Political leadership and gendered multilevel games in foreign policy

Karin Aggestam, Jacqui True

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Gender intersects as a major fault-line in increasingly polarized, contemporary global politics. Many democratic states in the global North and South have adopted pro-gender norms in their foreign policies, while other states and populist regimes have resisted the promotion of gender equality and women's rights. This article analyses how political leaders harness gender dynamics to further their power, status and authority to act in foreign policy. While scholarship on foreign policy analysis has emphasized the role of individuals, political leaders and their followers, and of two-level games balancing domestic and international pressures, we advance a novel theoretical concept: ‘gendered multilevel games’. This new concept highlights the gendered dynamics of the problem of agency and structure in foreign policy, which are generated from the interactions between the domestic, international and transnational levels, and reach within and across states. To illustrate the utility of this concept, we analyse foreign policy leadership and the variation in gendered multilevel games in four vignettes: (1) hyper-masculinity and revisionist leadership; (2) normative leadership and gendered nation-branding; (3) compassionate leadership and gendered transnational symbolism; and (4) contested leadership on pro- and anti-gender norms in foreign policy. Importantly, these empirical illustrations show how adept political leaders navigate pro- and anti-gender norms to achieve core and often divergent foreign policy goals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)385-404
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Mar 8

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Political Science


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