Feminism and International Relations

Feminism and International Relations

Sadaf Shabbir

The study of international relations is an old discipline and has been instrumental in forming and establishing empires. But the field of international relations as a scientific, research-based discipline emerged in the 20th century in the United States of America, particularly following the end of the World War II which coerced the international community to understand the working dynamics of the international political arena and remerged from being the sub-discipline of political science.

End of the World War II is considered a hallmark that brought about the blatant changes in the dynamics of power holding mechanisms. During the cold war, it was all about realpolitik: politics was being operated on the notion of power and state became the eminent and the most imperative constituent of defining the notion of security. In other words, realism was the most hegemonic, considered the ‘king of all the theories.’ The balance of power, military security, the use of threats and the control or to assert the military power was the defining objectives of the then states’ foreign policies. State became the referent object that is, the primary concern of security. In this way the security of individuals was totally liquidated. Questions started emerging on the dominance of such a theory that undermined the human security and had the emphasis on the state security alone that was directly proportional to the military security. In other words, the more the military power, the more the state is secured regardless of the people residing in the territorial boundaries of that state. It is not necessary all the time that if a state is secured then the population is secured too as in so many of regimes that have been ruling on their people with iron fists seem to be secured on the outside (the border security) but the very rights of their citizens are being suppressed and any dissent is being crushed.

This referent object has provided the basis for the study of Critical Security Studies in which the challenges have emerged to the theory of realism and this theory has been accused of not only being state centric but also androcentric that disregard the very sufferings and hence the contributions or solely the existence of women from the international political arena.

The theory of Feminism in international relations made its prominence in 1980s, despite being existing and continuously evolving since 1848 that marked the first women convention and declaration on the international stage under the name of Declaration of Rights and Sentiments. Feminist international relations scholars have emerged as the challenge to question and demand that why solely the state has been considered the international unit of analysis and why the role of individuals have been circumvented? what difference does it make that the very prominent actors of the international arena, be it leaders, diplomats, prosecutors, judges, foreign office servants, and those who dominate each sphere of domestic and international politics are men? Why women have been made so disempowered that their verdicts, opinions and ideas and hence their contributions are considered futile? Why the realpolitik that has been operating on the notion of power defines the power in the adjectives as masculinity hence getting adhered with ruthlessness and violence that are responsible for deteriorating the social, economic, political and cultural fabric of the international community? Along with all such questions Feminism has emerged as the threshold to expose the gender biasness that has been engraved not only in the social basis but has been made gushed up on the political level too.

In order to understand that basis of the edifice of the Feminism as the theory in International Relations the term patriarchy needs to be understood.

Patriarchy as defined by the feminist movement builders dictionary: Patriarchy refers to the systematic and institutionalized male domination embedded in and perpetuated by cultural, political, economic and social structures and ideologies. These systems explicitly make women inferior and subordinate and confer control and decision making on males while making values associated with masculinity the norm or ideal.

Or in other words the patriarchy is being operated on the notion and belief that it is right and proper for men to command and women to obey; be this command be anything. This is how international relations are being operated and executed since its emergence being solely the power game and hence power can be the thing suitable for men in particular and hence dug out a drastic dichotomy that men are there for production and women for reproduction.

For instance how these mindsets are being executed and are operational and vivid enough to undermine the women’s roles can be described and evident by analysing these accounts that were given by J. Ann Tickner, the most celebrated and the renowned feminist international relations scholar who in her book Gender in International Relations has explicitly described the agenda of feminism and has unveiled the gender biasness innate in international political actors and those who have long been responsible for running the statecraft; the statesmen.

The case study of the United States of America is taken into account for the obvious reason that being the first world country and the strongest and the mightiest of all, that has been the symbol of civilization and that has given path to the globalization as well, in short the most enlightened one of all the world’s countries (as it is being said and demonstrated).

Tickner encounters that how women were being given subordinate role than those of men when women accounted for just 5% of the Foreign Service ranks and only 4% in the positions held responsible for the execution of eminent decision making in the Department of Defense in 1987 and in addition to this, the women forming the 5 and 4 percent of such positions, the hurdles that were hurled at them is another path of reaching such positions totally on their own. The scoffing and the mocking that they had to endure not only on the grassroots levels but also by those who held the reins of such offices and positions thinking that these reins could only be held by those man enough, was like adding fuel to the fire; the fire that was solely there to thwarted women from achieving their goals.

The words of Donald Regan, the then White House Chief Of Staff are more than enough to depict the mindsets of those who are being given the high positions as in the Superpower Summit in 1985 in Geneva where he was reported to claim that women won’t ever be able to absorb and understand the circumstances and the plagues that were core to the meeting. In addition to this, his words were openly a derogatory against the women’s participation and the vivid role that they have been performing when he states that it is not in the wit of the women to understand the missile operations and they would rather be observing the other human interest stuff.

