Article by Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides on progress made in the mainstreaming of the gender dimension in the foreign policy of the Republic of Cyprus, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day
8 March 2021
It is a fact that the world of international relations and diplomacy is male-dominated. That women are under-represented is reflected in the numbers; according to the latest statistics, at the end of 2020, there were only 20 women Heads of State and 33 serving as Foreign Ministers. These figures come as a result of the strong, yet erroneous perception that men are able to cope better in the ‘tough’ environment of international politics. At the same time, relevant studies by academics and activists show that in many parts of the world the existing structures within diplomacy foster gender-based discrimination, making it harder for women to enter the diplomatic scene or to take up leading posts therein.
It is also true, that foreign policy decisions taken by states and governments have severe repercussions on societies and quite often affect women and men in different and disproportionate ways. According to international research and data, women are indeed the ones who are impacted in a more negative way, socio-economically, by foreign policy decisions, and this is especially true during times of crisis. Wars and conflicts, climate change, economic crises and crises relating to public health ― as the COVID-19 pandemic has so poignantly shown ― clearly have a much greater impact on the daily lives of women and girls, on a global scale.
It is on the basis of this evidence that many countries, as well as the External Action Service of the European Union, have moved to integrate the gender dimension into foreign policy, by, for example, appointing Ambassadors for Equality, whilst at the same time adopting specific policies aimed at promoting equality, both within the internal structures of the Foreign Ministries, as well as within the framework of formulating and implementing foreign policy actions.
Promoting equality through gender mainstreaming in foreign policy is now a priority for us too, as we have been working towards this goal on the basis of a dedicated strategy ever since the Council of Ministers approved the relevant decision back in February 2019. Following a holistic approach, and aiming in parallel to enhance cooperation with other states, both at the regional and European level, our effort to integrate the gender dimension has already started to yield results, positively affecting also our relevant efforts on the home front.
More specifically, our efforts at the Foreign Ministry focus on the following areas:
- Policy planning: Policy planning and implementation constitutes the first substantial step. In October 2020, the Council of Ministers approved the Action Plan for the integration of the gender dimension in our foreign policy. This is a steering document that includes relevant, targeted actions for implementation, such as the active, substantial and institutionalised participation of Cyprus in the formulation of policies relating to gender equality at the level of the European Union and of the United Nations, as well as the undertaking of actions at a regional level.
- Structures: Ultimately aiming towards horizontally integrating the gender dimension in all actions undertaken by the Foreign Ministry, a dedicated Unit has been established for Gender Mainstreaming in foreign policy, so as to allow for the gender perspective to be taken into consideration in most of the themes covered by the foreign policy of the Republic of Cyprus.
- Development and humanitarian policy: Particularly in the framework of development assistance and humanitarian policy, the Foreign Ministry actively supports and participates in a number of programmes and actions pertaining to women’s rights in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, where specific programmes are being implemented.
- Participation: The Foreign Ministry takes part effectively and systematically at international meetings, high-level conferences and discussions, highlighting the importance of factoring in the gender dimension when addressing international challenges.
- Cooperation: Foreign Ministry actions could never overlook the aspect of enhancing bilateral cooperation when it comes to promoting gender equality. More specifically, in cooperation with the Norwegian Foreign Ministry, we are planning for September 2021, to undertake a joint action that involves the exchange of know-how and expertise in relation to the implementation of resolution 1325, ‘Women, Peace and Security’. At the same time, we are holding discussions with the Spanish Foreign Ministry with a view to planning actions pertaining to the promotion of women’s rights. We are engaged in similar discussions with a view to enhancing cooperation and undertaking joint action with other EU countries too.
- Promoting dialogue with civil society: Dialogue and cooperation with civil society on issues relating to equality and the integration of the gender dimension in foreign policy is vitally important, not least because this is a component of participatory democracy. Within the framework of the Foreign Ministry’s engagement with civil society, we are currently implementing an action with the ‘Anna Lindh Foundation’ that has to do with the empowerment of young women from Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus, through which we also enhance, at the same time, the establishment of relevant regional cooperation networks between participating countries.
- Awareness campaigns: Dissemination of information, as part of the holistic approach adopted, is particularly important. With this in mind, we strive systematically to inform society as a whole on what goes on at the international level in relation to gender equality and in connection with the promotion of women’s rights. In the same vein, we plan and implement training activities for our diplomats.
The above are just a few of the actions undertaken by the Foreign Ministry that are being implemented within the framework of our decision to integrate the gender dimension in our foreign policy. It is pleasing to see that the implementation of a dedicated action plan is gradually yielding measurable results. We shall continue our efforts, as there is a lot that needs to be done, requiring consistency and continuity.
In conclusion, gender equality and the promotion of women’s rights is not a peripheral issue that can be addressed circumstantially, or in a fragmented manner, whilst dealing with other issues. It needs to be incorporated as a matter of priority in our daily lives and be dealt with in a holistic and horizontal approach, through actions undertaken in a number of fields, by a number of services. This is our clear aspiration at the Foreign Ministry. Our ambition is for Cyprus to become in the near future a model in the region when it comes to issues of gender equality, substantially contributing in doing so towards the promotion of regional and international cooperation in this all-important field, whilst facilitating at the same time the achievement of the same goals in our own country.