Nicole Laliberte, Kate Driscoll Derickson, and Lorraine Dowler
Geography and international studies are both deeply rooted in masculinist, imperialist, and patriarchal ways of viewing the world. However, over the past 20 years, the increase in the number of women within these fields has planted the seeds for the introduction of feminist intervention. Feminist geography is primarily concerned with the real experiences of individuals and groups in their own localities. It can be viewed as the study of "situated knowledges derived from the lives and experiences of women in different social and geographic locations." Feminist geographers consistently seek out techniques which are in line with their feminist philosophies. Although much of the work will be categorized as qualitative, such as ethnographic fieldwork, feminist geographers recognize the need for feminist approaches in quantitative analysis, and techniques alone do not render the project feminist. Rather, feminists in geography argue that all types of data collection must recognize the power relationship between the researcher and the researched. Feminist geography also operates at the local scale and crosses to the global. This is illustrated by geographers who not only study the daily lives of women in a refugee camp but also construct theoretical arguments focused on global forces such as climate change or war in relation to the international migration of women.
The academic study of conflict resolution was born as as a critique of mainstream International Relations (IR), which explains why feminist theory and conflict resolution share many things in common. For example, both feminists and conflict resolution scholars challenge traditional power politics grounded in realist or neorealists analyses of conflict. They also share the core belief that war is not inevitable and that human beings have the capacity to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means. In the past two decades, with the expansion of feminist scholarship in IR, feminist interventions in conflict resolution have gained more currency. This essay reviews feminist scholarship in conflict resolution, with particular emphasis on five elements: critiques of the absence and/or marginalization of women in the field and an effort to include women and to make women visible and heard; articulation of a unique feminist standpoint for approaching peacemaking and conflict resolution, which is essentially different to, and qualitatively better than, mainstream (or male-stream) perspectives; feminist theorization of difference in conflict resolution theory and practice (challenges to essentialism, intersections, power and privilege, culture); feminist redefinition of central concepts in the field, especially violence, power, peace, and security; and original feminist research and theorizing, including field research in conflict areas, designed to transform rather than just reform the field. This essay argues that in order to further expand and institutionalize conflict resolution studies, mainstream scholars must be willing to engage seriously the contributions and critiques of feminists.
Democracies and the processes surrounding recent transitions to democracy are gendered in a variety of ways. Recently, feminist scholars have questioned the exclusionary ways in which democracy is both theorized and operationalized and how these have resulted in women and men being incorporated into democratic polities. They have demonstrated how processes of democratization, particularly the third wave of democratization that has taken place over the last three decades, are gendered. They have also shown that women’s movements were key actors in the broad opposition coalitions against many nondemocratic regimes. In order both to understand the differing role of organized women in the subsequent transitions to democracy and the ways in which transition paths affect gender outcomes, feminist scholars have begun to focus on the complex and sometimes contradictory interaction of four variables: the transition; women activists; political parties and politicians involved in the transition; and the institutional legacy of the nondemocratic regime. Two main areas that have been explored in relation to the political outcomes of transitions to democracy are women’s participation in competitive electoral politics and major changes in gender policy. In order to expand one important emerging area of research that is looking at how attempts to establish democracy in post-conflict settings are gendered, feminist scholars with expertise in third wave transitions to democracy need to analyze not only women’s roles in post-conflict institution building but also the ways that the outcomes have gendered implications more systematically.
Nancy A. Naples and Nikki McGary
The histories of women’s studies and feminist scholarship reveal the lack of distinction between feminist activism and feminist scholarship. The term “feminism” consists of multiple theories and agendas depending on regional, historical, and individual contexts. Broadly speaking, feminism includes theoretical and practical challenges to gender inequality and multiple forms of systemic oppression. However, the political projects that make women their objects are not always feminist; and political projects that address women’s issues are not always framed around the concept of feminism. Women activists and organizations do not always explicitly identify as feminist, although they might be participants in struggles aligned with broad feminist goals, including women’s empowerment, autonomy, human rights, and economic justice. A major theme that runs through feminist scholarship on women’s activism relates to the question of what difference women’s participation and feminist analyses make for progressive struggles. Feminist philosopher Nancy Fraser argues that there are “gender dimensions” to all struggles for social justice, and “feminists better be in these struggles and bring out those dimensions because certainly nobody else will.” Feminist scholars have also long debated what counts as a women’s movement. Revisioning women’s movements to include the diversity of women’s political analyses and strategies requires rethinking the labels used to categorize feminisms more generally.
