ARE WOMEN STILL BEHIND THE VEIL? - A FEMINIST LENS TO THE STUDY OF GLOBAL POLITICS AND WAR
The paper aims at analyzing the problem question around the whole debate on the neglect of women in international relations. Its objective is to explain the causes behind the outlook of women as an unimportant entity in the study of world affairs. It questions the basic grounds on which this viewpoint has been founded and tries to answer through a detailed exemplification. The paper includes a meticulous case study into the works of women in global politics, which have been behind the veil for a long time. The study also constitutes arguments presented by famous feminist scholars and thinkers in their scholarly works. Through their arguments, the paper tries to inquire into the depths of the causes as to why women are overlooked by the ‘male-dominated world’. This paper gives an insight into a critical discourse of the theory of masculinity as a normative approach in IR and femininity as an inappropriate quality. Women and their role in global politics must not be barred from recognition. This study, not only concentrates on the top-level female leaders and diplomats but also on the unrepresented service provided by the women during wars. It also consists of a detailed study of women from third-world nations, their achievements, and their contributions. The women’s movements around the world and their impact on global politics.
“In societies where men are truly confident of their worth, women are not merely tolerated but valued”- Aung San Su Kyi
What are the arguments proposed by the feminists around the debate ‘neglect of women in IR’?
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, the feminist movement gained a lot of impetus it happened in three waves. These three waves aimed at the provision of basic rights to women from the social, political, and economic backdrops. The first wave emphasized suffrage, property rights, and patriarchal chattel marriages. The second wave questioned the age-old social customs that have oppressed women for ages. In the two-decade-long movement, opposing the patriarchal norms and recognizing that the ‘Personal is political. Subsequently, the third wave focused on the inclusivity of the feminists regardless of their identity, race, religion, or colour, criticizing the early feminists for neglecting the visible discrimination between the ‘white’ women and the ‘Black’ women in the western world.
With the end of the Cold War, the gendering of international relations took an off shot. Throughout the feminist movement, gender was seen as a component that would only be on the outskirts of international relations, examining it through a critical method of inquiry. Feminism was limited to a post-modernist perspective only.
However, scholars like Cynthia Enloe, and J. Ann Tickner brought a new vision to this concept of gender in international relations. J. Ann Tickner stated how women are not represented appropriately in the top-level government offices in the United States of America. She emphasized the fact, that the basic instincts of people have been set a certain kind as whenever the word ‘patriotism’ comes into the picture, people tend to imagine a soldier, necessarily a man, maybe even a soccer team or a cricket team. She also stated how famous leaders like Roosevelt and many other men in power have always stated that the world is a man’s world. The beliefs about women being weak, emotional, not strong enough to handle national security, and also dangerous on the international front, were strongly propagated in the 19th century and the 20th century United States.
When we discuss the three debates in IR, realism versus idealism, realism versus social sciences, and positivism versus post-positivism, feminism in international relations has been incorporated into the third debate. There was a basic questioning of the epistemological methods of thinking about world politics. This compelled the scholars to rethink the arena of gender in IR. This feminist perspective seeks to find an explanation behind women’s subjugation and their lower social and economic position than the men in the societal set up, meaning to end this. Feminists’ theories have been focusing on the roots of this particular social normative order, its origin and how can this be used for working towards a change. Cynthia Enloe emphasizes the role of the female secretaries, workers, domestic workers, and wives. She also states how women and their myriad roles are the most overshadowed subjects of discourse.
This 'hegemonic masculinity' exacerbates women's exclusion from international politics and the legitimacy of the assumption that men are the primary role-players in society explains women's incompetence as prominent figures in world politics. Tenderness, gentleness, and softness come to mind when the word 'woman' is used. Women are thought to be better suited for vocations such as nursing and teaching because of their nurturing nature.
