Feminist International Relations Research Paper

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I. Introduction

II. Beginnings: The Evolution of Feminist IR Theory

A. Emergence of Feminist IR

B. Critiques and Debates: Traditional IR Versus Feminist IR

III. Themes in Feminist IR and Methods of Research

A. Types of Methods

B. Themes in Feminist IR

1. Sovereignty and the State

2. War, Militarism, and Security

3. Globalization, Development, and International Political Economy

4. Transnational Feminism and Human Rights

IV. Usefulness of Feminist International Relations and Policy Implications

V. Future Directions

VI. Conclusion

I. Introduction

This research paper is intended as a starting point for helping students understand the multiple perspectives and diverse approaches of feminist international relations (hereafter referred to as “feminist IR”). Rethinking topics of mainstream international relations (IR) in new ways, feminist IR critiques, expands, and deepens theories and methodologies that explain how global politics affect and can be impacted by gender. Feminist IR begins with exposing the experiences of women in international politics, explores how gender is socially constructed and what those social constructions do at both the local and the international levels, and uses gender as an analytical category in understanding the interconnectedness of international economic and political phenomena.

In this research paper, an overview of the literature on feminist IR is presented. First, some definitions and the evolution and history of feminist IR as a subfield are discussed, including a summary of the theoretical and methodological debates between feminists and mainstream IR scholars. Next, various methods of research and themes of feminist IR research are briefly described. Themes include perspectives on understanding war, militarism, and security; views of the state and sovereignty; discussions of globalization, development, and international political economy; and finally, transnational feminism and human rights. Third, the usefulness of feminist IR and how this research contributes to improving individuals’ lives as well as practical implications for international organizations are discussed. Next, future directions for feminist IR are presented. And finally, the research paper concludes with an overall summary and a list of sources or references where students can learn more about the topic.

II. Beginnings: The Evolution of Feminist International Relations Theory

A good place to begin is with a brief discussion of definitions of feminism and international relations. Multiple definitions of feminisms exist in academic literature (see Tickner, 2002), and space here does not allow for detailed discussions of each. However, to give a general sense of these terms, feminist perspectives can be understood as philosophical theories, political views, and analytical approaches that call for social justice and the equal treatment of women, illuminate the nature of socially constructed and institutionalized definitions of gender, and seek the dismantling of oppressive structures in social, political, and economic life. In short, the key goals of most feminist agendas are to understand, to challenge, and to change women’s subordinate roles to men, whether that be in the community, the state, or the international system as a whole. These goals can be promoted by individuals of any gender, groups of any size or composition, meeting face to face or on the web, or working through states or international entities (Ferree & Tripp, 2006).

For many years, traditional, mainstream IR was understood in terms of the study of states and their foreign policies. The prevailing theoretical framework was realism that carried with it several key assumptions about states’ interests and behaviors in the international system. In recent years, mainstream (IR) has broadened and seen the development of multiple theoretical and methodological perspectives. As Tickner (2002, 2005) found, constructivism, for example, which also helped to open the space for the emergence of feminist IR, appeared in the 1990s. It called for the acknowledgment that international structures and activities are not just determined by material forces but also based on socially constructed and shared ideas. Identities and interests of transtional actors are constructed by these shared ideas and not just objective facts of nature. Constructivism, as well as many other theoretical developments, expanded the understanding of IR as a field of study. Mainstream IR more generally is understood now as the study of global issues and their formation as well as the study of transnational actors, including states, intergovernmental organizations (IGOs), nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and transnational corporations (TNCs) and their foreign relations.

Key themes in feminist IR theories and methodologies, therefore, combine elements of feminism and international relations. Feminist IR began with investigating women and their place in the world and analyzing why political science, and traditional IR in particular, seemed so distant from women’s lives (Tickner, 2005). Over time, the subfield has evolved to examining gender more broadly and exploring multiple aspects of inclusion and exclusion of gender in international political activities. In other words, feminist IR has become interested in more than just counting how few women served as ambassadors or in key leadership positions in international organizations. Feminist IR seeks to extend critical analysis by theorizing in ways that draw together race, class, gender, sexualities, and identities and by acknowledging that gendered structures exist in a variety of ways at local, national, and international levels.

Feminist IR tends to argue for understanding connections between both the domestic and international, starting at the bottom or with a microlevel perspective and moving up or to a more macrolevel understanding. The analysis of firsthand accounts, personal narratives, interviews, or participant- observer experiences in case studies tend to be more favored as important in shedding light on the complex interactions of gender and global and local phenomena. As many authors have observed, feminist IR takes the old feminist phrase “The personal is political” and transforms it to “The private is global” (Kantola, 2007), meaning that much can be learned about the world through this personal or face to face interaction.

