Feminism in IR

Gender issues are a significant concern within global politics, and feminism as an international relations theory seeks to regulate the power derived from (or denied on the basis of) an individual’s gender. Feminists are mostly interested in tracking political and social developments that inhibit success in female populations. When systems of power subtly or overtly tell women they can only fulfill certain roles, those limitations become social norms and perpetuate the cycle. The significance of feminism in international relations is evidenced by the role women play in promoting more just and fair international relations policies. Women like Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice have both made important contributions to the advancement of women worldwide. As a senator representing the state of New York, Clinton co-sponsored the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which was aimed at combatting gender-based pay discrimination. Rice was instrumental in starting the One Woman Initiative, which provides access to legal rights, political participation, and economic development to women living in countries with a large Muslim population.

Outside of the U.S., the adoption of feminist policies has propelled women to political achievement. Iceland has maintained women’s rights as integral to their political policy since 1850, when the nation granted unconditional inheritance rights to men and women. The nation, which also granted women suffrage five years before the United States in 1915, has also seen women in the highest levels of government: former President Vigdís Finnbogadóttir and current Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir were the first women to be elected to these positions in 1980 and 2009, respectively. The National Committee for the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in Iceland was established in 1989 and focused on improving the social status of women across the globe. The contributions of nations such as Iceland have been financially and socially impactful, addressing the need for true gender equality and demonstrating the positive effects of feminism in domestic and foreign policy.

The role of women, as, for instance, diplomats’ wives, domestic workers, sex workers and suchlike, is therefore ignored, as are the often international and even global processes through which women are subordinated and exploited. ‘Analytical’ feminists, such as J. Ann Tickner (see p. 76), have exposed the extent to which the theoretical framework of global politics is based on gender biases that pervade its key theories and concepts, drawing at times on the ideas of constructivism and poststructuralism. The dominant realist paradigm of ‘power politics’ has been a particular object of criticism. Feminists have argued that the theory of power politics is premised on ‘masculinist’ assumptions about rivalry, competition and inevitable conflict, arising from a tendency to see the world in terms of interactions amongst series of power-seeking autonomous actors. Analytical feminism is concerned not only to expose such biases, but also to champion alternative concepts and theories, for example ones linking power not to conflict but to collaboration.

J. Ann Tickner (born 1937) A US academic and feminist international relations theorist. An exponent of standpoint feminism, Tickner has exposed ways in which the conventional study of international relations marginalizes gender, whilst also being itself gendered. Her best known book, Gender in International Relations (1992a), highlights the biases and limitations of the masculinized, geo-political version of national security, demonstrating that it may enhance rather than reduce the insecurity of individuals and showing how peace, economic justice and ecological sustainability are vital to women’s security. Although she argues that gender relations shape the search for knowledge, Tickner’s ultimate goal is to transcend gender by overcoming gender inequality. Her other works include ‘Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation’ (1988) and ‘Feminist Perspectives on 9/11’ (2002).