PP-Bridging Women, Peace & Security with Feminist Foreign Policy

Bridging Women, Peace & Security with Feminist Foreign Policy

Simi Mehta[1], Vibhuti Patel[2], and Satyam Tripathi[3]

[1] CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI

[2] Visiting Distinguished Professor at IMPRI

[3] Visiting Researcher at IMPRI

Title: Bridging Women, Peace & Security with Feminist Foreign Policy
Author(s):Simi Mehta, Vibhuti Patel, and Satyam Tripathi
Keywords:Feminism, Foreign Policy, International Relations, Peace & Conflict, Security.
Issue Date:October 8, 2023
Publisher:IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute
Abstract:The introduction of feminism as an ideology in the study of international relations and foreign policy seeks to challenge the notions of power, security, conflict, and sovereignty, which are traditionally masculine. Theorizing the importance of peace, security, and gender justice for the execution of feminist foreign policy requires questioning stereotypical constructions of masculinity and femininity in relation to significant sites of power and leadership, the dismantling of gender binaries that are present in states’ international behavior, the focus on women as a universal category, and the reproduction of intersectional relations in foreign policy practice. In light of this, this paper tries to follow up with some recent updates and deliberations as regards FFP.
ISSN:2583-3464 (Online)
Appears in Collections:IPRR Vol. 2 (1) [January-June 2023]
PDF Link:https://iprr.impriindia.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/10/PP2_Bridging-Women-Peace-and-Security-with-Feminist-Foreing-Policy_IPRR-V2I1_Jan-June-2023.pdf

(January-June 2023) Volume 2, Issue 1 | 8th October 2023
ISSN: 2583-3464 (Online)

The introduction of feminism as an ideology in the study of international relations and foreign policy seeks to challenge the notions of power, security, conflict, and sovereignty, which are traditionally masculine. Theorizing the importance of peace, security, and gender justice for the execution of feminist foreign policy requires questioning stereotypical constructions of masculinity and femininity in relation to significant sites of power and leadership, the dismantling of gender binaries that are present in states’ international behavior, the focus on women as a universal category, and the reproduction of intersectional relations in foreign policy practice. In light of this, this paper tries to follow up with some recent updates and deliberations as regards FFP.

Today there is ample data and evidence to establish and sustain the fact that women’s inclusion in peace negotiations and higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict as well as lasting peace agreements that are less likely to fail. Further analysis of prior peace processes suggests that women’s participation increases the likelihood of an agreement because women often take a “collaborative approach” to peacemaking and organize across cultural and sectarian divides. Women’s central roles in many families and communities afford them a unique vantage point to recognize unusual patterns of behavior and signs of impending conflicts, such as arms mobilization and weapons catching.

There is also the increasing role and significance of women in violence prevention efforts at the local level. Edit Schlaffer, Founder, and Chair of Women without Borders remarked “For a long time, we looked to the political elite for answers. Over time, however, it became very clear that civil society not only better understands these problems, local-level stakeholders also have the access and reach to address these challenges.”

Evidence also indicates that incorporating women in strategies to counter violent extremism can help to mitigate radicalization as the antiterrorism messages can be effectively disseminated throughout families and communities by women, since they are better placed to challenge extremist narratives in homes, schools, and social environments, and have influence among youth populations.

For instance, in the Rwandan case, despite being a patriarchal society that witnessed one of the most devastating genocides in the world, women played a crucial role in national healing and reconciliation. In war-stricken societies, there is a heightened need for emotional reassurance. Women were not just involved in helping male members cope with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) after the War but also were pivotal and apparently the most important factor in persuading the men to shun violent insurgency and return to family life, thereby disentangling male members from uprising by employing various strategies.

Further research shows that an approach— which incorporates the concerns of diverse demographics (e.g., religious, ethnic, and cultural groups) affected by a conflict and with an interest in its resolution—increases the prospects of long-term stability.

UN Resolutions & Aftermath

There were 10 other resolutions that together covered a whole gamut of concerns and made women’s peace and security a global agenda. Women’s inclusion will improve the chances of attaining viable and sustainable peace. There must be zero tolerance for all forms of gender violence. Together they refer to the global codification of principles that underlie dignity, rights, and bodily integrity for women. 

Resolution 1325 began a series of conversations that enabled us to interrogate the ethnocentric, anthropocentric, and androcentric notions of security. It is significant as it is a bottom-up resolution. It emerged from the experience of women’s activism at the grassroots level because of the lobbyism of NGOs and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

This resolution was initiated by the global South when Namibia was chairing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Anwarul Chowdhury from Bangladesh was the prime mover of Resolution 1325. This Resolution 1325 originated from the aspiration of the global south to recognize women’s role in conflict transformation and its differential impact on women in conflict.

It was a major paradigm shift in the understanding of security and an expansive notion of building peace. Subsequently, Resolution 1325 was followed by the exhortation of the Beijing platform which contained an entire chapter on peace and security, war’s impact on women, and sexual violence seen in the civil war in South Africa, Bosnia, and Rwanda. Thus, it is a process of democracy, representation, and participation.

Two ends of the spectrum of Resolution 1325 are represented in Resolution 2467 which was adopted in 2019, and it has a survivor-centric approach to conflict-related sexual violence.