A. Emergence of Feminist International Relations

Feminist theory and methodologies in general existed in other academic disciplines prior to impacting traditional international relations and political science. For example, discussions about how humans know what they know, the need to be reflective and self-aware in one’s research choices, and how to contextualize gender roles were prevalent in women’s studies, sociology, philosophy, history, and literary studies in the late 1960s and 1970s. As Wibben (2004) recounted in her history of feminist IR, feminists were exploring male bias in research and methodology at interdisciplinary conferences as early as 1975—long before such questions entered the mainstream academic journals of political science or international studies.

However, as multiple perspectives of feminism developed, expanded, and permeated social science, academic work in political science, and international relations in particular, emerged as well. By the late 1980s and early 1990s, several conferences, journal articles, and books in political science featured empirical studies on women and global issues as well as discussions of various feminist theories and methods. Attention was being paid to identifying the use of gendered language in discourses on international issues; explaining the need for women to be recognized, not just as victims but as key players on the world stage; exposing the gendered nature of states and international organizations; and critiquing the male-dominated field of IR itself. Feminist IR argued that without understanding the relationships of gender and power in both domestic and international terms, traditional male-constructed categories of research and methodologies were missing half the picture. Only a partial view of the realities and inequalities facing men and women and in the political discourses of diplomacy, foreign policy, war, militarism, and security were being revealed.

Some early classic books dealing with these subjects include the following: Bananas, Beaches and Bases by Cynthia Enloe (2001, originally published in 1990), J. Ann Tickner’s (1992) Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives in Obtaining Global Security, and Peterson and Runyan’s (2010) Global Gender Issues. More recent edited collections followed, focusing on debates about feminist realism and quantitative research versus postmodern, qualitative methodological approaches (See Ackerly, Stern, & True, 2006; Jonasdottir & Jones, 2009). Each of these works contributed in different ways to substantial, new insights and methods to study the role of gender in international politics.

Along with books and edited collections, specific academic conferences, panel presentations, and journal publications provided forums for the discussion of methodologies and theoretical directions. Since the 1990s, professional meetings of the International Studies Association, British Political Science Association, and American Political Science Association have all sponsored panels and special topic sections about feminist IR, including feminist IR epistemology; feminist theories and the state; feminist approaches to understanding war, militarism, and security; the emergence of transnational feminism; and the role of gender in the policies of international organizations, just to name a few.

A new specialized, scholarly journal, the International Feminist Journal of Politics, founded by Jan Jindy Pettman of the Australian National University of Canberra in 1999, also legitimized feminist IR as an academic field of study. This peer-reviewed journal uses themed issues to address a number of feminist IR topics such as gender in conflict and post-conflict societies; ideologies, religions, and conflict; and by 2009, human rights and feminism. This journal, as well as the publication of numerous articles in other academic sources, such as the British Journal of Politics and International Relations (BJPIR), Foreign Affairs, Gender and Politics, and International Studies Quarterly, made visible feminist IR within the academic communities of political science and international studies.

B. Critiques and Debates: Traditional IR Versus Feminist IR

The emergence of feminist IR has not been without criticism, and continuing debates over epistemologies, methods, and questions for research occur. Several articles trace, describe, and analyze the trajectory of these debates over the last few years. First is Cynthia Weber’s (1994) piece titled “Good Girls, Little Girls, and Bad Girls.” This work was penned in response to Robert Keohane’s (1989) critique of feminist IR in which he argued that feminist analysis could only provide a limited insight into international relations. According to Keohane, feminist perspectives could help point to where women had been victims of patriarchy or left out of political processes but lacked the empirical strength of building testable hypotheses.

As Weber (1994), Sylvester (1994), later Tickner (1997), and Wibben (2004) note, Keohane (1989) missed one of the key points of feminist IR: that the object of study can be impacted by the observer and the observation itself, that concepts have contextual relativity and are flexible, and that traditional IR does not fully account for the dynamic, fluid boundaries of international relations and gender. Traditional empirical research and so-called testable hypotheses can have their own male biases that by their very nature may not include or take into account complex gender elements.

