Late 19th Century British Literature & Culture

Aesthetes, Libertines, & Dandies

Gender Roles in Dracula

In his 1908 “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming,” Sigmund Freud asserts that peoples’ phantasies could be associated with mental illness. He states, “If phantasies become over-luxuriant and over-powerful, the conditions are laid for an onset of neurosis or psychosis” (424). Bram Stoker’s Dracula is full of “over-luxuriant” and “over-powerful” descriptions that reveal his obsession with the changing gender roles of the time.

feminism in dracula essay

For instance, when Jonathan Harker is being cornered by three, sexualized, vampire women, Stoker uses intense animalistic and sexual descriptions to set the scene. He writes from Jonathan’s perspective, “There was a voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth” (45). By saying that she “lapped” her teeth with her tongue Harker describes her in a way that resembles that of a dog. The woman is clearly threatening and holds the power in the scene, but she is also sexualized. Harker goes on to say, “Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat” (45). He then “closed [his] eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart” (96). There is a passionate sexual atmosphere in this scene because Jonathan waits in “ecstasy” anticipating the touch of the woman’s “scarlet lips.” By sexualizing this scene, and creating an intense feeling of Jonathan’s anticipation, the scene seems to be one of “over-luxuriant” descriptions and passion. Furthermore, Jonathan is intrigued by the woman’s erotic nature, considering that he uses terms that would connect her with a canine.

Freud might suggest that Jonathan’s anticipation reveals an inner desire for erotic sexual relations with a powerful woman. This would connect to The Longman Anthology ’s description of the role of women during the Victorian Era. Many women had been seen as “physically and intellectually inferior, a ‘weaker sex,’” but women were starting to ease their way into a new role during the 19 th century (1061). In conjunction with the challenge to the “weaker” role of women, masculinity was also being challenged. When women had been seen as the “weaker” sex, the man was supposed to be the dominant, powerful figure. The expectations of how women and men were supposed to act individually, but also in relationship with each other, were changing during the 19 th century, and Bram’s depiction of Jonathan Harker and the vampire women could be interpreted as the 19th-century challenge to conventional gender norms.

Going back to what Freud said about there being only a slight difference between phantasies and mental illness challenges the audience to question Bram’s mental state. Since  The Longman Anthology  asserts that inversions of the conventional relationships between men and women were popular in Victorian literature, it would be logical for Bram’s novel to not only address gender norms a few times throughout the book, but to intentionally refer to these gender inversions as a motif–which it does. Additionally, regardless of whether Bram was sane, his intentional use of inverted-gender-norm motifs reveals that he was phantasizing about them, and perhaps his phantasies were so passionate that they led to a mental illness. If that was the case, it would just be stronger evidence for how influenced 19th-century society was by the changing gender roles. Therefore, readers can determine that Dracula is Bram’s critique of conventional gender norms during the Victorian Era, and the audience can use Dracula to analyze the roles of feminity and masculinity as the 20th-century was getting ready to begin.

feminism in dracula essay

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Dracula: The Unjust War for Feminine Thought Linus Landucci College

“Mere “modernity” cannot kill.” The year is 1897, and European culture is changing. Skepticism about both Christianity and the introduction of Darwinism into common thought is current, and the concept of what we now call “feminism” is planting its roots, apparent in the rise and fall of political parties and movements such as the female-friendly Paris Commune in France (Smith 72). For a man like Jonathan Harker, sitting in Dracula’s castle, this is uncomfortable (Stoker 53). These words demonstrate his doubt that the Count’s societal model, as he’ll soon come to know it, can fail.

Stoker created the character of the Count in Dracula to personify sexual promiscuity and various other counter-cultural ideals that supposedly preyed on British society. Seen as obstructing and infiltrating a system that doesn’t need fixing, Dracula embodies the feminist movement. His framework for English society features more radical ideas than what activists considered cutting edge, making Dracula the perfect villain to even progressive readers.

Dracula works primarily through the captivation of women in the novel, luring them into knowing him sexually. He seeks to take over societal thought through the overmastering of the women’s desires. But...

