Interview with Deanna Pittman, visiting PhD student

2019-11-19

This semester we have the pleasure of welcoming Deanna Pittman as a visiting PhD student at the Centre for Gender Research. Deanna is doing a PhD in International Education at New York University (NYU). Her project is on the making of Sweden’s feminist foreign policy and she is in Sweden for the whole 2019-20 academic year for her fieldwork.

Denna Pittman, visiting PhD student
at the Centre for Gender Research

Sweden was the first country to adopt a feminist foreign policy, followed by Canada and France, and at a recent G7 meeting, the Gender Equality Advisory Council encouraged all G7 countries to adopt a feminist foreign policy. The idea of a feminist foreign policy sparked Deanna’s interest, in part because it was something that potentially provided new ways of thinking about issues of gender equality in a global context, but also because it raises questions about how we understand what “feminist” in this context, means in practice.

- There are so many different actors with so many different perspectives on what “feminist” means in this context. And their relationship to the policy and to what the end goal is are different too. It’s interesting to study what a feminist foreign policy is and what it means, especially since all these countries are being encouraged to do it – but to do what? 

Deanna is spending her year in Sweden doing interviews with people in civil society and different government agencies who are doing work around the Women, Peace and Security Agenda – a UN agenda that is supposed to increase women’s participation in conflict resolution and peace-building, and which is of major concern for the Swedish feminist foreign policy.

- I am asking my interviewees what the feminist foreign policy is; how they understand it and interpret it and then enact it in their work. Because Sweden’s feminist foreign policy is the first that has ever existed, there was no “template” for it or anything, it just appeared and now they’re supposed to do it. So I am interested in how do they make sense of it and how they actually enact it.

Deanna did her Master’s in History of International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE) where she wrote a dissertation on British women’s roles in colonial policy making in Kenya, 1929-39. Here she looked at British women’s increased participation in colonial policy making in Kenya and how this led to an increased interference in domestic and private issues in the lives of the colonized, and particularly colonized women.

Her original PhD project was meant to focus on policy work in girls’ education in a contemporary context, but she was getting frustrated at how little discourses around gender and development had changed over time:

- Two of the policy issues that I was looking at in my Master’s dissertation were related to female circumcision and girls’ education. And a lot of the way that they talked about those issues then, in the 20s and 30s, was exactly, or very closely the same way we are talking about them today. And after all this time and all this knowledge and experience that we have gained, we’re still stuck in this same way of thinking and talking about these kinds of issues.

As she learned that Sweden had adopted a feminist foreign policy she decided to change the focus of her PhD, from policy work to how we learn how to do policy:

- A lot of development work focuses on girls in poor countries and what they should be learning to lift themselves out of poverty. But not as much looks at the policy makers or actors who are creating those policies or programmes – what they do, how they learn, how they think of these problems and the projects that are supposed to address them. So, I’m trying to kind of flip that and look at how this group of policy people learn to do a feminist foreign policy.

Deanna explains that she is optimistic about the potential of a feminist foreign policy, particularly in relation to her earlier experience of gender development discourses.

- This is something that can maybe provide a new way of thinking and talking about issues of gender equality, globally, and particularly in development contexts or conflict contexts.


Read more about Deanna Pittman's research →