In particular, J. Ann Tickner’s (1997) seminal article “You Just Don’t Understand: Troubled Engagements Between Feminists and IR Theorists” explored in more detail why misunderstandings continued between feminists and traditional IR theorists. Her claim was that feminist IR was based on assumptions and epistemologies that were divergent from those that underpin the traditional discipline. Therefore, feminist IR did not fit easily with state-centric and structural, positivist approaches normally taken by traditional IR scholars. But that did not mean feminist IR should be ignored or dismissed as a lesser form of inquiry. Something was to be said for a menu of complex, rich, and diverse theoretical and methodological approaches, and feminist IR research with qualitative as well as quantitative methods was needed to understand complex transnational, gendered relationships (Tickner, 2005).

Following Keohane, Francis Fukuyama (1998) in his work on women and international politics pointed to the limitations of feminist IR. He suggested that feminists tended only to see men as aggressive and women as peaceful. As found by Wibben (2004), many feminist IR scholars responded to Fukuyama, arguing that he completely misread, oversimplified, or missed entirely the variety of theories and methodologies promoted by feminist IR. He did not understand that feminist scholarship revealed the fluid nature of definitions of gender and how the impacts and influences of those definitions played out politically. Feminist IR research did not assume that men and women always behaved the same way in every context but rather looked at the varieties of femininities and masculinities as they played out in gendered structures and institutions.

Feminist IR illuminated the male dominance in the field as a whole and affirmed the need to engage in feminist-informed research. As Charlotte Hooper (2001) noted in her work, Manly States, everything from the nature of the subjects to the methods of research to the lack of females in academic and international careers culminated in marginalizing and making invisible women’s roles both as subjects of research and practitioners in the field. Feminist IR could expose gender-based distinctions in a number of traditional areas of IR research and explore a variety of research methods in the process, even if traditional IR still sought to marginalize the attempt. Sylvester (2002) further encouraged feminist researchers to think about the international and draw inspiration from other feminist writers. Interestingly enough, what has emerged in the last few years is a rich array of themes, methods, and knowledge that has provided additional insight into key aspects of international politics.

III. Themes in Feminist International Relations and Methods of Research

Just as debates have existed between traditional IR scholars and feminist IR researchers, differences in approaches, themes, and methods have also emerged with the feminist IR community. Feminist IR is by no means monolithic or wedded to one particular issue or topic within international studies. Indeed, many feminist IR scholars prefer not to be identified with one approach or a single, traditional disciplinary label (Tickner, 2005). As this section shows, various applications of feminist IR theories and methods abound. A brief description of types of methods used by feminist IR scholars are presented next, followed by a sample of some of the areas and questions explored in the feminist IR literature.

A. Types of Methods

Tickner is perhaps one of the most well-known and prolific feminist IR writers to discuss these issues. From her earliest articles and books in the 1990s to her discussion of feminist IR methodological questions in the International Studies Quarterly (2005), she has provided key insights into the patterns of feminist IR work. She has described and analyzed many of the questions that feminist IR theorists ask as they engage in the process of research as well as the types of research tools they employ.

Tickner (2005) affirmed that no single or unique method of feminist IR exists and a variety of research tools are necessary to address gender and international politics. However, adapting research methods from other disciplines is one of the hallmarks of feminist IR. For example, ethnography, a tool more often used by anthropologists; literary theory and analysis of life narratives, borrowed from studies of literature and humanities; alternative ways of seeing or locating what is missing from a picture or situation, taken from the study of fine arts; and analyses of symbols, language, and phrasing, taken from communication studies and rhetoric, have all been used as interpretative methods of research. Case studies, philosophical argument, and participant-observer techniques too have been applied in various ways to provide insights into gender and its connections between local and global politics (see also Ackerly et al., 2006; Prügl, 2007).

Feminist scholars tend to view quantitative techniques with some skepticism and wariness when trying to talk about inequality or forms of subordination. Gender inequality, for example, may not be easily indexed or measured by a single variable because of the complex historical, sociocultural power relationships, or even differing perspectives regarding the understanding of what the term inequality means (Tickner, 2005). Waring (1988) has also elaborated on problems of doing quantitative work with large data sets that rely heavily on information gathered from state accounting systems. Often, governments do not include statistics on women’s unpaid labor, for example, or clear information about who really is head of the household. Single women or women of a particular ethnicity or class may be completely left out of certain categories (Waring, 1988). Through the 1980s, even cross-national statistics on development or human rights supplied by the United Nations or the European Union were incomplete or inadequate when describing gender differences and therefore suspect if used in large quantitative studies to explain some gender patterns.