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feminism in dracula essay

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Dracula — Dracula: The Unfair War for Women’s Thoughts


Dracula: The Unfair War for Women's Thoughts

  • Categories: Dracula

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Words: 2858 |

Pages: 6.5 |

15 min read

Published: Jun 29, 2018

Words: 2858 | Pages: 6.5 | 15 min read

Works Cited

  • Arata, Stephen. "The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization." 33.4 (1990): 621-45. Print.
  • Difilippantonio, Annelise. "Bram Stoker’s Dracula: A Psychoanalytic Window into Female Sexuality." (2011): 1-37. Web. 20 May 2015.
  • Fleissner, Jennifer L. "Dictation Anxiety: The Stenographer's Stake in Dracula." Nineteenth-Century Contexts 22.3 (2000): 417-55. Web.
  • Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. 2nd ed. Malden: Blackwell, 2004. Print.
  • Kline, Salli. The Degeneration of Women: Bram Stokers Dracula as Allegorical Criticism of the Fin De Siëcle.Köln. N.p.: Schneider & Söhne, 1992. Print.
  • Senf, Carol. ""Dracula": Stoker's Response to the New Woman." Victorian Studies 26.1 (1982): 33-49. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 20 May 2015.
  • Smith, Eric D. ""A Presage of Horror!": Cacotopia, the Paris Commune, and Bram Stoker's Dracula." Criticism 52.1 (2010): 71-90. JSTOR [JSTOR]. Web. 20 May 2015.
  • Stevenson, John. "A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula." PMLA 103.2 (1988): 139-49. JSTOR. Web. 21 May 2015.
  • Stoker, Bram. "Dracula." (2005): n. pag. Planet EBook, 2012. Web. 20 May 2015.

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feminism in dracula essay

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Feminist Criticism in Dracula  

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a very high controversial piece of literature that is to this day analyzed by academia. Stoker’s Dracula touches on many different types of critical theories, this is the prime reason the novel is used so much for analyzing. This section, however, is going to focus on on critical theory called Feminist Criticism. Feminist Criticism is not able to be used to analyze the whole novel of Dracula, but rather focus in on the female characters used within the novel. Therefore, Dracula can be analyzed through Feminist Criticism by focusing on female characters such as Lucy Westenra, Mina Harker, and Dracula’s three brides.

Feminist Criticism is “…to investigate and analyze the differing representations of women and men in literary text…” and “…to explore ways in which such conventions are inscribed in a largely patriarchal canon” (Bennett & Royle 369). Throughout history, it is evident that men are the rulers of the universe, whereas women have always been less than. Feminism is the idea to make men and women equal to each other and not have one more superior than another, whether it be how one is treated to the amount of money one make. Through the lens of Feminist Criticism were are able to analyze these idea in a literary way.

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The first female character that can be analyzed by Feminist Criticism is Lucy Westenra. Within the novel, her character supports the idea of a patriarchal society. This is seen in Lucy’s journals, as well as in the narration of the other character’s journals. When writing to Mina, a dear friend of hers, she establishes herself as a member of “The Cult of True Womanhood”. Lucy tells Mina, “You and I, Mina dear, who are engaged and are going to settle down soon soberly into old married women, can despise vanity” (Stoker 58). Lucy’s willingness to “settle down” and become an “old married woman” is conventional of a woman in that era. She is fitting the mold that is expected of her. Another example that Lucy portrays that supports the idea of a patriarchal society is her eagerness to amuse her husband to be, Arthur Holmwood. It is implied when she writes to Mina, “I do not know myself if I shall ever speak slang; I do not know if Arthur likes it, as I have never heard him use any as yet” (Stoker 59). As seen in an patriarchal society, women are expected to naturally follow their husbands as Lucy does within the novel. Feminist Criticism would disapprove of Lucy since her character supports sexist and patriarchal beliefs.

