Written by Zineb Khelif
Translated by Bertille Fitamant
The last Munich Security Conference on February 17th is one of the most important forums on international security policies and is framed as a space for discussion to think about the peaceful resolution of conflicts and security issues. It wants to be at the heart of the definition and debates around contemporary security challenges, while taking into account environmental and human security issues.
Yet the conference only addressed issues relating to gender and the articulation of its reality in geopolitics twice, out of a total of 54 topics. This striking absence is characteristic of the security domain and the power dynamics associated with it. However, as Foucault explains, “power and knowledge imply each other directly; there is no relation of power without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not at the same time presuppose and constitute relations of power« pouvoir et savoir s’impliquent directement l’un l’autre ; qu’il n’y a pas de relation de pouvoir sans constitution corrélative d’un champ de savoir, ni de savoir qui ne suppose et … Continue reading [loose translation]”. Therefore, what does the absence of a gender lens in international security issues imply, and how is it reflected in international security issues?
The roots of this omission
The structure of contemporary security issues stems from the very birth of our Western political models. The notion of the State comes true through the classical reflection of the self, the interior, in opposition to the other, the exterior. From a historical perspective, this notion finds its origins in ancient Greece, with the oikos symbolising the interior versus the polis, the exterior, whose defence is ensured by men through their warrior function. Historian George Mosse explains that an analogy has been drawn over time between the image of the motherland, the interior and the woman, idealised yet restricted to an entity that must be protected from “the other”Mosse, George L (1997) Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe, (New York: Howard Fertig.
The realist theorists’ vision of international relations stems from this history, emphasising the referential of man and thus leading to a kind of anthropomorphism of the state represented by the man protecting the nation. As depicted in Kenneth Waltz’s book, Man, The State and War, for realists, the international system is characterised by an anarchy that would reflect male behaviour in its gendered dimension: “between men and between States, there is no automatic adjustment of interests. In the absence of a supreme authority, there is, therefore, the constant possibility that conflict will be resolved by force« entre les hommes comme entre les Etats, il n’y a pas d’ajustement automatique des intérêts. En l’absence d’une autorité suprême, il y’a donc cette possibilité constante que le … Continue reading [loose translation]”. International relations are thus thought of as a relationship between men whose defence of these interests would create perpetual conflicts. The Leviathan by Thomas HobbesHobbes, T. (2008). Leviathan (J. C. A. Gaskin, Ed.). Oxford University Press., an inalienable reference for our Western political systems, perfectly illustrates this masculinist vision of the relationship between different political entities, this theory being represented by the author as a crowned and armed warrior, the people relying on him to protect themselves from other States’ wishful thinking.
The concept of sovereignty, the foundation of the Westphalian state, perpetuates this vision of a protection contract with its populations as the very structure of its legitimacy. However, it is paradoxical in nature since the State undertakes to protect its population from the dynamics of violence that it itself nurtures through its self-interested and aggressive vision of international relationsPeterson, V. (1992). 1 Security and Sovereign States: What Is at Stake in Taking Feminism Seriously?. In V. Peterson (Ed.), Gendered States: Feminist (Re)Visions of International Relations Theory. … Continue reading.
Thus, international relations are marked by phallocentrism because the State is the central point of reference in the international system and its relationship to the other would be modelled after male behaviour. This leads to a de facto homogenisation of the thought of international relations centred around the male point of view and experience.
The field of international relations was criticised in 1960 for its model advocating a certain neutrality, even though it promoted the homogenisation of the world’s population around the notion of the “rational man” in pursuit of the interests of the State. This field would be, according to Jan Jindy Pettman, a researcher at the Australian National University, “one of the most masculinist fields, in the composition of its members as much as in its understanding of States, wars and markets« l’une des disciplines les plus masculinistes, dans la composition de ses membres autant que dans sa compréhension des États, des guerres et des marchés ». J. Pettman,(1996). Worlding … Continue reading [loose translation]”.
Thus, the fight for the notion of “equal rights of men and women” to be included in the preamble of the San Francisco Charter of 1945 by feminist groups crystallises the need to put an end to the alleged neutrality of this field. The latter in fact maintains a biased vision of a world marked by a masculinist and Western hegemonyTickner, J. A., & Sjoberg, L. (2007). Feminism. In T. Dunne, M. Kurki, & S. Smith (Eds.), International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity. Oxford University Press. which makes the interests and needs of the rest of the population invisible.
A restricted and minority-gendered interpretation of the prism of gender
Like the latest Munich Security Conference (MSC), the majority of supranational bodies or think tanks involved in security issues have a particularly patriarchal way of thinking and operating. The institutional framework of the MSC, namely the organisation around its advisory council, is a singular testimony to this. It is made up of 24 members, 5 of whom are women, and its charter does not express any precision on the parity that should be aimed for among its members, apart from article 4 decreeing the need for a certain “diversity” among its members, accompanied by a balance of different viewpointsCharter of the MSC Advisory Council. This lack of female representation in strategic positions, as can be seen at NATO in 2018, where women represented 25% of senior positions, perpetuates a lack of consideration for the point of view of women. However, even if some organisations consider this parity necessary, such as the UN, which displays rates of 43% and 35% respectively for mid-career and senior grades positionsBillaud-Durand, P. (March 7th 2019). The diversity of NATO, a constant effort. NATO Review. … Continue reading, it is still not enough.