Resolution 2558 adopted in 2020 affirms the link between development, peace, human rights, and security which are mutually enforceable. So, 1325 is a continuous work, that emphasizes the fact that peacebuilding is a verb and not a noun, it depends on everyday resistances and daily mutinies of women.

Conceptualization has evolved as perceptions changed. Jo Vellacott started her career as an air engine mechanic and later became an air engineer during the Second World War and later became a pacifist. In her biography, “Living and Learning in Peace and War”, she mentioned that the words women, peace, and power, do not speak to each other as the word women sounded very innocuous, sickish, and pinkish, whereas the word power has a scarlet and crimson shield. Later, she realized that the problem lay with the spectacles of the world, and hence, one must change one’s perceptions (read lens) to enrich one’s understanding.      The traditional view of women as peacemakers needs interrogation. They are active participants in opposing injustice, war, militarism, and other forms of violence. For instance, Women in Black is an international network of women who resist war with the feminist understanding that male violence against women in domestic life and in the community, in times of peace and in times of war, are interrelated, i.e., violence is used as a means of controlling women. Peace accompanied by justice is the call of the day.

Rosa Parks, the American activist in the civil rights movement, asserted her right to human dignity, refusing to get off the bus which was segregated in 1955 in Alabama. She was glued to her dignity, lit the fuse for social venom, and today the slogan goes that Rosa sat so that Martin (read Martin Luther King, Jr.) could walk (Walk to Freedom, June 1963); Martin walked so that Obama (read Barack Obama) could run (for US Presidency).

Urvashi Butalia, an Indian feminist scholar and activist wrote an evocative article in which she said that democracy is saved by our women. Women’s peace can be in the resistance, therefore the question is: are these women making peace, or are they changing the discourse on security? Feminists argue that the state’s behavior of seeking security is legitimized by its association with certain types of hegemonic masculinity and in the strategic language of foreign policy and defense discourse. 

Noted Pakistani economist Mahbub-ul-Haque’s evocative articulation of human security in Human Development Report (1994) said that women’s security is a child who did not die, and disease did not spread, ethnic tension that did not explode, a dissidence that was not silenced and the human spirit that was not crushed. Sara Ruddick, a feminist philosopher, and author of the book Maternal Thinking: Toward a Politics of Peace (1989) remarked that the rational calculus, the self-interested language of realism, and the power group lie in the philosophy of connectedness. Feminist voices as counter-hegemonic politics exist where the notions of power are inverted. Language like collateral damage equates to real human beings. The international and domestic spheres are connected. Livelihood, food security, the quality of living are important. Non-traditional security expands beyond traditional barriers. Even when our leaders vouch to protect their people and the larger international community along with the United Nations puts security, peace, and protection of human rights on its forefront, somewhere down the line the repetition of such crimes often occurs leaving to question the credibility of policies that are being upheld to alleviate human rights abuses are rather aggravating it. In such instances, the question of why women continue to face the brunt of any war or conflict despite ardent support for their protection leaves us to wonder about the credibility of equal representation of all communities.

Feminist Foreign Policy (FFP) as the Way Forward

The International Relations (IR) “hegemony” held by realism was suggested to be deeply gendered, with “its assumptions about the way the world is divided—inside-out, strong-weak, rich-poor, peace-war, men-women” creating false dichotomies and inherently privileging some perspectives over others. According to Feminist IR, these dichotomies carried over into states themselves, meaning developed countries were masculine, strong, rich, and peaceful while developing countries were weak, poor, conflict-ridden, and feminine.

This lack of sensitivity pushes us to question the credibility of existing policies and laws that benchmark the protection of all people. And if men decide for women, make laws, and prevent them from deciding for their own community, oppression will continue to spread. It is for this minute logic, which owning to a gender-sensitive perspective to understanding international relations and formulating foreign policy that is sensitive to women, irrespective of borders is extremely necessary.

The development of society and the liberal understanding of gender roles has put much attention on the debate of security and policy being reserved for just men in modern times, further reinstating existing beliefs of conflict and later peace being a man’s domain. Pedagogues of international security have argued that women were always considered too fragile and peaceful to be a part of armed combat. Women’s peaceful character is attributed to either nature or nurture and the “nature versus culture” debate helps draw much clarity on why women were seen as frontiers of peace and unimaginable in times of conflict even when they were facing the brunt of it.

FFP provides a powerful lens through which we can counter the violent global systems of power, i.e., patriarchy, racism, cultural nationalism, imperialism, and militarism that leave most of the population in a perpetual state of vulnerability and despair. This is because IR has largely been a deeply masculine field, with a relative paucity of women IR theorists and practitioners.

FFP is the policy of a state that defines its interactions with other states and movements in a manner that prioritizes gender equality and enshrines the human rights of women and other traditionally marginalized groups, allocates significant resources to achieve that vision and seeks through its implementation to disrupt patriarchal and male-dominated power structures across all of its levers of influence (aid, trade, defense, and diplomacy), informed by the voices of feminist activists, groups and movements. This means a foreign policy that is not only by women or for women but goes further, taking a nonbinary, gendered lens that recognizes and seeks to correct for historically patriarchal and often racist and/or neo-colonialist imbalances of power as they play out on the world stage.

There is a sense of consensus that FFP is surely more than gender parity as well as more than just attempts to make women visible in IR since this approach fails to realize and challenge those underlying patriarchal systems that fuel violence and conflict. It is the level of influence that women can assert on the process that makes a difference, not merely by their headcount.


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