The connotation of a masculine linkage with the concept of state and politics is what Cynthia Enloe negates. In her book ‘Bananas, Beaches and Bases’, she has claimed how feminism in international relations charges the masculinities rather than innately concentrating on the grouping of women in the world political systems. “Enloe promises her argument based on Carol Cohn’s experience using a feminist consciousness while participating in the drafting of the documents in ceasefire agreements and new constitutions. During this event, those involved came up with the word combatant to describe those in need during these high-level negotiations. The use of the term ‘combatants’ was reflective of male biases as the word combatant implied only males or militarized people carrying guns and excluded women who were also deployed as cooks and porters, thus rendering the needs of women not only invisible but also eliminating them from important discussion in IR relating to who needs what in war times and peace.” (Narain, April 2018)Toughness, courage, power, independence, and even physical strength are characteristics associated with manliness that have historically been the most valued in the conduct of international politics. Manliness is often related to violence a type of behaviour that has been encouraged and lauded in international politics in the name of defending one's country.” (Tickner, 1992)
International feminists have also indulged third-world women in their arguments. Enquiring into the various strata for experiences and knowledge which are even ‘lower than low politics. They argue how structural power’s legitimization is a green signal to the subordination of the underprivileged sections of the human world. J.Ann Tickner focused on the notion of whether actually ‘personal is international’? Whenever gender is defined, the elements like power, autonomy, rationality, and public opinion everything is associated with the more masculine aspects. This discourse turns out to be a harsh reality when Margaret Thatcher being the strong political leader she was already, had to be a ‘real man’ or rather devoid of emotional sentiments which were and are still considered to be feminine and thus, the symbolism of weakness. maybe even act like an “iron lady” and the problem lies when many feminists believe in this theory too.
Is the feminine perspective of international security ‘relevant’?
Whenever we define security through the feminist perspective it is referred to as devoid of any form of violence including physical, structural, and ecological. The concept of security should start from the individual or the community levels rather than the international system. This view has been critical of the state being the sole representative of security providers (Vaiphei, n.d).
Genocide and ethnic cleansing like the Rwandan genocide, Burundi massacre, Bangladeshi genocide, Bosnian genocide, and also the Nazi holocaust during the second world war must be studied from the individual level approach. However, scholars and international media houses per se ignore this approach and are more focused on the state’s role in the incidents. Due to this, we fail to study the act of barbarity that the women and the children have to endure. The unimaginable number of heinous crimes that are committed against women during a war, sexual abuse, rapes, sex trafficking, sex slavery, as well as deaths are all unreported or are generalized under some umbrella news. The excess of such crimes is often silenced or kept a secret to avoid damage to the country’s image in international forums.
Kathrine Moon in her work Sex Among Allies: Military Prostitution in U.S.-Korea Relations stated the usage of prostitution as a weapon among the US troops during the Korean war. Christine Chin in her study ‘In Service and Servitude’ narrated the events where the Malaysian government used cheap domestic foreign labour, especially women belonging to Filipina and Indonesian descent to work in grave conditions only to garner support from the middle class. By putting on our 'gendered lenses' and looking directly at women's issues, we can see that there is a lot more going on in these cases than simple diplomacy or economics. One criticism levelled at these studies is that they deal with domestic issues rather than international issues such as military and interstate relations. Feminists would disagree because they believe that the international and domestic are inextricably linked and that separating them is harmful to our understanding; and that their separation can be equated to the public/private dichotomy that allows domestic abuse to continue without intervention. (Trafford, 2013)
During World War II the Japanese Empire pressured lots of “consolation girls” from Japaneseoccupied territories right into a prostitution corps to serve soldiers. The United States defence forces have in particular damning records of misuse of the girls of occupied countries. Prostitution websites across the navy have been endorsed with the aid of using navy leadership, with condoms and safety escorts regularly being provided. One of the consequences of organised navy prostitution for soldiers’ “relaxation and recuperation” is the introduction of a “prostitution economy. This has a financial and generational legacy wherein it will become a dominant alternative for employment for impoverished girls. Children (destined to be fatherless) also are born, bearing the stigma of illegitimacy. The habitual profession of components of South East Asia with the aid of using United States forces is possible which is maximum evident.
It's ironic that James Bond, a fictional male character who plays a British secret agent working for MI6, has served as the ideal imagery for spies and secret operation agents for decades. This fictitious figure was invented by novelist Ian Fleming and remains the symbol of a more macho image of spying for your country. This instils in the minds of the readers a preconceived impression that spies are associated with wit, intelligence, loyalty, and heroism, and that all of these traits are attributed to men. This theory eliminates the obstacles that female spies faced. Churchill's favourite spy, Krystyna Skarkbek, assisted in sneaking intelligence out of Poland. It's ironic that James Bond, a fictional male character who plays a British secret agent working for MI6, has served as the ideal imagery for spies and secret operation agents for decades. This fictitious figure was invented by novelist Ian Fleming and remains the symbol of a more macho image of spying for your country. This instils in the minds of the readers a preconceived impression that spies are associated with wit, intelligence, loyalty, and heroism, and that all of these traits are attributed to men. This theory eliminates the obstacles that female spies faced. Churchill's favourite spy, Krystyna Skarkbek, assisted in sneaking intelligence out of Poland.