The second female character that can be analyzed by Feminist Criticism is Mina Harker. Similar to Lucy, Mina can be analyzed by her own journal’s, as well as the journal’s of others throughout the novel. Early on in the novel, Mina writes to Lucy, “…I want to keep up with Jonathan’s studies, and I have been practicing shorthand very assiduously. When we are married I shall be able to be useful to Jonathan,…” (Stoker 55). Mina shows that she aims to fulfill her role in the patriarchal society as a servant to her husband, Jonathan Harker. This occurs again after Mina is married. Mina writes to Lucy, “…I had nothing to give him except myself, my life, and my trust, and that with these went my love and duty for all the days of my life” (Stoker 101). This sense of “duty” that she bestows on herself to give her whole life to her husband falls under gender roles due the sexist nature of the patriarchal society that she lives in. Feminist Criticism would argue that a woman, such as Mina, could sustain a healthy relationship with her husband and live the life that she wanted in the process, rather than just meeting the needs of her husband and abandoning her own.

The third female characters that can be analyzed by Feminist Criticism is Dracula’s three brides. Throughout the novel, Lucy and Mina are seen as the “good girls”, before turning into vampires, where as the three brides are seen as evil and sinister. However, in their own way they still represent a patriarchal system. While trapped in Dracula’s castle, Jonathan Harker encountered the brides that put him in a state of “desire”. When they hunt their prey, the bride’s transmit sexual innuendo, so that their prey doesn’t expect it coming. Jonathan writes about this experience saying, “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips” (42). According to Feminist Criticism, in a patriarchal society there are “good girls”, like Mina and Lucy, who are pure and essential to their husbands, and there are “bad girls” who radiant sexual nature that are not considered for “marriage”, which are the brides. On the other hand, a feminist could argue that both, “good” and “bad” girls, are patriarchal, in the sense that it objectives the women rather than acknowledging them as individuals. The bride’s should be seen as scary blooding sucking vampires, but instead are seen in a sexual nature.

By using Feminist Criticism to analyze Stoker’s Dracula, one can concluded that the book was written with deep patriarchal beliefs in society. This is expressed when analyzing some of the female characters with in the novel that conform to the patriarchal ideas that were held during that era. Stoker’s Dracula touches on many different types of critical theories, including Feminist Criticism.

  • Bennett, Andrew, and Nicholas Royale. An Introduction to Literature, Criticism, and Theory.
  • Fifth ed., New York, Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2016.
  • Stoker, Bram. ‘Dracula.’ Dracula, edited by Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal, New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 1997, pp. 9-312.

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Feminism in Dracula by Bram Stoker

How it works

Stoker’s Dracula also has many scenes whereupon the critical lens of Feminism may be used to describe situations. Mina is a woman in the Victorian Era who could be considered at the time to be your normal Victorian woman or at least the ideal Victorian woman. In chapter 6 of Dracula, it can be seen that she maintains this ideal version of the Victorian when she says “No news from Jonathan, I’m getting quite worried about him” (Stoker 62) along with the context that Jonathan has been missing for a month she could have with ease left the house and went to find a new man to be with during the time but instead stays loyal to Jonathan and also shows that she is worried about him.

This right here confirms the traditional values and how women were back then as it shows that women are to be loyal with no exceptions.

We also see throughout the book that mina is a very intelligent and loyal woman who did only traditional women things which even proves how women or at least how society expected them to be and it’s to be more like Mina.With all this information we can compare it to the three daughters of Dracula that are seen as evil and impure by society’s expectations.These women are looked down upon for being so drastically less prudent. When the book says “I felt in my heart a burning wicked desire, that they would kiss me with those red lips” (Stoker 33) in the book it makes it look intended that these women that are challenging the norm for the normal Victorian era women that they are evil because they were tempting Harker into betraying his wife.Stoker confirms his beliefs in that women should always be following the traditional value by connecting evil to super sexualized women and we can see him making this connection with this quote because these women have the power to make men turn against their wives and destroy their families which is evil and only sexual women could do this.With the use of the feminist lens, we can see how women are portrayed during this time with the two scenes used and also Stoker’s belief on women and how confirms the traditional women and along this we can compare the two to see and find out how society treated and thought of women.

