Marissa Conway

Co-founder of the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy

The World Today Published 3 August 2018 Updated 26 March 2021 2 minute READ

Marissa Conway

Co-Founder, Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy

I launched the Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy in December 2016. Our vision is simple: we want to see an intersectional feminist approach to foreign policy. What began with one woman and a Twitter account has now blossomed into an international advocacy and research organization with volunteers around the globe and an extraordinary co-founder, Kristina Lunz.

With my roots in Silicon Valley, the irony is not lost on me that it took a move across the Pond to try my hand at the start-up life. Tech has never been my cup of tea, but growing up in such a bizarre bubble instilled two lessons in me: failure is just a redirection, and anything can happen with hard work and proper timing. And so when I found what fascinated me − feminist foreign policy − and a visa that allowed me the opportunity to stay in Britain and build this organization, I ran with it.

These days, when Monday morning rolls around, it is guaranteed to look different to any that has come before. My role is twofold: to determine the overall direction of centre’s work at a global level, and then execute it locally in Britain. But it is an unpaid role, and while I pour every free moment I have into building the CFFP, I also freelance as a branding consultant: designing graphics, taking photos, and building websites, all for feminist and justice-oriented organizations. Balancing these two facets to my career is always an adventure.

This particular week, I’ll be attending Nato Engages, a two-day conference alongside the Nato summit in Brussels. I’m crunching all my work into Monday and Tuesday before I catch the Tuesday night Eurostar from St Pancras. First up is a check in with my co-founder Kristina. We’re currently in the process of putting together an advisory council and have received confirmation from Jennifer Cassidy, a diplomacy scholar at Oxford University and TED lecturer, Madeleine Rees, a lawyer and secretary-general of the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and Chandra Mohanty, professor of humanities at Syracuse University, of their participation. I start to build out a page for the advisory council.

Next up is a check in with Sareta Ashraph, the founder of Atlas, a network for female international human rights lawyers. This particular network has been a private Facebook group for a few years now, and I’m working with Sareta to develop their branding alongside a new website so that Atlas can have a more public-facing presence. I send her over a logo draft before whisking myself off to Brussels.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m in the thick of Nato Engages: The Brussels Summit Dialogue, and am thrilled to be surrounded by extraordinary foreign policy leaders. Given recent remarks from Donald Trump, much of this event is focused on why we indeed need a Nato alliance.

I attend panels with heads of states and foreign ministers and discuss among ourselves the need for traditional security to adapt. I found myself particularly in awe of the work being done by Clare Hutchinson, special representative for women, peace, and security for Nato’s secretary-general.

This particular Nato initiative aligns well with CFFP’s mission, which is to promote people-centred policy. And while walking into perhaps one of the most well-established hard security institutions in the world raises certain feminist red flags in my mind, I think it also speaks volumes that the global community at large takes feminist foreign policy seriously enough to include CFFP at this event.

As the summit ends, I hop back on the train to get home to London, already prepping for a busy Friday ahead. The morning consists of follow up with all of the inspiring people I met at Nato Engages.

I power through my work, because something incredibly exciting is happening in the afternoon that I can’t miss: the protest against President Trump’s visit to the UK.

Attending Nato Engages has easily been one of the highlights of my career so far, but this is where I feel most at home: in a sea of other activists, joyfully marching on the streets, surrounded by beautiful and often hilarious protest signs.

I strongly believe that to change patriarchal institutions, you have to shake things up from the inside, and CFFP won’t stop until we have the attention of every last corner of the foreign policy arena. But change won’t happen without the paralleled action of grassroots movements that remind us: we are here, we are loud, and we aren’t going anywhere. Though it perhaps doesn’t feel like it most of the time, after this week I’m convinced that the agendas of both foreign policy institutions and the feminist project as a whole are more closely aligned than ever.