Michelle Obama Articulates a Feminist Foreign Policy

On her first foreign trip as FLOTUS in April 2009, Michelle Obama visited Elizabeth Garret Anderson school for girls in London. Her emotional interaction with the students obviously had an impact. When she returned to London about two years later, she had something special in mind for the girls at the same school.

US First Lady Michelle Obama has been reunited with a group of British schoolgirls she met during a previous visit to the UK.

On the second day of President Barack Obama’s state visit Mrs Obama made a speech at Oxford University and took questions from the children…

The 37 girls were picked for today’s event because they were interested in science but not reaching their full potential.

Their meeting with the US president’s wife came after a day of activities for the pupils, including campus tours, career discussions and mentoring sessions.

The trip – arranged at Mrs Obama’s suggestion – was designed to encourage the girls to think about studying for a degree.

This week Michelle Obama returned to London and visited the Mulberry School for Girls in the borough of Tower Hamlets.

Tower Hamlets has one of the smallest indigenous populations of the boroughs in Britain. No ethnic group forms a majority of the population; a plurality of residents are of White ethnicity, while a large Asian community, British Bangladeshi (32%) are the largest ethnic minority in the borough. British Somalis represent the second largest minority ethnic group. There are also a number of Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian, Pakistani, and Black African/Caribbean residents…

As Tower Hamlets is considered as one of the world’s most racially diverse zones, it holds various places of worship. The main religions practised in the borough are Islam and Christianity. With 34.5% of its population Muslim, Tower Hamlets has the highest proportion of Muslims in England.

Her message there was equally inspiring.

Here’s the kicker…the First Lady of the United States spoke those words in the same London borough that is the home of the three young women who ran away to join ISIS. She communicated to those girls and their families that – in the midst of feeling marginalized – they are a part of us and we have a stake in their dreams for the future.

Events like this are often relegated to the society pages of our media. After all, its just a “feel-good” story about girls. But as I recently suggested, the First Lady’s “Let Girls Learn” initiative is exactly the kind of thing that defines a feminist foreign policy.

Politicians rarely see women’s rights as having a direct impact on problems of war and peace. But according to this school of thought, a foreign policy that strives to address global gender inequity should in fact be on the agenda of any politician concerned with global security. Particularly at a time when the overwhelmingly male foreign-policy establishment, including international organizations such as the United Nations, appears to have run out of ideas for how to manage or even approach violent conflicts, a more gendered perspective on foreign affairs may in fact be a pragmatic strategy. The authors of “Sex and World Peace” go so far as to suggest that, in the future, “the clash of civilizations” will be based not on ethnic and political differences, but rather on beliefs about gender.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.