Margot Wallström took office as Sweden’s foreign minister in 2014, declaring she would pursue a “feminist foreign policy.” She’s now held the post for two years, and it’s still not entirely clear what she meant. While it’s true that an entire school of feminist international-relations theory has developed since the 1980s, the field remains contested, and largely untested in the realm of policy. You could surmise from Wallström’s term, as she herself stated, that a “feminist foreign policy” would promote women’s rights around the world, but what would it say, for example, about the logic of preventive war? Would it prioritize free trade and open borders, or emphasize protecting workers from competition? Would it generate a new way of dealing with unsecured nuclear material in the former Soviet Union?
Granted, Wallström has not had much time to implement the idea; relative to longstanding foreign-policy traditions like realism, feminist foreign policy hasn’t yet had a chance to leave much of a track record. So far, one of its key features has been controversy: The Swedish foreign minister’s first major move was to recognize Palestine, infuriating Israel; Saudi Arabia temporarily broke ties with her government over her vocal stance on human rights (she had declared the kingdom’s flogging of a blogger to be “medieval.”) She has spoken up for migrants and against rape as a weapon of war. And her ongoing experiment raises bigger questions about what it means for more women to conduct foreign policy, not just as ministers and diplomats, but as heads of state. In short, whether the foreign policy is explicitly feminist or not: Do countries behave differently when women are in charge?