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Feminism in Dracula by Bram Stoker. (2021, Apr 16). Retrieved from

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Feminism in Dracula

Feminism in Dracula - Essay Example

Feminism in Dracula

  • Subject: Literature
  • Type: Essay
  • Level: College
  • Pages: 9 (2250 words)
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Extract of sample "Feminism in Dracula"

Dracula is one of the top novels that was authored in the nineteenth century, which contains collection of letters, journals and other write-ups such as diaries. The entire story developed in the novels is a mystery as things that are narrated seem not to be possible in real life. The novel begins by concentrating on a journey made by Hacker to Count Dracula where everybody was afraid to visit. His visit meets a tense mood as people react in fear as they get to hear his destination. Harker arrives at a deserted destination where he is provided with comfortable accommodation suite, later finds he himself imprisoned in the castle. Three seductive female vampires are in place to keep him company and he discover that the people in the castle survive on human blood. Women are portrayed to be seductive a nature that raises feminism concerns. Three characters from the novel can be used to analyze the feminism portrayed in the composition. Lucy Westenra, Mina Harker as well as the three brides have been given different characters that exhibit different perspectives about feminism. From caring wives to seductive women and from weak ladies to strong ladies are some of the pictures brought out. This article will delve into the topic of feminism as portrayed in Bram Stocker’s novel, ‘The Dracula.’

The theory of feminism

According to Zerilli (296), the topic of feminism has been one of the most controversial topics for many years. Two genders exist, but pone seems to be at a lower level than the other is which implies that the extent of the vulnerability of the weaker gender is great. The female gender is considered weak while the male gender is considered strong. The notion of gender superiority and inferiority seems to apply in almost all aspect of community and cultural dimensions (Moore). The gender difference is evident when it comes to control of resources, access to resources and vulnerability in cases of social cultural or environmental challenges. For instance, in cases of poverty, women tend to be subjected to more harsh conditions than men are. Another sensitive topic in the area of feminism is the aspect of control. Men seem to have the power to control women and even force them into committing socially shunned behaviors.

Feminism is a term that emerged to stir up women’s mentality to advocate for their rights in across some fields that include socio-political and economic sectors (Mills and Mullany). The main goal of the feminism push is to create equity and equality between men and women. Feminism theory attempts to develop an understanding of the whole issue of inequalities between the two genders. The sources of inequality date back to history and have been inherent from one generation to another. It can be established that inequality in the past was coated by culturally biased laws, which gave women no chance to see the light of their rights. The female in the recent and modern generation have staged a psychological orientation that generates determination to equate them to men (Weed). This move implies that something has been wrong for many years and those areas of intervention are easily identified yet so challenging to intercept. The theory of feminism has been expanded to include two discourses, the theoretical and the philosophical. These two areas are used to generate an understanding of the nature of inequality in the society. Some of the specific areas that the feminism theory concentrates on are the roles of women as compared to men, social responsibilities, gender-based interests, politics, economics, and authority. Some authors in novels have used a creative way to express the position of women in the society, and this can be a good area to analyze the gap between the two genders in the society.

Feminism in the Dracula

In Bram’s novel, the female gender has been portrayed as that which faces challenges in coping with the new social trends in the society. Despite the fact that both men and women face challenges in coping with the new order, the Dracula concentrates on the plight of women in the Victorian society. The feminism brought out in the Dracula has attracted interest from various scholars as the novel leaves a divided opinion on the subject. Scholars have been unable to establish clearly if the novel advocates for the empowerment of the female gender or inciting subjection of women to exist pressure in the society. There have been occasions where the position of women in the novel has been vindicated and portrayed in a negative manner especially the case of the three sisters. Some women have been perceived as hypersexual and manipulative using their sexual charms. Promiscuity of women evident in the novel diminishes the position of a woman in the society, especially when attempting to draw a comparison or equity extrapolations to men. Women have also been perceived to be sexually weak and easy to fall into the trap of men who end up puppets the decisions women make. While other women like Mina may truly be working hard in a natural way, men view such acts as a female strategy to attract men. It would be important to break down the different perspectives of feminism brought out in the Dracula.

