Friday, 01 May 2015 13:36

Women, where art thou? A Feminist appraisal of International Politics  Featured

 Politics is a man's world! These are not my words, but by men themselves.

 Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “If women want to be in politics, they need to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros". Like Roosevelt, many have observed that International Politics is a man's world. A world inhabited by diplomats, soldiers and international civil servants, most of whom are men.

IR was founded as a separate discipline in the wake of World War 1, charged with investigating the causes of war and conditions for peace.  As Tickner puts it, IR with its focus on the "high" politics of war and Real politics, the traditional Western academic discipline of international relations privileges issues that grow out of men's experiences; we are socialized into believing that war and power politics are spheres of activity with which men have a special affinity and that their voices therefore likely to be more authentic. The roles traditionally ascribed to women - in reproduction, in households and even in the economy - are generally considered irrelevant to the traditional construction of the field.

The history of modern Western Feminist Movements can be divided into three waves:

 Women's Suffrage movements of the 19th and the early 20th century promoting woman's right to vote. The second wave was associated with the ideas of the women's liberation movement for legal/social equality in the 60's, which was continued in the 90’s. And as for the third wave, it was a reaction to the perceived failures of the past. However, the first IR journal special issue on women and International Relations appeared in the Millennium in 1988. Cynthia Enloe’s path breaking Bananas, Bases and Beaches: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics appeared in 1990. And by early 2000s, this discipline came to be known as "Feminist IR" or Gender and IR. 

 The year 1988, positively marked an important milestone when the second wave was at its peak with the 1975-85: The UN decade of women, serving as a blaze raised the individual consciousness of women, stirred a change in the power dynamics, in the private and public sphere. it was also the first time in the history that women rights were considered human rights!

Feminism theory, which emerged from the movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women's social roles and lived experience, encompassing work in a variety of discipline ,from Anthropology Sociology economics etc. It takes " women as women" very seriously while also making "Men as men visible". Therefore, in its simplest understanding, Feminism refers to Gender- Equality. It is a multidisciplinary approach to Sex and Gender equality understood to through various social theories and Political activism.

 The affinity between Feminism, gender and Power

 As said, Feminism explores power in all its forms; Gender is just one of the crucial building blocks of feminist analysis. While Gender explores meaning attached to Feminist and Masculinity, about how these socially constructed and a historically contested meaning shapes relations between men and women and the various institutions. On the other hand, Feminist Sanalysis explicitly puts power at the center of analysis.

 Masculinities and war

Masculinity and politics have a long and close association. Characteristics associated with "manliness," such as toughness, courage, power, independence, and even physical strength, have, throughout history, been those most valued in the conduct of politics, particularly international politics. Frequently, manliness has also been associated with violence and the use of force, a type of behavior that, when conducted in the international arena has been valorized and applauded in the name of defending one's country. R. W. Connell points out; this stereotypical image of masculinity does not fit most men. Connell suggests that what he calls "hegemonic masculinity," a type of culturally dominant masculinity that he distinguishes from other subordinated masculinities, is a socially constructed cultural ideal that, while it does not correspond to the actual personality of the majority of men, sustains patriarchal authority and legitimizes a patriarchal political and social order.

"[Feminists] need a home in which everyone has a room of her own, but one in which the walls are thin enough to permit a conversation." Suggesting that the personal is political, feminist scholars have brought to our attention distinctions between public and private in the domestic polity: examining these artificial boundary distinctions in the domestic polity could shed new light on international boundaries, such as those between anarchy and order, which are so fundamental to the conceptual framework of realist discourse.

 Tickner, in his Man, State and the War: Gendered perspective on National security. He introduces Gender as a category of analysis into the discipline of IR. The marginalization of women in the area of foreign policy making. her very famous work was, “You just don’t understand” describes, how in the name of national security, states have justified large defense budgets, which take priority over domestic spending, military conscription of their young adult male population. The task of defining, defending, and advancing the security interests of the state is a man's affair, a task that, through its association with war, has been especially valorized and rewarded in many cultures throughout history. 

As Simone de Beauvoir's explanation for male superiority suggests, giving one's life for one's country has been considered the highest form of patriotism, but it is an act from which women have been virtually excluded. While men have been associated with defending the state and advancing its international interests as soldiers and diplomats, women have typically been engaged in the "ordering" and "comforting" roles both in the domestic sphere, as mothers and basic needs providers, and in the caring professions, as teachers, nurses, and social workers.

It is difficult to find definitions by women of national security. While it is not necessarily the case that women have not had ideas on this subject, they are not readily accessible in the literature of international relations. When women speak or write about national security, they are often dismissed as being naive or unrealistic. Addressing the International Congress of Women at The Hague during World War I, Jane Addams spoke of the need for a new definition to replace the idea of a self-destructive nationalism. The conference concluded that assuring security through military means was no longer possible, and it called for disarmament as a more appropriate course for ensuring future security. It concluded by defining security in various ways depending on the most immediate threats to their survival; security meant safe working conditions and freedom from the threat of war or unemployment. While women from the third World defined insecurity more broadly in terms of the structural violence associated with imperialism, militarism, racism, and sexism. Cllaiming they are interconnected, most feminists would agree that the behavior of individuals and the domestic policies of states could not be separated from states' behavior in the international system.