In addition, researchers Sarah Childs and Mona Lena Krook highlight the difference between descriptive representation, i.e. the number of women actors in the field of security, and substantive representation, which is more a matter of defending women’s interests on the international agendaChilds, S., & Krook, M. L. (2009). Analysing Women’s Substantive Representation: From Critical Mass to Critical Actors. Government and opposition (London), 44(2), 125‑145.. Thus, there is no direct correlation between the two variables, and an increase in the representation of women in important roles in the field of security will not necessarily be linked to an increase in policies taking into account the reality of gender dynamics.
Moreover, although the prism of gender is considered in certain international texts, such as the UN charter, it still falls within a restricted framework of analysis. UN Resolution 1325, centred around the protection of women in armed conflict as well as their participation in conflict resolution, was a revolution in its advocacy of an egalitarian approach in all peace processes and led to the adoption of numerous other resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1325, 1960, 2106, 2242, 2493 and 2467). They make up the agenda called “Women, Peace and Security” which has led to an increase in women’s participation in peace processes, a reality allowing more sustainable and more inclusive results according to the UNPermanent Mission of France to the United Nations (n.d.). Women in Peacekeeping operations. . As gender inequalities are exacerbated in times of conflict, figures from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) illustrate that in the case of Afghanistan, since September 2020, 87% of women had suffered forms of gender-based violenceRefugees International. (2021). Afghan Women and Girls Under Immediate Threat: The Responsibility to Protect and Assist Is Just Beginning., this new awareness of gender-specific consequences of conflicts is therefore a key factor to reduce them.
However, these resolutions can be criticised for essentializing women’s position as victims, placing them on the same level as children, as beings with similar vulnerability, who should be protectedEnloe C. (2014), Bananas, Beaches and Bases Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, Berkeley, University of California Press.. Similarly, the framework of these resolutions in fact supports the outdated theory of biological pacifism, a typically patriarchal way of thinking that ascribes “gentleness” characteristics to women, whose participation would allow a pacification of international relations with regard to “natural aptitude” for peaceShepherd L. J. (2010), « Women, Armed Conflict and Language – Gender, Violence and Discourse », International Review of the Red Cross, 92 (877), 143-159..
The perpetuation of a patriarchal analysis and practice of international security
Foucault’s thinking illustrates that the definition of our reality, i.e. the discourse constructed around it, is structuringFoucault, Michel. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings,1972 -1977.. When applied to the field of international relations, this thought is created through the reflection and repetition of a cycle of violence endogenous to the patriarchal system. First of all, by separating private, national affairs from public, international affairs, which restricts the scale of analysis of violence against women, as a component relating to national or international affairs and not as a global phenomenon that is sustained. However, local particularisms, i.e. cultural realities relating to politics, religion and the economic situation, are intertwined with neoliberal, imperialist and patriarchal international realities, building a continuum of violence. The latter cannot be addressed within the framework of our security system since it labels and separates these two realities. This reality is illustrated by the Iraqi conflict, where violence during the conflict fed on the dynamics of pre-conflict gender-based violence. Researcher Nadje Al-Ali highlights the danger of separating these two phenomena simply by criteria of historicity and temporality between peace and conflictAl-Ali, N. (2018). Sexual violence in Iraq: Challenges for transnational feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies,25(1), 10–27.. The danger lies in a national reading of ethno-cultural particularities, separating the phenomena of violence from the global influences that actually fuel violence at a local level. Nadje Al-Ali demonstrates that the gendered violence inscribed in Iraqi society within families and criminal gangs then became intertwined with the violence of war through militias and occupying forces. Thus, in a particularly globalized era, 95% of conflicts are intra-stateDavid, C. (2013). Could war become something of the past? Revue internationale et stratégique, 90, 40-56., 40-56, and the dynamics of oppression are maintained at all levels, a holistic reading of this phenomenon of violence must be favoured over the separation of a national or international reading of security in relation to women’s rights.
Beyond this ignorance, the patriarchal security thinking is sustained by its application, notably through the paradigm of state violence which attempts to reduce and resolve the majority of armed conflicts through the use of violence. This a vicious circle that the UN, despite being the main actor when it comes to peacekeeping, maintains by naturalising this paradigm as the only legitimate one, to which it must therefore provide regulationReardon, Betta A.( 1995). Sexism and the War System. New York: Teachers College Press.Reardon, Betta A.( 1995). Sexism and the War System. New York: Teachers College Press..