The Dracula has portrayed Mina as one of the women in the Victorian society considered strong in some ways. Her strength and determination is able to draw a lot of attention from men in the initial stages of the novel. However, men later misinterpret her intentions to appear as a hardworking lady, and this proves the overall position of the woman in the society. While hard work must be acknowledged and respected, men change the course of such respect and link it to the weaker part of a woman. Mina is used to representing the weakness of women to work so hard to appeal the men around them. While such events may be evident in the modern society, women use clothes to enhance attractiveness. According to Stocker (29), Mina is referred to as the new woman, which is meant to describe her behavior. When Lucy and her friend converse, they criticize, the social position of Mina and relate their character to what men deserve (Stocker 98). The views of three parties vary as far as feminism is concerned. Mina believes she is powerful while other women in the society believe that Mina lacks the sexual urge they posses. In many cases of feminism, women have been identified to be an enemy to other women and tend to side with men on sensitive feministic issues. That is the same case presented concerning Mina’s case.

The main intention of the novel was to portray a new woman in a completely different way but at the same time indicate how the society might view the concept of a new woman (Stocker 28). A new woman was meant to have a strong character of independence from men control. However, the later stages of the novel add another twist to the description of a new woman to include open expression of indulging in sexual activities (Stocker 99). The later stages of the novel also attribute the new woman as verbally aggressive and capable of using insulting words against other people. Mina is seen to have significantly drifted from the traditional norms, which describe how women should conduct themselves.

The Dracula was seen as something that was evil because it had traits of a vampire. When the author eventually links the strong new woman to the deceptions of the vampires, Stoker indicates women will always be vulnerable regardless of the state of social class they establish in comparison to other women. Mina gets involved with the Dracula and begins the transformation to a vampire although the transformation is not complete. She resembles a real vampire as she continues to draw close links with the Dracula, which implies that her levels of independence, as well as power, are relative (Stocker 62). As much as Minas desire to serve her husband as a real woman is strong, her weakness as a woman is identified as a major setback. She never stops to relate to the aspect of sexuality and some traces of promiscuity.

The two-sided phase of Mina is evident when she struggles to fulfill the needs of her husband and at the same time live as a vampire. Here strength and weakness seem to be wrestling at the same time. She uses the influence of the Dracula to fulfill the needs of her husband as a Victorian woman without realizing her gradual transformation into a Vampire. Feminist would not like to draw comparisons between the hypothetical strong women with that character depicted by Mina. Feminist describe a strong woman like that who can stand the existing challenges in the society and remain strong against intimidation from the men. Strong women have the resilience to vulnerability due to socio-economic, political and cultural forces.

The Dracula has been used to exhibit a real woman in Lucy who adheres to all cultural values of the Victorian people. However, the book also presents how her sexual reveals her weakness in the society as far as feminism is concerned. Just like in Mina’s case, Lucy is portrayed to have some weaknesses that a typical woman in the Victorian state faces. Her position I soften placed under scrutiny and criticism as compared to that of men. She is one of the ladies that falls for the charms of the Dracula and turns to be a vampire in the end. Even on her deathbed, she attempts to suck blood from her boyfriend before he is narrowly saved by a friend present in the same room.

Lucy is viewed as a woman whose sexual desire can only be satisfied when she turns into her evil home. Her vampire form is considered as an evil part of a woman that should be hidden from the public or from the people she loved. Lucy’s letters to Mina are very useful in analyzing her character and weakness as a woman (Stocker 63). In her letters, Lucy openly describes her encounters with men, which indicate her promiscuity. Lucy has been depicted to have many suitors, which diminish her respect as a woman seeking a reputation of ‘equity’ within the society. A woman who has many suitors presents her weakness before men, which makes her a weaker person in gender comparisons.

The author also depicts a woman as an attractive person who can be subjected to several love proposals from men. In such a situation, Lucy seems to find a great challenge in deciding which of the proposals makes her happy. She later accepted the proposal from Holmwood and the discussion from men; it is evident that women are seen sexual objects. According to Stocker (67), Lucy seems to be ready to make love with all her three suitors. This implies that her sexual position in the society is considered as a mere object and not a real person who deserves respect. It is also evident that men are the ones to make a step to propose to men and not vice-versa.