It's ironic that James Bond, a fictional male character who plays a British secret agent working for MI6, has served as the ideal imagery for spies and secret operation agents for decades. This fictitious figure was invented by novelist Ian Fleming and remains the symbol of a more macho image of spying for your country. This instils in the minds of the readers a preconceived impression that spies are associated with wit, intelligence, loyalty, and heroism, and that all of these traits are attributed to men. This theory eliminates the obstacles that female spies faced. Churchill's favourite spy, Krystyna Skarkbek, assisted in sneaking intelligence out of Poland.
The emotional side of human beings has always been held in a negative light when one studies IR. Quite contrary to this debate women have impacted the war-torn countries through their much criticised ‘nurturing’ traits. Wars are not only fought by the soldiers, armed with ammunition and military gadgets but also involve female nurses who cure the injured soldiers and attend to their medical needs. Florence Nightingale, an English social reformist laid the foundation stone for modern nursing. She was a Victorian culture icon, who rose to popularity through her ‘nurturing’ nature and selfless service, towards the injured soldiers.
Do women really have a role to play in international relations?
While studying Russia’s foreign policies we often refer to the famous leaders and revolutionaries like Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev, and the 21st -century leader Vladimir Putin. However, it was Catherine the Great, under whose rule Russia grew larger. She is often discredited for her contributions due to her scandalous personal life affairs. Catherine was the longest reigning female empress in Russia. She had an excellent knowledge in delegating military expertise and had proven her military mettle, gaining a vast amount of new territory and influence on Russia. (Jarus, May 2017)
Dating back to 19th century Europe, we often speak of the ‘Victorian era’ but how much do we associate the terminology with what it defines? It was not until Queen Victoria’s reign that England gained its imperial status. England had no plans for colonial expansionism until enforced under the Victorian rule. It was during ‘Queen’ Victoria’s rule that the ‘Industrial Revolution’ and the ‘Scientific Management’ paved their way in Europe and later on thrived in the rest of the world. . (EDU, April 2019)
Since then, in the 20th century, the United Kingdom saw another ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher. She was the first woman who headed a major political party in the UK. She led the United Kingdom through the ‘Falkland Wars’ and also had a huge ascendancy over the domestic politics of the UK. She expedited the economic reforms in England and brought about new labour laws and policies based on a more neo-liberal approach. Later on, these ideas and reformation incentives were patronised by most of the western world nations, furthering its way into the third world nations as well. Thatcher must also be credited for her proactive diplomacy strategy during the Iranian embassy crisis in 1980. Ronald Reagen along with Margaret Thatcher initiated an end to the decades-long cold war via a more aggressive policy thereby ending the era of communism in Europe. Thatcher was also a negotiator between Gorbachev and Ronald Reagen in signing the 1985-87 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). (Anirudh, March 2018)
German Chancellor Angela Markel had contributed equally to the country’s foreign relations with Russia. Angela Markel also holds a good proficiency in German which on the other hand helps boost communications with the Russian President. Angela Merkel is also applauded for ‘succeeding as a woman in a male-oriented party’ within the domestic boundaries. She is also called the ‘de-facto leader of Europe’ for her commendable role in the Euro crisis.
Quite contrary to what the male ‘protagonists’ have believed that women are better off with ‘personal’ matters and at home, South Asian nations like India saw strong bold women leaders like Indira Gandhi, the then prime minister of India, who spearheaded the Indian army during the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war. She agreed to help her neighbouring nation Bangladesh, (former East Pakistan) assist them to win its independence from Pakistan (former West Pakistan). India’s military strategy in the Bangladesh War is accredited to Indira Gandhi, along with Sam Manekshaw. Indira Gandhi also paved the way for strong foreign diplomatic relations with the then-communist USSR. She envisioned India to be a nuclear power. (Gregersen, Jan 2009)
In Bangladesh, Sheikh Haseena the daughter of ‘Banga Bandhu’ Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, had been the head of the state for over 17 years now. Haseena’s government enacted the laws to constitute the International Crimes Tribunal to try those who committed crimes against humanity during the liberation war of Bangladesh in 1971. Under her leadership, a peacecentric foreign policy has been adopted, and Bangladesh had a GDP growth from US$ 102 billion in 2009 to US$ 330 billion in 2021. There has been an increase in foreign direct investment as well. During the Rohingya refugee crisis, Bangladesh is a developing nation sheltered the Rohingya refugees and provided for their basic amenities. A step that is worthy of praise and was avoided and overlooked by many wealthy developed nations. Under her rule, Bangladesh has been able to establish strong relations with its neighbour, especially with India and China. (Sun, September 2021)
Nobel laureate, Aung San Su Kyi is another prominent female leader in South Asia. The youngest daughter of the father of the nation (Myanmar) Aung San, is an active leader fighting for democracy in her country. She had spent 15 years in detention from 1989 to 2010 fighting for the political struggle to replace the military-backed junta government with a democratic rule. She rose to great heights of popularity through her political strife and in 1991, she was awarded the Nobel peace prize. Finally, in 2015 she came to power through democratic polls after 25 years. During a military coup in 2021, she was ousted from power and arrested under charges alleged against her. She still fights for her bail to help achieve a truly democratic Myanmar. (BBC, November 2010) Patsy Takemoto Mink was the first Japanese American woman to be elected as a member of the US House of Representatives. She was also a lawyer and the first woman to contest the Presidential democratic nominations. Liberia had its first democratically elected female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who led Liberia through the Deadly Ebola Crisis in 2014-2015.
