International Feminist Journal of Politics
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When Brazil tried to find a space for solidarity in world politics

by

Francine Rossone de Paula

When it comes to setting up agendas, defining the course of legitimate action, and establishing the parameters for decision-making, not all voices are equal – or equally valued. Bearing in mind the way in which hierarchies among different voices in world politics are developed according to notions of status and power, my article Brazil’s non-indifference: a case for a feminist diplomatic agenda or geopolitics as usual? explores the gendered nature of norms and expectations that have sustained a particular division of the world into those who emerge to the global stage to rule and those who are ruled.

Questions such as “what does it take for a state like Brazil to be taken seriously as a ‘strong’ and ‘responsible’ political actor?” and “what are the obstacles to the making of a world in which solidarity can be ranked as a strong quality of those who seek recognition, voice and power?” are intrinsically connected. An exploration of those questions may help us to tackle the limitations in our vocabulary for the recognition of broader feminist agendas in political spaces, especially when we define as feminist any agendas that challenge the alleged neutrality of concepts and/or norms that so often favors the classification of a particular set of qualities as superior and more ‘appropriate’ for the performance of a given role.

Brazil had challenged some of these rules shaping the expectations around states emerging to influential positions in world politics. In 2005, Lula highlighted the country’s role in the configuration of a new political, economic, and commercial geography of the world. Solidarity, in the form of South-South technical and humanitarian assistance, became a significant goal. The new Brazilian diplomatic agenda embraced the aim for “continental solidarity” and the construction of “a more equitable and democratic international order”.

My analysis highlights some of the tensions between this diplomatic agenda that characterized the first ten years of the leftist government in Brazil (2003-2013) and the country’s efforts to meet criteria for a distinguished position on the global stage. More specifically, it contrasted Brazil’s ambition for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) with Brazil’s diplomatic and military performance in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). What I was able to uncover is that the process through which states pursue a ‘significant position’ in international politics is fundamentally gendered, limiting the space for the implementation of feminist diplomatic agendas.

The new geo-graphing expressed through Brazil’s encounter with Haiti and Brazil’s proposal of the Responsibility while Protecting (RwP) at the UN subverts the language of victory by challenging the dominant logic of separation and superiority in matters of international security. However, we should also take into account the limitations, derivative of a particular ‘masculine’ geopolitical order that is continually reproduced, to feminist diplomatic agendas. This is especially pertinent when diplomacy itself has been devalued, in relation to power politics, for being defined as a feminine and weak art.

Some of the obstacles to the making of a world in which solidarity and vulnerability can be ranked as qualities of those who seek recognition, voice and power lie in established conditions of intelligibility through which different identities have been recognized as ‘appropriate’ in relation to particular positions and roles in the international system.

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In its attempt to redefine its identity and its role in the world, Brazil has had to depend on a number of criteria (for visibility, authority, power, and influence in international institutions) that were beyond its control.

The promotion of a new geography for cooperation that favors less hierarchical relationships, as expressed in the treatment of Haiti as a brother country or a sister nation, followed by the non-recognition of Brazil’s diplomatic emphasis on south-south cooperation and solidarity with other states from the global South as an asset in its pursuit of a permanent seat at the UNSC can be revealing of the lack of space states find to behave differently from the dysfunctional ‘masculine’ roles they are called to assume in order to have a strong voice in world politics.

The political scenario has drastically changed in Brazil in the last 3-5 years, but the conclusions in my paper can still be seen as timely once we reflect on the fact that Brazil’s ‘failure’ to consolidate its position as a global player has been more recently used as a reason for the new government to move away from solidarity and south-south cooperation toward a rejection of ‘globalism’ allied with a renewed determination to be ‘great’. I see this is an invitation for feminist scholars and activists to persist in the exploration of the possibility of feminist, and possibly ‘feminine’, geopolitical imaginaries that would allow feminist diplomatic agendas to be more easily recognized and translated into significant and influential status in world politics.


Read the full article: Brazil’s non-indifference: a case for a feminist diplomatic agenda or geopolitics as usual?