Feminist theories of international relations have thrived over the past decade as evidenced by the many and varied feminist contributions to the international relations field. At the same time, international relations feminists have had rich theoretical debates among themselves over critical questions about epistemology, ontology, methodology, and ethics.
Feminist theories of international relations are distinguished by their ethical commitments to inclusivity and self-reflexivity, and attentiveness to relationships and power in relationships. These norms implicitly guide feminists to put into practice their own critical theories, epistemologies, and explicit normative commitments. Thus, rather than a source of division, the contestations among international relations feminisms about the epistemological grounds for feminist knowledge, the ontology of gender, and the appropriate ethical stance in a globalizing albeit grossly unequal world are a source of their strength. With a shared normative commitment to global social change, feminist scholarship and social movements can appreciate and even celebrate internal diversities and multidimensional identities. In this respect, feminist international relations can be described as a movement that shows what is to come and that offers innovative methods to get there. In the context of current United Nations reform, feminist movements have cited the need for a global institutional powerhouse to promote the rights of women and girls worldwide, rather than a system where everyone is responsible for integrating gender perspectives.
Feminist scholars and practitioners have challenged—and sought to overcome—gendered forms of inequality, subordination, or oppression within a variety of political, economic, and social contexts. However, feminists have been embroiled in profound theoretical disagreements over a variety of issues, including the nature and significance of the relationship between culture and the production of gendered social life, as well as the implications of cultural location for women’s agency, feminist knowledge production, and the possibilities of building cross-cultural feminist coalitions and agendas. Many of the approaches that emerged in the “first” and “second waves” of feminist scholarship and activism were not able to effectively engage with questions of culture. Women of color and ethnicity, postcolonial feminists and poststructural feminists, in addition to the questions and debates raised by liberal feminists (and their critics) on the implications of multiculturalism for feminist goals, have produced scholarship that highlights issues of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation. Their critiques of the “universalism” and “culture-blindness” of second wave theories and practices exposed the hegemonic and exclusionary tendencies of the feminist movement in the global North, and opened up the opportunity to develop intersectional analyses and feminist identity politics, thereby shifting issues of cultural diversity and difference from the margins to the center of international feminism. The debates on cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation have enriched feminist scholarship within the discipline of international relations, particularly after 9/11.
A constant source of concern for feminists working in International Relations (IR) has been the field’s implied or stated boundaries. During the first ten years of its existence (roughly covering the years 1985–1995), the main goal of feminist IR was to challenge a caged-in knowledge realm that excluded more phenomena than it promised to seek. By the early twenty-first century, IR had devolved into a camp structure that was able to accommodate on the inside all manner of theories, people, and places. Yet while feminism contributed to troubled boundaries of IR, it did so against the backdrop of internal boundary dilemmas of inside and outside, good women/bad women, authentic versus dominant voice, gender versus feminism, and so on. Today, feminist IR is somewhat different from its earlier orientations. It now draws heavily on postmodern thinking about margins, multiple truths, subjugated identities and discourses, and power in general, and takes on IR theory and methodology using insights from postmodern thinking and other disciplines such as anthropology and geography. Feminist IR continues to bring new locations of the international and relations to the fore. Two such areas deal with the subject of violent women in international relations and the urgencies of development around the world.
Catia Cecilia Confortini
Many women across the world have addressed issues of peace and war since antiquity, from Christine de Pizan and Jane Addams to Betty Reardon and Elise Boulding. Although a few feminist scholars in the social sciences consider themselves “peace studies” (PS) scholars, other feminists contribute to PS by tackling peace and violence issues. PS comprises peace research, peace education, and peace activism. Feminists improve on and challenge these fields by insisting on expanded definitions of peace that suggest continuity between different forms of violence; highlighting the diverse roles played by women and other marginalized groups in violent conflicts and in peace processes; complicating our understanding of peace and violence while foregrounding gender as a social and symbolic construct involving relations of power; and proposing transformative ways of conceptualizing peace, war, and postconflict transitions. By seeing all forms of violence along a continuum, feminists transform PS’ understandings of peace. Furthermore, feminism brings women to the center of PS by making them visible as actors in both peace and conflict. Finally, feminism envisions a peaceful future that take into consideration women, other marginalized people, and gender. A number of themes continue to emerge from feminist engagement with PS, such as forgiveness, reconciliation, and transitional justice—themes situated at the intersection of peace/violence and religion.
