“We [Scotland] will become the first country in the UK, joining a small number of countries across the world, to adopt a feminist foreign policy,” it read on page 73, in a small section on “Global Affairs”.
Whether Liz Truss, only Britain’s second female Foreign Secretary, and now one of the world’s most powerful women, is aware that Nicola Sturgeon has ambitions to join Sweden, Canada and Luxembourg as one of the first countries to formally adopt a feminist approach to international affairs, even though such matters are reserved to Westminster, no-one knows.
But it may be prudent of the Scotland Office to draft a ministerial briefing on Sturgeon’s ambitions. Better still, Truss should announce that under her stewardship, Britain will lead the world on feminist foreign policy.
That is not as ridiculous as it sounds. After all, the new Foreign Secretary has retained the women and equalities brief she has held since September 2019, while taking on responsibility for our global security, diplomatic relationships and international development.
And the former Paisley schoolgirl has often declared herself a “Destiny’s Child feminist”. Speaking to the BBC in 2019, she said, in a nod to the group’s global hit, Independent Women, Part 1, “I would describe myself as a Destiny’s Child feminist. I believe that women should be independent”, adding, “The Labour Party likes to paint women as victims.”
Her free-wheeling, no-nonsense, capitalist notion of feminism may go down well with the Conservative Party faithful, but she is about to learn first-hand that many women and girls across the world are victims – the innocent casualties of patriarchal societies that oppress women through violence and fear. She would perhaps do better to listen to Hillary Clinton than Beyoncé’s back catalogue.
Clinton, while US Secretary of State, famously said, “The subjugation of women is… a threat to the common security of our world.” Liz Truss only needs to look at Afghanistan to see the stark truth of that simple sentence.
The Hillary Doctrine, as it became known, is very straightforward, as Clinton explained in 2010. Women's and girl's rights are "a prosperity issue and a peace issue”, she said.
"That is why we need to integrate women's issues into discussions at the highest level… Send a girl to school even just for one year and her income dramatically increases for life and her children more likely to survive and her family will be healthier. Give women equal rights and entire nations are secure.”
And as The Economist also recognised in its timely leader last week, on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, societies that oppress women are far more likely to be violent and unstable. It echoed Clinton’s argument that the world will never fully prosper if half the global population is refused an education or denied political power because of their sex.
Even in China, the world’s second biggest economy, women and girls are often seen as second-class citizens. There, selective abortion has led to a significant imbalance between the sexes. An analysis of population data suggests that in 2005, males under 20 exceeded females by more than 32 million, when it should have been roughly 50-50.
And the Fragile States Index, compiled by a Washington think-tank, the Fund for Peace, shows that polygamy is common practice in the world’s 20 most turbulent countries.
The terrible reality is that patriarchal societies, where traditional male values such as force and competition dominate, are more likely to be incubators for global conflict, from international terrorism to tribal wars that spill across borders.
And it is much more challenging to manage global emergencies such as climate change if women have no power, whether in their own home, or at the national level.
Liz Truss finds herself in a pivotal position. She is now in charge of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, with its 12 agencies and public bodies. As well as pursuing Britain’s interests across the globe and safeguarding the UK’s security, her department is committed to reducing global poverty and being a “force for good in the world”. She has the White House on speed dial and her voice will be heard in every country in the world.
Seasoned Westminster watchers are sceptical that she has what it takes to be a transformative Foreign Secretary. “She is Priti Patel-lite,” one told me. “She’s definitely more confident and decisive than her predecessor Dominic Raab, but she will always have one eye, maybe both, on the party faithful. She is very ambitious.”
Winning the hearts, minds and votes of Tory constituencies may be her personal objective but her professional ambition should be to build a better, more equal world. And if she is astute, she will quickly realise that a successful spell as Foreign Secretary during a time of global upheaval would serve her Prime Ministerial ambitions far better than playing to an internal party gallery. And there is no better way to tackle the global challenges presented by Covid, climate change and conflict than a feminist foreign policy.
And if she is in need of inspiration, she could do worse than turn to the Swedish government. They have helpfully published a handbook on how to design and implement a feminist foreign policy, based on the premise that sex equality is not just a women’s issue – it benefits everyone.
As young men with guns patrol the streets of Kabul, threatening women who are not dressed in the all-enveloping burka, and women across sub-Saharan Africa struggle to grow food in land made arid by climate change, Liz Truss has a unique chance to lead a women’s global revolution. She could be a truly independent woman.