Rolemodels: Feminism in Foreign Politics

We talked to Kristina Lunz, Co-Founder and Germany Director of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) about her experience as an advocate for feminist foreign policy and diplomacy.  Before co-founding CFFP, Kristina worked for the United Nations Development Programme in New York and Myanmar. She studied diplomacy and international politics in Oxford, London and Stanford. She further initiated various campaigns and initiatives against sexualised violence, gender discrimination and inequalities.

What does a typical day look like in your life?

Kristina: It’s a bit all over the place, I guess. So at this point, because I only just started building up the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy here in Berlin it feels like there is no normal day.  Today for example, I worked a lot on the events coming up this week. I am flying to Oxford and London for the rest of this week tomorrow where we have three panel discussions. Later today I have a meeting with the registry where we will finally get registered as a charitable limited liability company. I write articles, I manage my team and I am trying to stay on top of everything that I want to do while I am making sure that this organisation is running.

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, your life’s journey so far and how you came to where you are now?

Kristina Lunz in Oxford

Kristina: I’ve been an activist and I’ve been working in foreign policy and international politics. One of the characteristics that have led to this is that I grew up in a conservative environment in Bavaria, a village with 80 people. No one in my whole family has ever gone to university, except myself. I studied psychology, but then was really interested in international politics. At some point, thanks to other role models and people who really encouraged me, I ended up for my first master’s in London and then with a full scholarship in Oxford, where I studied diplomacy. So my experiences with gender-based discrimination, that I guess all women face, and my experiences with classism as a village working class girl in Oxford have led me to become an activist. I started my career after Oxford in Columbia with a women’s rights organisation and then afterwards worked for the United Nations in New York and Myanmar and I am just fascinated by international politics. I am kind of living my dream now, because with this organisation, the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, I am bringing together the aspects of activism, international politics and diplomacy and building up my own company.

Was there a specific moment when you decided to become an activist and work towards gender equality?

Kristina: For the feminist activism, it was definitely a process. I guess I’m a late feminist. I wasn’t aware of gender inequality until my early twenties. So I learned everything about human rights and structural discrimination during a summer institute in Stanford about political psychology, which was life-changing for me and then also during my first master’s in London. For one summer I came back home and I saw the German BILD newspaper which asked its readers on the front page to rate the most beautiful cleavage of German TV hosts. I was really outraged, because I knew how the objectification of a certain group of people can lead to increasing violence towards this group of people. And we have a massive rate of violence against women. So this is when I started my first campaign against the BILD newspaper and the objectification of women and then one thing led to another. Once you decide to speak out, and I gave lots of interviews and wrote about it, you don’t stop and you see new things that you want to change and your passion only grows.

Can you tell us a bit about first challenges and how you overcame these challenges? What kind of surprises did you experience about being an activist at first?

Kristina: I was really naïve and I had no idea about activism or about building a campaign. Very quickly after I launched the petition, I had a team of ten people and there were so many things I never thought about before and so many surprises. The biggest one was the hatred that I received, the online hatred and online harassment, the rape threats, threats against my family and the very strong impulse by mostly men on the internet, who put so much effort in trying to silence me. It did silence me for a week and I cried a lot and I couldn’t cope with the hatred, insults and threats. But I overcame it thanks to other strong people in my life, people who supported me, people who had gone through the same before I did and they explained to me the mechanisms behind it. Why people do it, how this is part of a sexist society that is trying to keep women from speaking out publically. Understanding the mechanisms behind it and understanding that it is not about me personally, but the fact that I’m a young woman speaking out against a society’s sexist architecture. Also understanding this inertia in society and trying to realise how many “naysayers” we have in our society, that complain a lot but don’t actually do anything, helped me a lot. And I realized that the healthiest and most valuable thing for me would be to surround myself with positive people who are also active change-makers.

What is your particular role at the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP)?

Kristina: I am the Co-Founder and Country Director in Germany of CFFP. My Co-Founder, Marissa, who is based in London, initially started with the first version of CFFP a bit more than a year before. We got in touch, because I also focused on feminist foreign policy in my work at the UN and other organisations. We decided to join forces and are now building CFFP up together, Marissa in London and me here in Berlin. So my role includes leading the team here, I am responsible for the strategy here, I am currently overseeing the events and publications and I am making sure that it all works out and we grow as quickly as possible.

What is the motivation behind including female perspectives and a request for gender equality in foreign policy?