Lucy has been depicted as a lady with the material desire that can fulfill her current needs without necessarily sustaining her future needs. Her position vividly explains her encounter with the dragon that eventually turned her into a dragon. The dragon took advantage of her situation and drained a lot of blood from Lucy despite the numerous attempts to transfuse blood. Her beauty can attract all the three men to donate blood. The outcome was in line with the initial desire of Lucy to get involved with all the three men (Stocker 159). The transfusion can cause confusion in Lucy’s sexual desires, which explains her increased desire to the three men. In this context, women are seen as characters that are willing to pay back the offers men provide. It is also evident that women are more than willing to pay back by sexually satisfying men.

The three brides of Dracula

The three ladies have been presented to be some of the most dominant sexual objects in the novel (Stocker 46). According to the three brides, the word love does not exist, and their role is only to fulfill the sexual desires of the Dracula. Their presence confirms that women sexual position can be controlled by man even if the ladies stand to gain nothing from the relationship. The three brides depict how men take advantage of the women in the society and exploit them without minding their social welfare. It is also evident that women are capable of using their sexual charms to please men whenever they want. It is a position that the feminists would strongly object since women must be more than just sexual objects. Feminist advocate for women to have the same position as men and not as seen in the case where the Dracula manipulates the three brides.

Sensitive topics about feminism are evident when the character of the three brides who serve the Dracula. Apart from the ladies questionable sexual desires, their nature to feed on blood is also questionable. It is evident that all these manipulations are orchestrated by the Dracula. The women are completely obsessed and are ready to use their beauty to evoke sexual desires from any man. They present the contrast to the definition of a real Victorian lady.

The question of feminism is capable of evoking serious debates from various activists within the society. The Dracula has attempted to create a link between the concept of women disadvantaged position in the society and the cause. It is clearly established that in the three discussed cases, women are entirely responsible for their position in the society. In all the three cases, it is evident that women have an opportunity and freedom to make their own decision but choose to do the unreasonable as a means to please men. It has also been established that men take advantage of such weakness and exploit the women sexually. As far as feminism and the various activists’ campaign may fight for equity, it is advisable to encourage women to embrace their dignity and confidence as they face a wide number of social issues. Women have been depicted to be generally vulnerable the social forces that exist such as love, marriage, and sexual desires. As far as gender, roles change when Mina feels capable of proposing marriage to men, her lower position in the society remains unchanged due to her inability to withstand pressure. It is clear the any call for change by feminists needs to address the capability of women and not merely their position in the society. Women have been portrayed to have all it takes to make their own decisions and be independent without having to drift so much from the cultural norms.

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feminism in dracula essay

Title: How Feminist Foreign Policies Work to Enhance Gender Justice

This article examines whether the Global North uses feminist foreign policies (FFPs) to impose their values on the Global South and if such policies can enhance gender justice [1] . Using evidence from their new global data set of transitional justice mechanisms, the authors argue that countries with FFPs do not impose gender-attentive transitional justice on other countries. Rather, FFPs should be viewed both as an expression of a commitment to internal gender-attentive policies and a willingness to support and fund these policies abroad.

[1] We wish to thank Daniel Marin Lopez, who helped code the gender-attentive truth commissions in our data set, and other members of our TJET team: Dara Cohen, Geoff Dancy, Averell Schmidt, and Oskar Timo Thoms.

Since Sweden adopted a feminist foreign policy in 2014, Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Libya, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, Scotland, Spain, and Slovenia have followed suit . The inclusion of both Latin American and African countries in this group demonstrates that feminist foreign policy (FFP) is no longer a phenomenon unique to the Global North. However, some still worry that such policies could reinforce dominant global hierarchies . Such worries are mistaken because FFPs do not impose policies on the Global South. Rather, the inter-state diffusion of feminist ideas and countries’ domestic political forces result in gender-attentive transitional justice (TJ). Transitional justice refers to efforts to reckon with past human rights violations and can include prosecutions of state officials, truth commissions, and reparations for victims, among other mechanisms.