In Algeria, Zohra Drif participated in the Revolutionary War and its army in the 1950s in resistance to French colonial rule and helped recruit women. She eventually became Vice President of the Senate. In the 1980s she participated in demonstrations against backward family law. In Ghana, West Africa, Hannah Cujo was one of the most important female nationalists after World War II. She came from a respected family and was one of the founders of the Kwame Nkrumah Convention People's Party (CPP). These are just a few of the many female leaders who portray the picture of feminism in Global politics.
In Chile, women activists also are at the forefront of protesting against sexual and anti-lesbian violence. Protesters are pushing for gender equality in pay, retirement and fitness benefits, the overall legalization of abortion, and a law punishing sexual atrocities. In Sudan, female activists performed the leading position withinside the huge demonstrations that brought about the departure of President Omar al-Bashir amidst the ‘Arab Spring’. The dictatorship had lessened the liberty of the women working with the administrations and the bureaucracy. Protesters additionally call for a cease to the mandatory system of hijab, presently prohibited below Sharia law.
Afghanistan saw the oppression of women being inflicted by the Taliban regime. In Pakistan, the 11-year-old Malala Yousufzai was shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking about Women’s education and their civil rights, which have been infringed by the authoritarian Taliban sects in the northwestern part of Pakistan. She was admitted to a hospital in Peshawar in critical condition where she fortunately recovered. The bravery of this woman led the Pakistanis to take strict stances against the Taliban who were uprooted from these areas. Malala Yousufzai is the youngest woman to be awarded the noble peace prize and since then has been a youth icon to many women.
The dispute over Tunisia's 2014 Constitution after the 2011 Tunisian Revolution was highly controversial as Islamists and secularists clashed over the importance of gender equality. The Muslim Ennahda party valued the role of women as wives and mothers, it threatened women's achievements and made women men and believed to have strengthened the patriarchal system that made women dependent on citizenship and rights. Eventually, this clause was withdrawn and secularists saw it as a great victory for Tunisian women's rights. The Constitution of Tunisia is one of the most progressive for women's rights in Africa and the Middle East. In Turkey agitation by women for civil rights increased over the late 1990s and early 2000s. The Turkish government wanted EU membership and thus decided to consider the demands of the protestors. The new civil code was legislated in 2001 which guaranteed marital equality pertaining to property rights, divorce as well as the right to occupation and travelling.
It is quite evident how women have since ages provided the needful and always had a crucial role to play. The root problem lies in the bifurcation of the gender discourse in the discipline. The problem doesn’t lie with the narrative of whether IR as a discipline is feminine or masculine or how divided the scholars are while defining or discussing the terms and subjects in consonance with global politics or international affairs, but with the array of pessimistic arguments that are placed on the podiums referring to womanly attributes being weak and unfit for diplomatic delegation. The prevalence of a half-hearted attempt of recognising the women in IR and the ignorance towards women in diplomacy is deeply connoted with these ideas.
There is an urgent need for a re-evaluation, of the fundamentals in the IR discipline. Scholars like Jacqui True stated that feminist needs a strong ‘sisterhood’ globally to achieve greater recognition in this ‘man’s world’. There is a clear lag in the strong bonding amongst all the feminists all over the world which is essential in attaining this as a reality in the future. As we go deeper into the study of women and their achievements and contributions in IR, we often see those being tarnished with a very convenient ‘male gaze’. Women are mostly bashed for their personal life rumours or controversies. Many times, women are also described as notorious, too bold and outgoing, and opinionated when they gain popularity on the international front. Outlining certain boundaries for the women to limit themselves within those. Female leaders have also been overpowered by their male counterparts. Be it Policy propositions, reformative acts, or diplomatic strategies, the male leaders and diplomats have tried to steal the credits quite unethically. The inability to serve a female superior or a female head of the state, due to the sheer problem of egoistic mindsets has been a historical testimony. A deeper study into the significance of the women in IR, and their acceptance pertaining to an exhaustive study is the need of the hour.
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