This is illustrated by the campaigns run by the African Union and the European Union to maintain security in Africa, such as the “Silencing the Guns” campaign launched in the 2000s. Supported by a number of feminists and UN women, this program, which claims to act to prevent conflicts and gender-based violence, has nevertheless built its practice around militarisation, a reality demonstrated by its budgetAchilleos-Sarll, C., Thomson, J., Haastrup, T., Färber, K., Cohn, C., & Kirby, P. (2022). The Past, Present, and Future(s) of Feminist Foreign Policy. International Studies Review, 25. Similarly, the European Union’s recent policy of establishing itself as a major player on the geopolitical stage has led to a more military-focused organisation, and increased budgets for the respective armies of several of its members, such as France and Germany. This over-representation of the military response to security thus maintains the reality of the violence of the patriarchal system at a national and international level, producing new forms of insecurity and a reduction in the budgets previously allocated to other sectors working for the reduction of insecurity from a gender perspectiveHoijtink, Marijn, and Hanna L. Muehlenhoff. (2020). “The European Union’s New Muscular Militarism in a ‘Dangerous World’..
The need to take gender into account so international security analysis can progress
Marked by centuries of militaristic and patriarchal tradition, security issues are framed by this prism in their thinking and practices. However, how can we continue to analyse international relations using a line of thought that goes back to Thucydides? The changing nature of armed conflict is a striking example of the need for new geopolitical insights.
Thus, the consideration of the prism of gender in international security issues makes it possible to question the militaristic vision of international relations. Opinions differ as to the best way to consider the prism of gender, with oppositions marked in particular by an alleged dichotomy between realism, which is still a major school of thought nowadays, and feminism in geopolitics. However, it is possible and desirable to reconcile these two visions, in particular by restricting the use of armed forces to necessary cases only, thus naturally reducing the military budget while allocating a higher budget to research and policies that really take into account the prism of gender in the reality of power dynamics and their impact on international security.
To quote this article: Zineb Khelif (2023). The Gender Lens in International Security. Gender in Geopolitics Institute. igg-geo.org/?p=13502&lang=en
The statements in this article are the sole responsibility of the author.
|↑1||« pouvoir et savoir s’impliquent directement l’un l’autre ; qu’il n’y a pas de relation de pouvoir sans constitution corrélative d’un champ de savoir, ni de savoir qui ne suppose et ne constitue en même temps des relations de pouvoir ». Foucault, M. (1993). Discipline and Punish Gallimard.|
|↑2||Mosse, George L (1997) Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe, (New York: Howard Fertig|
|↑3||« entre les hommes comme entre les Etats, il n’y a pas d’ajustement automatique des intérêts. En l’absence d’une autorité suprême, il y’a donc cette possibilité constante que le conflit soit résolu par la force ». Kenneth N. Waltz. (1959). Man, the State and War : A Theoretical Analysis, New York (N. Y.), Columbia University Press, p. 188.|
|↑4||Hobbes, T. (2008). Leviathan (J. C. A. Gaskin, Ed.). Oxford University Press.|
|↑5||Peterson, V. (1992). 1 Security and Sovereign States: What Is at Stake in Taking Feminism Seriously?. In V. Peterson (Ed.), Gendered States: Feminist (Re)Visions of International Relations Theory. Boulder, USA: Lynne Rienner Publishers.|
|↑6||« l’une des disciplines les plus masculinistes, dans la composition de ses membres autant que dans sa compréhension des États, des guerres et des marchés ». J. Pettman,(1996). Worlding Women : A Feminist International Politics, Londres, Routledge.|
|↑7||Tickner, J. A., & Sjoberg, L. (2007). Feminism. In T. Dunne, M. Kurki, & S. Smith (Eds.), International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity. Oxford University Press.|
|↑8||Charter of the MSC Advisory Council|
|↑9||Billaud-Durand, P. (March 7th 2019). The diversity of NATO, a constant effort. NATO Review.|
|↑10||Childs, S., & Krook, M. L. (2009). Analysing Women’s Substantive Representation: From Critical Mass to Critical Actors. Government and opposition (London), 44(2), 125‑145.|
|↑11||Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations (n.d.). Women in Peacekeeping operations.|
|↑12||Refugees International. (2021). Afghan Women and Girls Under Immediate Threat: The Responsibility to Protect and Assist Is Just Beginning.|
|↑13||Enloe C. (2014), Bananas, Beaches and Bases Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, Berkeley, University of California Press.|
|↑14||Shepherd L. J. (2010), « Women, Armed Conflict and Language – Gender, Violence and Discourse », International Review of the Red Cross, 92 (877), 143-159.|
|↑15||Foucault, Michel. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings,1972 -1977.|
|↑16||Al-Ali, N. (2018). Sexual violence in Iraq: Challenges for transnational feminist politics. European Journal of Women’s Studies,25(1), 10–27.|
|↑17||David, C. (2013). Could war become something of the past? Revue internationale et stratégique, 90, 40-56., 40-56|
|↑18||Reardon, Betta A.( 1995). Sexism and the War System. New York: Teachers College Press.Reardon, Betta A.( 1995). Sexism and the War System. New York: Teachers College Press.|
|↑19||Achilleos-Sarll, C., Thomson, J., Haastrup, T., Färber, K., Cohn, C., & Kirby, P. (2022). The Past, Present, and Future(s) of Feminist Foreign Policy. International Studies Review, 25|
|↑20||Hoijtink, Marijn, and Hanna L. Muehlenhoff. (2020). “The European Union’s New Muscular Militarism in a ‘Dangerous World’.|