is, therefore, the red thread of this article series: “We all should be willing to learn in order to get a better understanding of each other.“ On the way towards a system of Feminist Global Collaboration this advice is more necessary than ever.

This article series is part of a cooperation with FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders.