Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Friday, May 5, 2017

How Women Could Save the World: Questions of International Law, Equality Theory, and Feminism

Catherine Powell, How Women Could Save the World, If Only We Would Let Them: From Gender Essentialism to Inclusive Security, 28 Yale J. L. & Feminism 271 (2017)

Abstract

We increasingly hear that empowering women and placing them in positions of leadership will lead to a safer, more prosperous world. The UN Security Council’s groundbreaking resolutions on Women Peace, and Security (WPS) — and U.S. law implementing these commitments — rest on the assumption that women’s participation in peace and security matters will lead to more sustainable peace, because women presumably “perform” in ways that reduce conflict, violence, and extremism. This idea is of heightened importance today because women are still vastly underrepresented in positions of leadership in the peace and security field, having yet to “shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling” as Commander-in-Chief in the United States or rise to the role of Secretary-General in the United Nations. Before her own historic race to become the first woman Commander in Chief, Hillary Clinton had prominently made the claim we increasingly hear that women’s empowerment is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do for global and economic security.

Such claims raise fundamental questions for international law, equality theory, and feminism. Assertions that the world would be a better — more peaceful, more prosperous — place, if women assumed leadership positions in peace and security matters are unapologetically instrumentalist and reinforce essentialist views of women. At the same time, evidence suggests that these claims are to some extent accurate. Thus, these assertions should be carefully examined. Reviewing new research, this Article argues that while some evidence supports these claims, the statistical evidence supporting these claims suffers from methodological flaws. Moreover, the forms of gender performance reflected in the data — which international law has organized itself around — are based on the socially constructed roles women play as caregivers, nurturers, and collaborators, not necessarily on their inherent biological roles. Yet, international law reifies these roles and the stereotypes that surround them, even as it tries to open up opportunities for women beyond traditional sex-segregated positions that have long relegated women around the world to the pink ghetto of economic inequality and inferior political and social status. Having to maneuver around formal equality, on the one hand, and instrumentalist claims that women will “save” the world, on the other, means that the category of “woman” can restrict even as it liberates. After all, not all women are “peace-loving,” particularly in a world where the women who succeed are often those who can succeed on terms defined by men.

Two prevailing theoretical frameworks — antisubordination and securitization—shape the current debate about WPS, but each ultimately falls short. This Article identifies democratic legitimacy as a novel third approach missing from the existing debate. As an alternative view, the democratic legitimacy account effectively reframes the WPS debate as one concerning inclusive security — emphasizing that women’s participation enhances the representativeness, democracy, and fairness of the process as a whole — rather than privileging the “special interests” of a particular group (as the antisubordination approach is accused of doing) or reinforcing gender essentialism (as the securitization approach does). Notably, a democratic legitimation paradigm is grounded in a model of inclusion that can be applied to vectors of inequality beyond gender, as well as to inequality at the intersection of various forms of inequality. Moreover, by emphasizing democratic representation, this approach insists on local ownership and bottom-up solutions, thereby emphasizing participation and leadership by women in conflict zones, rather than female global elites. Under a democratic legitimacy paradigm, women can still “save” the world, but in a different way than the predominant discourse would have us believe.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/gender_law/2017/05/catherine-powellhow-women-could-save-the-world-if-only-we-would-let-them-from-gender-essentialism-to-inclusive-security-2.html

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