Marissa Conway, Feminist Foreign Policy

Marissa Conway is the co-founder of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP), a research and advocacy organisation dedicated to promoting a feminist foreign policy across the globe.  Marissa has just been recognised on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List alongside her co-founder Kristina Lunz.  Oh, and she is also a SOAS University of London alumna, having studied MA Gender Studies in 2015-16!

Marissa returns to SOAS on 11 March as part of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy’s Annual Lecture, entitled Women in Diplomacy.

What is Feminist Foreign Policy?

“A feminist foreign policy is a framework which elevates the everyday lived experience of marginalised communities to the forefront and provides a broader and deeper analysis of global issues.  It takes a step outside the black box approach of traditional foreign policy thinking and its focus on military force, violence, and domination by offering an alternate and intersectional rethinking of security from the viewpoint of the most marginalised. It is a multidimensional policy framework that aims to elevate women’s and marginalised groups’ experiences and agency to scrutinise the destructive forces of patriarchy, capitalism, racism, and militarism.  At the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, we believe a feminist approach to foreign policy provides a powerful lens through which we can interrogate the hierarchical global systems of power that have left millions of people in a perpetual state of vulnerability.”

What have been some of your campaigns at CFFP?

“CFFP UK grounds the overarching ideological framework of feminist foreign policy into UK-specific advocacy areas.  Though we recognize that this can play out in a variety of ways, the key issues we are invested in are increasing female representation in politics, eliminating nuclear weapons, and ending indefinite detention of immigrants.  Many of our events and publications focus on these issues.

“We are also currently running a few fabulous projects:

  • We publish a biannual print journal, called Disrupted. Each issue covers a new theme in the foreign policy field and sources art and articles from around the world which use feminist analysis to dissect foreign policy as it is and make suggestions for where it can go. Our Winter 2019 issue focuses on immigration and can be purchased on our site here.
  • Together with Chatham House and the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), we are producing a “Gender and International Affairs” toolkit, which outlines best practices for incorporating a gender lens into the research conducted by international affairs-focused think tanks in the UK. We have wrapped up a year-long series of consultations with relevant stakeholders and are in the process of drafting the toolkit, which we expect to publish by the end of 2019.
  • This year, CFFP UK is developing a “UK Feminist Foreign Policy Declaration”. which will be available for a UK-wide consultation later this year and will launch in December. In collaboration with other NGOs, we will be developing a framework for implementing feminist foreign policy within the UK and providing specific policy recommendations for policymakers.”

What do you enjoy most about your work?

“Building a not-for-profit from scratch means that every step of the way presents a huge learning curve. But that’s also what I love about it.  There’s an incredible degree of creativity that goes into running CFFP beyond developing our advocacy focus and campaigns around feminist foreign policy.  It also means building strong internal communications structures, developing a solid fundraising strategy, networking effectively, and refining our branding and online presence, among many other things.  Maybe one day my role will settle into something a little more predictable, but I love the ever-changing and sometimes surprising twists and turns that founding CFFP has brought.”

And the biggest challenges?

“I always like to say: you don’t know what you don’t know.  There’s a limit to my knowledge around building a business, around foreign policy, and around feminism.  This all can either be seen as overwhelming, or I can see it as an amazing learning opportunity.  Making sure that I have ultimate grace with myself when I mess up – which I invariably do, daily – has been the most important lesson I’ve learned in the past two and half years of building up CFFP.”

Did it come as a surprise to be included on the Forbes 30 Under 30 List?

“Totally.  I’ve never been on any sort of list before, nor received any sort of award.  I once won a raffle in the third-grade walk-a-thon in which my prize was some butterfly stationery – I was so excited I’d won something that I never used it, and still have it in storage at my mom’s house.  So, to go from butterfly stationery circa 1996 to the 2019 Forbes List was incredible and shocking all at once.

“I also fully recognise that joining such a list provides me with access to a very exclusive network with very exclusive opportunities.  So, I can’t help but feel a twinge of discomfort and question if I am becoming part of the very nepotistic inner circles that CFFP/I am so critical of.  And I’ve been mulling over whether this train of thought is imposter syndrome getting the better of me, but I also feel that given the line of work I do, this type of self-reflection on the privilege I can leverage to promote such a feminist agenda is critical to keeping that agenda, well, feminist.”

Did your time at SOAS help with your current career?

“Absolutely.  I entered into my MA in Gender Studies shortly after Sweden announced their feminist foreign policy in 2014, so having the space to not only build my feminist knowledge but explore this new political ideology was critical to establishing the foundation of what CFFP is today.  Since graduating, I’ve received wonderful support from both the alumni office and my dissertation supervisor, and I am so deeply grateful that SOAS is supporting the work of CFFP.  We are a very ambitious organisation, and realising a feminist foreign policy in the UK and around the world will take time, energy, and resources.  It’s meant so much to have SOAS’s support even beyond my time as a student.”

And what is next for CFFP UK?

“This year we are planning a sort of “State of UK Foreign Policy” event (don’t hold me to the name!) at the end of the year to celebrate CFFP UK’s third birthday.  We’re still very much in the planning process, but I am so excited to see this vision come to life – it’s been something I’ve wanted to do since day one.”

How can people get involved?

“We have a membership programme for those who want to support CFFP and join the feminist foreign policy movement – you can find out more here.”

Find out more

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