November 10, 2023 - 2:00pm

The Scottish government has unveiled its new foreign policy — and it’s proudly “feminist”. In an announcement made with some fanfare, it declares that the new approach “will leverage all aspects of Scotland’s international policy to advance gender equality and the rights of women, girls and marginalised groups in pursuit of a fairer world”.

What could possibly be wrong with that? Well, the first clue is that no one with a serious interest in advancing women’s rights talks about “gender” equality. In countries like Afghanistan, women and girls suffer serious violations of their rights because of their sex; they are denied education and forced to marry older men because they are biologically female. In developing countries, women need access to safe contraception and abortion, which have nothing to do with gender. If a government doesn’t recognise the vital role of biology in discrimination against women and girls, its “feminist” foreign policy will fall at the first hurdle.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. This announcement comes from a government whose domestic policy includes a reckless insistence that men can become women just by saying so. Holyrood believes convicted sex offenders should be housed in a women’s prison, if they claim to be transgender. Is that something it will be pushing other countries to adopt as part of its “feminist” approach to international relations?

Most extraordinary of all, SNP politicians have spent the past year abusing actual feminists — the awkward sort who recognise sex-based oppression — as bigots and racists. Shortly before she resigned as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon claimed opponents of the SNP’s gender reform legislation were using women’s rights as a “cloak” for bigotry. “But just as they’re transphobic you’ll also find they are deeply misogynist, often homophobic, possibly some of them racist as well,” she said.

Sturgeon is now a backbench MSP, but her colleagues in government appear to share her views. One of the ministers who published the “feminist” foreign policy is Christina McKelvie, whose current brief is Culture, Europe and International Development. Earlier this year, when she was Equalities minister, McKelvie publicised details of a protest against a Let Women Speak event organised by Kelly-Jay Keen in Glasgow. Yes, you have read that right: the minister now boasting about a supposedly feminist approach to international relations retweeted a call from Furries Against Fascism, whose adherents dress up in animal costumes, to protest against a rally in support of things like single-sex spaces.

Hilariously, yesterday’s announcement claims that a feminist approach to foreign policy “means prioritising collaboration and cooperation over adversarial processes”. Don’t be fooled. The Scottish government is as captured as ever, banging on about recognising the harms experienced by individuals “when multiple categories of social identities are considered, such as race and ethnicity, socio-economic background, religion, disability, and all genders”. All genders? What does that even mean in a country like Yemen, where women and children are suffering horribly in a protracted war?

One of the first objectives of a genuinely feminist foreign policy would be a reduction in violence against women. It’s hard to see how that could be achieved, however, by politicians who insult campaigners for women’s rights and tell us that some men are really women.

Joan Smith is a novelist and columnist. She has been Chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board since 2013. Her book Homegrown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists was published in 2019.