Brooke Ackerly and Ying Zhang
The study of feminist ethics in international relations (IR) is the study of three topics. The first is the feminist contributions to key topics in international ethics and the research agenda that continues to further that enterprise. Feminists have made important contributions to IR thought on central ethical concepts. They rethink these concepts from the perspective of their impact on women, deconstruct the dichotomies of the concepts and their constituent parts, and reconsider how the field should be studied. Next, there is the feminist engagement with the epistemological construction of the discipline of IR itself, by which feminists make the construction of the field itself a normative subject. Finally, there is the feminist methodological contribution of a “meta-methodology”—a research ethic applicable in the research of all questions and able to improve the research practice of all methodologists. The contention here is that ethical IR research must be responsive to the injustices of the world, hence feminists have also explored the connections between scholarship and activism. And this in turn has meant exploring methodologies such as participatory action research that engages one with the political impact of research and methods. Furthermore, contemporary challenges related to climate, globalization, shifts in people, and shifts in global governance are encouraging feminists to work from multiple theoretical perspectives and to triangulate across multiple methods and questions, in order to contribute to our understanding of global problems and the politics of addressing them.
Foreign policy analysis (FPA) deals with the decision-making processes involved in foreign policy-making. As a field of study, FPA overlaps international relations (IR) theory and comparative politics. Studies that take into account either sex, women, or gender contribute to the development of knowledge on and about women in IR, which is in itself one of the goals of feminist scholarship. There are two main spheres of feminist inquiries when it comes to foreign policy: the role of women as sexed power holders involved in decision-making processes and power-sharing in the realm of foreign policy-making, and the role of gendered norms in the conduct and adoption of foreign policies. Many observers insist that feminism and foreign policy are linked only by a marriage of convenience, designed to either acknowledge the political accomplishments of women in the sphere of foreign policy such as Margaret Thatcher and Indira Ghandi, or bring attention to so-called “women’s issues,” such as reproduction rights and population control. Scholarship on women and/or gender in relation to foreign policy covers a wide range of themes, such as the role of women as political actors in decision-making processes and organizational structures; women’s human rights and gender mainstreaming; the impact of various foreign policies on women’s lives; and the concept of human security and the idea of women’s rights as a valid foreign policy objective. Three paradigms that have been explored as part of the study of women in comparative politics and IR are behavioralism, functionalism, and rational choice theory.
Feminism has provided some new perspectives to the discourse on human rights over the years. Contemporary feminist scholarship has sought to critique the liberalism on which the conception of formal “equality” in the international human rights laws has been derived on a number of grounds. Two of the most pertinent critiques for this discussion are: the androcentric construction of human rights; and the perpetuation of the false dichotomy between the public and private spheres. This exploration of the relationship between liberalism and women’s human rights constitutes a significant shift in which many feminists had realized that the emphasis on “sameness” with men was limited in its utility. This shift rejected the “sameness” principle of the liberal feminists and brought gender-specific abuses into the mainstream of human rights theory and practice. By gender mainstreaming international institutions and future human rights treaties, specific women’s rights could be defined as human rights more generally. Feminists have since extended their critique of androcentrism and the public–private dichotomy to the study of gender inequalities and economic globalization, which is an important systemic component of structural indivisibility. In particular, the broader women’s human rights movement has come to realize that civil-political liberties and socioeconomic rights are inextricable, though there is disagreement over the exact nature of this relationship.
The field of gender and environmental studies deals with the ways that gender roles shape the access to and management of resources. From being dominated by old debates on whether the earth is our mother goddess or whether women are inherently closer to nature than men, gender and environmental studies has evolved into a largely activist-informed and materially-focused discipline. Feminist perspectives are now being articulated in a variety of wide-ranging themes and issues such as environmental justice, global climate change, population debates, disasters, water, and militarization. The main feminist perspectives for studying women and the environment can be divided into two “umbrella” groups: the “ecofeminist” camp and the “materialist” camp. The ecofeminist group argues that there is an “innate” connection between domination of nature and the oppression of women and that there exists a system of patriarchy in human society that leads to the domination of the “Other.” The materialist camp rejects this claim. It makes use of two approaches, feminist environmentalism and Feminist Political Ecology (FPE), to contend that women’s oppression is rooted in structural and material inequalities. Some of these feminist perspectives, including ecofeminism and feminist environmentalism, are applied by the field of Gender, Environment, and Development (GED) to the environmental policy domain. Three transnational environmental organizations doing GED work are GenderCC—Women for Climate Justice, Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and Development Alternatives for Women in a New Era (DAWN).