While countries have increasingly adopted FFPs, there is no agreed-upon definition . Since FFPs are self-declared, they differ from country to country. However, UN Women tracks countries with FFPs and convenes an “FFP+” group of nineteen Member States who have either adopted an FFP or “committed to the advancement of gender equality through their multilateral engagement.” Canada , for example, takes a feminist approach primarily in relation to international assistance, focusing on increasing female participation in conflict prevention, ending impunity for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), and improving access to sexual and reproductive health services in humanitarian contexts. Canada also promises that its FFP will be “ evidence-based and accountable ” by committing to invest in “policy research, better data collection and evaluation for gender equality.” Germany , meanwhile, pledged to double its foreign aid geared toward gender equality. Colombia similarly intends to promote gender equality, female empowerment, and increased female political participation.

We define gender as the socially constructed roles, status, and identities of girls, women, boys, men, and gender-diverse people in society. We explore how countries with FFPs have incorporated gender into their TJ efforts or supported gender-attentive TJ in other countries using our data coded as part of the Transitional Justice Evaluation Team. Although from 1970 to 1990, TJ practices largely did not consider gender, attention to gender has since increased. We focus on two key TJ mechanisms: reparations policies and truth commissions. A truth commission (TC) is a formal, state-sanctioned, temporary body that investigates patterns of past human rights abuses. A gender-attentive TC may investigate a pattern of sexual and gender-based violence, consult representatives of women’s or LGBTQI+ advocacy groups, or recommend reforms to address gender-based violations. Reparations policies provide victims with compensation, restitution, and rehabilitation for human rights violations suffered. A gender-attentive reparations policy provides reparations to victims of sexual- and gender-based violations, including LGBTQI+ victims who were targeted due to their sexual or gender identity. TCs began to incorporate gender-based issues in the early 1990s, and the first gender-attentive reparations policies appeared in the late 1990s.

Domestic politics produce feminist foreign policies and gender-attentive transitional justice

FFP does not exist in a vacuum, often growing out of attention to gender in domestic politics. Countries with FFPs are more likely to have adopted internal gender-attentive TJ practices. Three of the eighty-six total reparations policies in our database offer reparations for crimes against LGBTQI+ victims in their own populations; all three were enacted by countries—Spain, the Netherlands , and Sweden—that have (or had in Sweden’s case ) FFPs. In 2008, Spain amended its 2007 reparations program to compensate LGBTQI+ people who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned during Franco’s dictatorial rule. Sweden adopted a policy in 2017 (after it had adopted its FFP) giving reparations for past forced sterilization of transgender individuals. The Netherlands adopted a similar policy in 2021. Canada, another state with an FFP, funded its own gender-attentive TJ. The Aboriginal Healing Foundation , an Aboriginal-run not-for-profit, operated from 1998 to 2014. The foundation funded community healing initiatives to address the physical and sexual abuse that had occurred at Indian Residential Schools in Canada from 1892 through the 1990s. The examples of Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, and Sweden reflect that FFPs often stem from a commitment to domestic gender justice.

Looking beyond the Global North, Colombia announced its FFP in 2023. Colombia’s FFP originates from demands in 2011 to include gender issues in then-President Juan Manuel Santos’ peace process. Colombia’s path-breaking gender-attentive reparations policy was complimented by multiple judicial decisions both of which raised awareness about gender issues in Colombian society and eventually contributed to the adoption of its FFP. The 2011 reparations program, which is still ongoing, uniquely focuses on gender issues compared to most reparation programs. Over 8,000 women have received reparations. The 2011 policy also mandated “a special program to guarantee women’s access to the procedures envisaged for [land] restitution, through preferential service windows, personnel trained in gender issues, measures to facilitate access by women’s organizations or networks to reparation processes, as well as areas of care for children and adolescents and the disabled that make up their family group.” It also mandated that the unit responsible for land restitution process applications from female heads of household first. Early judicial decisions by Colombian courts recognized the disproportionate impact of violence on women and called on the state to prevent and redress them. [1] Since 2011, domestic trials have also investigated paramilitary commanders for patterns of SGBV. In 2014, these investigations were extended to the threats, persecution, torture, enforced disappearances, displacement, and killings that have targeted the LGBTQI+ population. [2] Colombia’s TC was one of the most gender-attentive; it consulted with women and gender minority victims to understand their perspectives and needs prior to issuing its report. Furthermore, it was the only TC that addressed sexual violence, gender discrimination, and protection of the LGBTQI+ population in its recommendations. As such, Colombia’s gender-attentive TJ predates its FFP by over a decade. Colombia’s TJ efforts highlight how FFPs developed from domestic feminist TJ movements across the globe.