Feminists call attention to the particular vulnerabilities of women within states, vulnerabilities that grow out of hierarchical gender relations that are also interrelated with international politics. Calling into question the notion of the "protected," the National Organization for Women in their "Resolution on Women in Combat" of September 16, 1990, estimated that 80-90 percent of casualties due to conflict since World War II have been civilians, the majority of whom have been women and children. In militarized societies, women are particularly vulnerable to rape, and evidence suggests that domestic violence is higher in military families or in families that include men with prior military service. Even though men against other men, itis more often women who feel threatened in public places, commit most public violence. 

Jill Radford suggests that when women feel it is unsafe to go out alone, their equal access to job opportunities is limited. Feminist theories draw our attention to another anarchy/order distinction-- the boundary between a public space protected, by the rule of law and the private space of the family where, in many cases, no such legal protection exists. In most states, domestic violence is not considered a concern of the state, and even when it is, law enforcement officials are often unwilling to get involved. Domestic assaults on women, often seen as are not taken as seriously as criminal assaults.  Maria Mies argues that, as poor women probably suffer the most from family violence, a growing women's movement in India points to an increase in violence against educated middle-class women also, the extreme form of which is dowry murder. In 1982 there were 332 cases of "accidental burning" of women in New Delhi; many more cases of "dowry deaths" go unreported. Recent studies of family violence in the United States and Western Europe have brought to light similar problems. When the family is violence-prone, it is frequently beyond the reach of the law; citing a 1978 report of the California Commission on the Status of Women, Pauline Gee documents, that one-quarter of the murders in the United States occurred within the family, one-half of these being husband-wife killings.

Maria Mies argues that this line, which demarcates public and private, separates state-regulated violence, the rule of right for which there are legally sanctioned punishments, and male violence, the rule of might for which, in many societies, no such legal sanctions exist. The rule of might and the rule of right are descriptions that have also been used in international relations discourse to distinguish the international and domestic spheres.

Hence, Family violence must be seen in the context of wider power relations; it occurs within a gendered society in which male power dominates at all levels.

As Cynthia Enloe questioned, "Where are the women?", referring to the women representation across the globe in International politics, let me tell you, today, women represents only 18.6% of the world, in the various parliaments.

In most of the contemporary world, men do not need to give up their gender identity in order to practice foreign policy; however, the same cannot be said for women. Until we reach a point where values associated with femininity are more universally valued in public life, women will continue to try to give up being feminine when they enter the world of international politics, for those who are the most successful are those who can best deny their femininity. 

For example, Ms. Hillary Clinton, who is an epitome of women empowerment, yet she is criticized with sexist comments about her hair! Chrisitine Lagarde, the MD of the IMF. In fact the first women to head the IMF, was featured in a magazine labeled as, “Can this woman save Europe?” Angela Merkel, Another woman of power, Germany’s first women chancellor of Germany and the leader of the CDU has been described as the defacto leader of the EU called as the milkmaid, despite ranked as the most powerful person by the Forbes in 2013. And by this year, she is ranked as the world’s most powerful woman. While, there have been growing number of women representations in the policy making, we can infer is, Gender shapes and is shaped by Global Politics.


Talking about India, it has been a rather irksome journey for the women in power, let alone those wishing to be a significant part of the 'Game'. In the recent visit of the President of the US on the 66th Republic day, India did try its best to showcase the, "Woman Power"  with all -women contigets of the three services for the first time. But again, women Army officers are still denied permanent commission on a par with men: they have to be content with the short service commission. (Going Beyond symbolism, Jan 29th,The Hindu). 

The detailed article titled, "Glass celings in state cabinets",(february 16th, The Hindu) talked about how the Women representation in the Ministries is low, and often restricted to certain portfolios. "With all State Assemblies put together, 360 of the country’s 4,120 MLAs — or nine per cent — are women, The Hindu’s analysis of data compiled by Bhanupriya Rao, an open data campaigner and Right to Information activist, shows. However, just 39 of the 568 Ministers in State governments, or less than seven per cent, are women. Fewer still are Cabinet Ministers." Two States and one Union Territory — Nagaland, Mizoram and Puducherry — have no women MLAs at all! quite a shock isn't it? "Four additional States — Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana and Punjab — have women MLAs, but no women Ministers. Nearly 12 per cent of Punjab’s Assembly comprises women, while Telangana, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh have close to 10 per cent women MLAs, yet none of these States have a woman Minister."

As we await  and may be celebrate the Women's day, let me remind you about the much debated, The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, a pending bill in India proposing to amend the Constitution of India to reserve 33 per cent of all seats in the Lower house of Parliament of India, the Lok Sabha, and in all state legislative assemblies for women. The Upper House Rajya Sabha, has passed the bill on 9 Mar 2010 but as of February 2014, the Lower House Lok Sabha has not yet voted on the bill! Can we ask why?

Dear World, Men and Women, The answer lies in the minds of them; the Men: "JDU leader Sharad Yadav opposing the Women’s Bill, said that the bill would only benefit the well-off in the cities, describing well-off women as, ‘‘par kati auratein’ (women with short hair). Also, I tell you, Men are not very happy when women are "Loud"! Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam to BJP MP Smriti Irani: “It's only four days of your entry into politics and you have become a political analyst. Aap toh TV pe thumke lagati thi, aaj chunavi vishleshak ban gayi (you were shaking your hips on TV, and now you have become a psephologist).”

A world that is more secure for us all cannot be achieved until the oppressive gender hierarchies that operate to frame the way in which we think about and engage in international politics are dismantled. A non-gendered perspective could truly offer us a more inclusively human way of thinking about our collective future, a future in which women and men could share equally in the construction of a safer and more just world.


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