Laura J. Shepherd
In challenging conventional conceptualizations of the human subject, the state, and the international system, early feminist security studies (FSS) offered new ways to think about security from inside and outside the disciplinary boundaries of international relations (IR). Indeed, FSS scholars illustrate that security not only means different things in different contexts but also functions in different ways to constitute particular social/political realities. Politicizing the everyday, or rather, demanding that the everyday be recognized as political, is a core assumption of FSS. Further contributions of early FSS to the replacement of the human subject in matters of security include a form of engagement with the very language used in speaking of security matters. Moreover, FSS scholars argue that insecurities permeate the very condition of human existence, bringing FSS insights to bear on economic processes, technological development, state building, and reconstruction. Ranging from analysis of violent conflict and political violence using a gendered framework to critiques of the policies and practices governing post-conflict reconstruction, and encompassing strong and vital interjections on debates over securitizing development, migration, health, human rights, and peace, FSS scholarship is accessible, innovative, and by no means limited to “women and war.” Relocating FSS scholarship from the margins to the center and listening to the voices of those human subjects erased from the academic study of security brings new challenges but also new opportunities for collaboration, with the sighting and citing of FSS by other critical scholars.
Laura Sjoberg and Jillian Martin
The question “where are the women?” essentially underlies feminist international relations (IR). During the late 1980s and early 1990s, feminist scholars critiqued mainstream IR theories (i.e., realism, liberalism) and argued that there is a masculinist bias in the field, and that IR’s omission of gender in their analysis is problematic. The issue marks the starting point for scholarship on women and international relations. As the scholarship continued to evolve, so too did different feminist approaches to security (including liberal, critical, constructivist, post-colonial, and post-structural approaches). In utilizing a gender analysis, feminist scholars increasingly focused on security broadly defined, leading to the emergence of feminist security studies (FSS). Feminist security studies has become a vibrant field that produces innovative and timely research on issues of war, peace, security, conflict, and much more. While feminist work in these fields has a long and rich history, feminist security studies as a distinct and established field of study is still expanding within international relations and security studies. Feminist security scholars encourage people to reconsider what it is that the current security politics are truly serving to secure. By focusing on human rights, such as food security or protection of reproductive and sexual rights, feminists turn the traditional paradigm of security politics into a politics serving citizens rather than governments, corporations, or politicians.
Anna M. Agathangelou and Heather M. Turcotte
Feminist international relations (IR) theories have long provided interventions and insights into the embedded asymmetrical gender relations of global politics, particularly in areas such as security, state-nationalism, rights–citizenship, and global political economies. Yet despite the histories of struggle to increase attention to gender analysis, and women in particular, within world politics, IR knowledge and practice continues to segregate gendered and feminist analyses as if they are outside its own formation. IR as a field, discipline, and site of contestation of power has been one of the last fields to open up to gender and feminist analyses. One reason for this is the link between social science and international institutions like the United Nations, and its dominant role in the formation of foreign policy. Raising the inferior status of feminism within IR, that is, making possible the mainstreaming of gender and feminism, will require multiple centers of power and multiple marginalities. However, these institutional struggles for recognition through exclusion may themselves perpetuate similar exploitative relationships of drawing boundaries around legitimate academic and other institutional orders. In engaging, listening and writing these struggles, it is important to recognize that feminisms, feminist IR, and IR are intimately linked through disciplinary struggles and larger geopolitical struggles of world affairs and thus necessitate knowledge terrains attentive to intersectional and oppositional gendered struggles (i.e., race, sexuality, nation, class, religion, and gender itself).
Janet Elise Johnson
Violence against women represents the most popular gender related issue for global women’s activists, international development agencies, and human rights advocates. Although state responsiveness to violence against women was previously seen by feminist political scientists as only a domestic issue, international studies scholars have begun to theorize how states’ responsiveness is shaped by foreign interventions by global actors. As countries around the world began to adopt new policies opposing violence against women, social scientists adept in both feminist theory and social science methods began the comparative study of these reforms. These studies pointed to the importance of the ideological and institutional context as structural impediments or opportunities as well as suggested the more effective strategic alliances between activists, politicians, and civil servants. Those studies that attempt a deeper analysis rely upon indirect measures of effectiveness of policies and interventions, such as judging policy on how feminist it is and judging reforms based on the recognition of the relationship between violence against women and gender based hierarchies. Through these measures, feminist social scientists can estimate the response’s impact on the sex–gender system, and indirectly on violence against women, which is seen to be a result of the sex–gender system. The next challenge is differentiating between the various types of intervention and their different impacts. These various types of intervention include the “blame and shame,” in which activists hold countries up against standards; bilateral or transnational networking among activists; the widespread availability of international funding; and traditional diplomacy or warfare.
