Why Feminism is Needed in International Relations

What is the role of women in global peace and security today? From a gender point of view, men are the chief perpetrators and negotiators of war and peace in contemporary conflicts, but women are among those who suffer most and are ill-represented at peace mediation and settlement. The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, or as it is simply known, UN Women, helps show that integrating feminism in conflict resolution offers new approaches towards reconciliation, fair social policies and inclusive peace strategies.

In terms of security, there are three key avenues along which the role of women is essential: security sector reform, peacebuilding and re-integration and transitional justice. Looking at these from the perspective of gender critique offers some interesting solutions, such as ensuring the security of girls and women, and introducing gender-based checks on police and military power.

In respect to conflicts, women are among the most vulnerable groups. Kidnappings, sexual crimes, and violent attacks are the most common and underreported offences against women in a conflict setting, and a look at the statistics can substantiate that picture; for instance, less than 3% of signatories on peace treaties are women. The question then transforms into what role women have in managing and settling conflicts.

Security-sector reform (SSR) involves demilitarization, the strengthening of rule of law and establishing civilian control over security capacities. SSR is often a long process, and a sustained effort to incorporate gender perspectives coherently throughout all aspects of security reforms is needed. This means working with police, military and justice institutions to gain recognition of crimes against women, gain ground on equal opportunity and essentially empower women to contribute to good ideas and practices related to security. Feminism offers a gender-based viewpoint on SSR that codifies tolerance, openness in crime investigations, and, by extension, a civil debate on the use of force in the first place.

Peacebuilding and re-integration refers to two key aspects: the demobilization and re-integration of female combatants. The fundamental point here is that women in conflict act not only as soldiers, but they also have a wide variety of support roles – some willingly participate, but most are forced when livelihoods are destroyed by war and conflict. The main approaches focus on bringing openness and tribune to the roles and issues women face in conflict in order to overcome stigma, include them in the wider peace-building negotiations in critical areas, such as the Middle East or the Sudans, and create effective opportunities for a fair chance at a life free of fear and insecurity. In essence, women’s voices add another wrinkle and viewpoint to any peace-building initiative and helps make any resolution less male-focused.

Transitional justice is a fairly new policy area and it focuses on bridging enemies of a conflict in order to make a society move forward. Measures include truth reconciliation commissions, criminal trials, SSR, and the wider involvement of the international community in finding a new balance of peace in a post-conflict society. Feminism’s virtue in this respect is that it can encourage unconditional conversation between all stakeholders, and especially women, who are involved in every way in a conflict, from logistics to fighting and taking care of the wounded; their roles are not recognized in male-dominated discussions. For UN Women, the priorities focus on ensuring women access to these processes so they are not left outside of the new status quo and received the aforementioned chances at a secure, dignified life.

With all this in mind, it is clear that women are essential to the security of any society. Feminist perspectives can bring better ways of thinking, acting and policy-making. UN Women effectively centralizes these efforts, but more still needs to be done. As such, spreading the word is the first step to a better world.