His irrationality was so obvious that he didn’t even recognize the role of the then member of the House Of Representatives, on the sensitive issue as Vietnam War that had been the bone of contention for the prosperity of United States, Bella Abzurg who in the 1972 had given the emphasis on ending the warfare that had nothing to offer except the bloodbath.

Abzurg has also given an account that how in international relations the stigmatization and the very stereotypes that what fields can be suitable for women are being adhered and hence women are being confined to the particular zones that are deemed all well to them by men.

For instance, when Abzurg, being the member of the House of Representatives requested a seat in House Armed Service Committee; in which no women since 22 years had served because armed was something that was again made adhered to the notion of masculinity and male superiority hence the whole US Congress was being operated on the institutionalized belief of patriarchy. Abzurg as was expected was denied the seat, despite her long and firm grip over the Vietnam War consequences and her level of intellect that was far better and much long sighted than many of her male colleagues. The one reason of denial was that women are more deemed responsible for the secondary fields as agriculture and education; far away from security and militarism.

If the scenario, when it comes to women and the patriarchal international relations, has been this in the world’s most civilized state that has given birth to the ideologies as liberalism that asserts that each individual is free enough to choose his or her path and still the birth place of such a theory goes counter to it, then we may have the idea that the scenarios in other parts of the world where gender disparity is at its peak and where the armed conflicts make the circumstances exacerbated, are much worse where the very existence and survival of women is jeopardized.

Feminism gives the more gendered approach to the international relations and has provided the basis for the gender analysis. Since the foreign, domestic and military policy making and decision making areas are dominated by men, so the discipline of international relations that analyzes such working mechanisms is also enveloped in depicting the experiences of men only and thus this is how we are made to recognize that anything belonging to humans is everything belonging to men only and has been made adhered with masculinity as the patriarchal international relations suggest that history is basically his-story.

For instance as the Tickner highlights the term Patriot. When one thinks about patriot, one thinks of a soldier, the weapons hung on his soldier, on the battlefield fighting and often spreading violence in the name of defense or maybe of a football or cricket team but never of a woman because it has been constructed that power, autonomy and strength are the attributes suitable for men only and these are constructed gender stereotyping that feminism wants to shatter in international relations.

Another side of the same coin can be seen where women’s sufferings are so much trivialized to the extent that they aren’t even added to the number of casualties. For instance the armed conflicts and the systematic use of rapes. Since centuries women are being considered as the mere chattel of men who are being passed on from one generation to the other, from the one handler to the other, from fathers to the husbands. And this is the reason that women when are systematically sexually assaulted in the armed conflicts as we have seen in DRC, Sierra Leone, the Former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Sudan and South Sudan, Myanmar and the Indian occupied Kashmir, and no heed was being paid to such systematic persecution of women as these sexual assaults were considered the inevitable byproduct of the war. Or even when such accounts, when perpetrated on the massive scale in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, were taken into consideration only because of the more female reporters of the conflict, Feminists argue that such assaults were considered by the international community as the assault against the women’s honor; not against an individual, as if honor was something bestowed to women by men and if the same men snatch it away, she suddenly becomes dishonored; which again depicts the patriarchal mindsets of the international global arena. Such sexual assaults were not considered as the assaults against woman, a human but an assault against the man’s property.

Such mindsets are responsible for the sexual genocide of women in the armed conflicts in the international relations where each warring side considers to assault women to undermine the strength of their opponents hence making women the targets.

The notable point here is that, before the Rwandan Yugoslavian genocide, the sexual assaults against women long before happening in WWII on the brutal level were not even taken into account when it came to Tokyo and Nuremberg International Criminal Tribunals that were solely made to bring to justice the perpetrators of the WWII, and no single person was accused and hence tried and eventually convicted for the sexual assaults done by both the warring sides.

Feminism has been there and will evolve more successfully as we are witnessing the resurgence of it as now the fights, the demands, the questions, the pointing out the flaws, the asking the gender dichotomy in international relations are paying off and it is quite evident that now the study of international relations without the study of feminism, as the theory not only operating on the social basis but also on the global political and economic spheres, is considered futile and a hoax as without highlighting the struggles, the contributions the vivid role that women have been playing since centuries and such roles have been made sidelined and hidden under some debris of sexism, no single nation can reach the pinnacle of the progress without recognizing the half of the world’s population existence. In short feminism is a term without any second thought, that women are humans too and that women’s rights are unambiguously the human rights.

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