Regional diffusion also spreads gender-attentive transitional justice

Gender-attentive TJ also comes from regional diffusion. South Africa’s 1998 Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) created one of the first gender-attentive reparations policies as part of its truth commission. South Africa’s groundbreaking TRC sparked regional diffusion, as other Sub-Saharan and even North African countries adopted South Africa’s model. Ghana, Morocco, and Sierra Leone all published TC final reports containing gender-attentive reparations policies in 2004, the year after South Africa passed its reparations policy into law. Morocco’s 2004 Equity and Reconciliation Commission recognized that women are “Victims of Twofold Violence.” They suffer both from violence targeting themselves and violence against their husbands, which renders women the sole household provider. Morocco’s collective reparations projects, including social programs and centers for women established in “victim regions” identified by the TC, later received funding from several foreign sources with the European Union being by far the largest donor at €11 million. [3] The United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) also provided “technical assistance on including gender as a crosscutting issue in the community reparations program.” [4] Morocco’s TJ efforts inspired Tunisia’s gender-attentive 2019 Truth and Dignity Commission. Tunisian commissioners and staff met with the former commissioners of the Moroccan TC and subsequently created a special committee for women. [5] Tunisia, Morocco, and South Africa’s efforts reflect how gender-attentive TJ often spreads through regional diffusion.

Foreign donors are drawn to support policies that are gender-attentive relative to those that are not. 24 percent of gender-attentive reparations policies received foreign funding , compared to only 13 percent of non-gender-attentive reparations policies. We also find that 33 percent of gender-attentive TCs receive foreign funding, while only 11 percent of non-gender-attentive TCs do. Such global financial support reflects how foreign actors only support existing TJ and do not compel states to adopt gender-conscious TJ. Rather, national TJ develops through regional diffusion or due to domestic sociopolitical forces.

Conclusion and policy recommendations

We find that gender-attentive transitional justice mechanisms are either proposed by the government or civil society within the country where they are implemented or diffused from regional neighbors. FFPs should be viewed as both a commitment to internal gender-attentive policies and a willingness to support and fund these policies abroad.

FFPs are a promising new development in diplomacy and international relations. Not every country can or should adopt an FFP. A sincere commitment to gender equality must begin at home, including, where appropriate, the adoption of domestic TJ policies that are gender-attentive. Countries anywhere in the world that have already committed to gender equality domestically should consider incorporating these values into their foreign policies. One key way to implement an FFP is to financially and logistically support gender-attentive TJ abroad. Through such support, countries already embracing gender-attentive policies domestically will be more effective and have more credibility when they can promote feminist policies abroad.

Kathryn A. Sikkink is the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Helen Clapp is the Research Coordinator of the Transitional Justice Evaluation Team (TJET) at the Harvard Kennedy School.

[1] Inguanzo, Isabel, and Angelica Rodriguez. 2023. ‘Analysis of the Colombian Constitutional Court’s Transformative Approach to Conflict-Related Sexual Violence’. Social & Legal Studies .

[2] Garcés-Amaya, Diana Paola. 2023. ‘Of silences and openings: recognition of the victimizations of LGBTQI social sectors in recent models of Transitional Justice in Colombia’. Journal of Social Studies (83): 23–40.

[3] Arthur, Paige. “Sending the Wrong Signal: International Assistance and the Decline of Civil Society Action on Transitional Justice in Morocco.” In Transitional Justice, International Assistance, and Civil Society , 86-113. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018.

[5] Anonymous interview with Tunisian consultant to the Moroccan TC, April 28, 2023.

Image Credit: The Global Observatory

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