Kristina Lunz on a panel discussion in London

Kristina: The idea of feminist foreign policy in practice is quiet new. In 2014, Sweden decided to call its foreign policy feminist and they have been practicing a feminist foreign policy ever since. Canada adopted it last year and there is some movement. However, in Germany it still is quite a niche topic. Having had the privilege of not only studying international politics and diplomacy, but also working in that area, I saw many things that I am not happy with and I talked to people who felt uncomfortable by the fact that international and foreign politics is so hugely dominated by white, male, Western ideas. In fact, only 16% of all diplomats of the fifty wealthiest nations worldwide are women, in Germany it’s even worse, only 13.4% of German ambassadors are female. So we still have very few women, but most importantly very few feminist perspectives in diplomacy and international politics. With this organisation we want to ask questions on power, such as who is represented?, who is speaking?, what issues and whose concerns are being taken seriously?. We want to move away from this colonised, Anglo-Saxon understanding of world politics. We want to disrupt that approach. In fact, I have recently written an article about this exact topic.

Do you think that women deal with political power differently than men?

Kristina: I don’t think there is such a thing as innate, biological differences in how different people deal with political power. But because of the fact that in society certain groups have been in power for centuries whilst oppressing other groups, there is a difference in how these different groups deal with power. We live in a society where it’s always men who hold most of the power, it’s always men who decide what issues are prioritised. It might very well be that, if we had a very different world history where women had always been the rulers, that they may just be as violent, but we will never find out as women have historically never been in power to the same extent that men have.

What do you think needs to be done in order for our foreign policy include more female perspectives?

Kristina: I think it must at least be a double strategy. First, representation matters. Women deserve 50% of all positions of power as half of our population are women. There should never be any discussion about that. Second, for foreign policy and diplomacy we need to reflect on our social values. I don’t think it’s enough to include more women, we need feminist voices. We need a very strong dedication to social-justice-based values of equality between all groups of society.

How do you convince men to join the movement, as well?

Kristina: I guess we could discuss about this question for hours, but I am trying to find a smart answer to this one. First of all, I don’t see it as my job anymore to convince men or to explain to them why we need feminist policies. I don’t owe them any explanation or education. There is tons of material out there and if you are a decent human being who is interested in living in a social and fair world, I think that you become aware of societal structures and can find out where the problems lay yourself. Of course, I am very much willing to help men understand society as I, as a woman, perceive it and share my ideas with people who are genuinely interested in the topic. It is important to try to make more men join the movement. Feminism means eradicating traditional gender-stereotypes for everyone and we need everyone to participate in a feminist movement, but I think it’s not anyone’s duty to educate others. We all have our own responsibilities to educate ourselves.

I don’t think it’s any secret that in many fields women felt that their gender has affected the way that they are perceived or treated. Have you ever been in a situation like that? How did you handle it

Kristina: Especially in the area of political psychology, there is lots of research done on how women are perceived compared to men. If you have a man and woman as a professor, who teach the exact same content in their classrooms, men are always perceived as more competent. There are tons of biases. There are many situations where I do have the feeling that I’m not heard as much as I should be. I have never lived a male life, so I don’t know if it would have been different, but I do feel that on average I am not taken as seriously as my male counterparts. There have been so many instances where I go out with a male friend to a conference and people would refer to him with questions and not to me. These things happen a lot. Women also receive more hatred on the internet and are lots more criticised for what they do, from dressing themselves to staging opinions. If I believe that such treatment is very obvious, I do speak up and I think it is very important to let people know how you want to be treated and perceived.

Do you have a mentor or a role model?

Kristina: There are many people without whom I wouldn’t be sitting here and I wouldn’t have done what I’m doing. To mention one of my role models and mentor: Scilla Elworthy. I used to work for her while I was still at Oxford, she is a three times Nobel Peace Prize nominee and has built several NGO’s on nuclear disarmament, peace building and women’s empowerment. The conversations I had with her and her encouragement to do my own thing have helped me immensely.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your 20-year-old self? What advice would you give to your 80-year-old self?

Kristina: To my 20-year-old self I would say: Stop trying to be liked by everyone. Stop caring about other people’s thoughts and other people’s perceptions of yourself and start reading feminist literature and articles a lot earlier. Reading feminist literature and understanding how society works and why we are perceived in a certain way because of our gender, made me a lot more self-confident.

To my 80-year-old self I would say: don’t work so much and take one or two days a week off only for reading and travelling, because I do think I will still be working when I am at that age, hopefully if I am healthy and fit.

What is next for you? What are the things you are most excited about at the moment?

Kristina: I am flying to Oxford and London for the rest of this week so I’m very excited about this. My co-founder and I are invited to speak on panels on feminist female policy. I’m hugely grateful and excited about this. And the week after we have our first event with CFFP in Berlin, which is an exclusive breakfast where we want to gather those who are already working on the topic on inclusive foreign policy. Almost everyone who we invited has confirmed, including the deputy ambassadors of Sweden, Finland and many NGOs and we are hugely grateful for those people’s interest and willingness to listen to what we are presenting. In general, I am really excited and grateful about the people surrounding me at the moment, who have helped me to achieve so much within the last two and a half months.

The interview was conducted by Christina Leonhart