Valerie Hudson, R. Charli Carpenter, and Mary Caprioli
It is not only gender ambiguity that is securitized in the international arena, but femininity as well. Some scholars argue that conflict over what women are and what they should do is characterized as a risk to national/global security. Meanwhile, there are those who would characterize gender as irrelevant to, or is one of many variables, in thinking about “security.” Feminist international relations (IR) scholars, however, have argued that gender is across all areas of international security, and that gender analysis is transformative of security studies. A redefinition of security in feminist terms that reveals gender as a factor at play can uncover uncomfortable truths about the reality of this world; how the “myth of protection” is a lie used to legitimize war; and how discourse in international politics is constructed of dichotomies and that their deconstruction could lead to benefits for the human race. Feminist work asserts that it is inadequate to define, analyze, or account for security without reference to gender subordination, particularly, the dichotomy of the domination/subordination concept of power. Gender subordination can be found in military training routines that refer to underperforming men as “girls,” or in the use of rape and forced impregnation as weapons of war. It is the traditional sense of “power as dominance” that leads to situations such as the security dilemma.
Gender has been conceptualized in various ways in the mainstream governance literature and critical feminist work. The relationship between the concepts of gender and governance can be viewed as governance of gender and gender governance. The governance of gender is related to the way in which the values that permeate governance reflect traditional gender regimes. On the other hand, gender governance concerns governance in policy areas that, in the first instance, directly deal with women's issues. Gender governance is about the attempts to change gender regimes by inserting new policies, procedures, and values through global and multilevel governance, for example via the UN and the EU. In feminist studies that have focused on the state, the literature that is of particular interest to governance studies looks at the role of the state in gender relations. It studies, for example, the representation of women in electoral bodies and parties, theorizes representation in political bodies, and looks at the organization of welfare politics. In the field of international relations, feminist scholars are particularly interested in exploring the gender aspects of globalization and how the neoliberal order organizes women's lives. Governance has also been explored in relation to the EU and the term multilevel governance has become a standard concept in EU studies. The concept gender regime or gender order has been used by many researchers who study gender governance in the EU context.
Feminist and gendered interventions in the discipline of international political economy (IPE) traces the constitutive and causal role that gender plays in the diverse forms, functions, and impacts of the global political economy (GPE). There are subtle distinctions between “feminist” and “gendered” political economy. The term “feminist IPE” is assigned only to those scholars who identify directly with feminism and label themselves feminist. “Gendered IPE” includes feminist IPE, but also incorporates those analyses not necessarily centered on women’s work, their practices, and their experiences. Whether understood empirically or analytically, increased references to “gender” in IPE invariably resulted from the extensive, varied, and challenging feminist theorizing that had made visible the neglect of sex and gender in IPE. Indeed, gendered IPE scholarship is dedicated to transforming knowledge through committed gender analysis of the global political economy, deploying “gender” as a central organizing principle in social, cultural, political, and economic life. A relatively recent theoretical turn in gendered political economy thoroughly highlights the problems involved when gender is entirely associated with the body as a mark of human identity. Contemporary gendered IPE covers the variety of ways in which analysis of a person’s sex is simply not enough to describe their experiences. Indeed, ongoing feminist and gendered IPE concerns generally focus on the marginalization of gender analysis in IPE. Meanwhile, promising avenues in gendered IPE include gender and sexuality in IPE, as well as gender and the “Illicit International Political Economy” (IIPE).
Natalie Florea Hudson
One of the main arguments advanced by feminists is that we must move beyond adding women to existing structures and institutions, and focus more on the theoretical, cognitive, and even moral commitments that emphasize the very creation and ongoing reproduction of such political bodies. Central to this concern are the feminist debates about the state and the gendered reproduction of the state in discourses ranging from security and violence to development and globalization. Feminist theorists have raised various approaches and critiques against the state. Some have shown how the state is deeply and fundamentally embedded to patriarchy, while others have described the state as a terrain that can be deconstructed and reconstructed in a manner that moves away from systems of domination, gendered hierarchy, and power over towards arenas that foster inclusion and emancipation. In response to mainstream international relations (IR) theory, feminists have argued that the state and its related notions of citizenship and sovereignty are gendered social constructs. They continue to challenge the primacy of the state in mainstream IR, while also engaging the state as an important political actor in the feminist quest for emancipation, equality, and justice. One strategy employed by some feminist organizations and women’s movements in an attempt to go beyond gender balancing and the rather basic goals of liberal feminism, but to still find ways to engage the state and state actors in meaningful ways, is gender mainstreaming.