More recently, some feminist IR scholars have returned to quantitative techniques or found ways to combine both qualitative and quantitative research. Caprioli and Boyer (2001), using the International Crises Behavior Project data set, employed multinominal logistic regression to analyze whether a connection existed between domestic gender equality and states’ use of violence internationally. With improvements in data collection in United Nations and European Union agencies since the late 1990s, as well as attempts at gender mainstreaming (bringing women into the decision-making process and taking into account the impact on women of policy) within these organizations, renewed interest in using quantitative tools has emerged within some parts of the feminist IR community, especially when considering issues surrounding women’s labor and the global economy or issues of human security. However, feminist IR scholars still caution that one must not be unreflective in thinking about how specific data are collected or for what purpose (Carney, 2004). How quantitative research can evolve and be made more applicable for feminist IR remains an ongoing question for exploration and debate.

B. Themes in Feminist International Relations

No matter what their methods, as Prügl (2007) points out, feminist IR scholars are remarkably reflective, self-aware, and conscious about their relationship to their subjects of study. They seek to make visible or to bring to light ideas, experiences, and phenomena related to gender and international politics that may have been hidden or ignored. This can be seen in their approaches to themes of war, militarism, and security; sovereignty and the state; globalization, development, and international political economy; and transnational feminism and human rights. Within each of these topics, feminist IR scholars attempt to show how an analysis of gender-based distinctions can enhance knowledge about human beings and the world. And even though these themes are set out in separate subsections here, quite often feminist IR scholars point to the interconnections and influences of each on the other.

1. Sovereignty and the State

One of the earliest areas of inquiry for feminist IR revolved around a critique of core IR concepts, in particular, understandings of the state and sovereignty. Kantola (2007) has provided an excellent summary and analysis of feminist theories and research about gender, the state, and issues of sovereignty. She identifies three general areas of literature and in the process unpacks concepts of gender, power, and state characteristics. The first category of literature incorporates both feminist IR and comparative politics perspectives and methods. The main goal of this work was to ask questions about the inferior position of women, the lack of position for women, or both in the social, economic, and political processes of the state. This literature revealed the continuing absence of women in decision-making roles related to foreign policy and international affairs, whether that be in terms of being elected to political office or appointed to key positions in key decision-making arenas (Kantola, 2007).

Women and the state are clearly defined variables. The state tends to be seen as a unitary entity, with identifiable institutions and structures. The actions of states can be detrimental or beneficial to women, and power is described in a top-down, binary fashion—either one has it or does not. The category of women also tends not to be broken down or disaggregated to take into account the different ethnicities or economic backgrounds of women.

What becomes important is simply to show where women have been present or not in state activities. The overall purpose of the research is that by revealing these inadequacies, equal treatment and access for women in these structures might be addressed. (Kantola, 2007)

The next area of literature includes feminist IR scholars who begin to move beyond the notion of women as a variable to gender as a broader social construct and analytical category (Zalewski, 1998). Rather than focus only on the exclusion or marginalizing of women from the state and the international system, these analyses move toward identifying the gendered nature of the state itself. As Kantola (2007) found, within these studies, the relationship of the state and gender can be reciprocal and constitutive— that the state can be as dependent on gender for its construction and survival as social constructed definitions of gender might be affected by the state. Power is understood as more diffuse and variable, and the state is more than a fixed, abstract thing. It becomes part of a fluid set of processes whereby certain activities involving men and women can work to support or to undermine state authority and position in world politics.

As gendered characteristics of the state are analyzed, a picture of how gender becomes critical to sovereignty emerges. This picture is what informs the third, developing area of literature analyzed by Kantola (2007)—that of the gendered reproduction of the state and debates about state sovereignty and its primacy in the international system. This literature critiqued the traditional understanding of sovereignty, examined debates about whether the state is starting to give way to international and regional organizations, and explored the possibilities that even international and regional organizations are gendered and reproducing state characteristics at a macrolevel.

In general, the traditional understanding of sovereignty has to do with a state’s right to govern and its ability to operate independently in the international arena. The concept is understood in political science as related to territories, population, recognition, and authority (Kantola, 2007). Feminist IR has been engaged in deconstructing these aspects of sovereignty for some time, demonstrating that territories and populations are not fixed and indeed the manipulation of gender roles by the state (access to reproductive rights, controls over women’s labor, etc.) can play key roles in legitimizing its authority.

However, understanding the complexities of sovereignty is only part of the issue. The intersections of local, national, and global levels are important when talking about states, and the state should be understood in terms of both discursive and structural processes, not just as a unified, unchanging, neutral entity (Kantola, 2007). Gender can matter in the legitimizing of the state and in the gendered and gendering nature of international organizations. Although some of the recent IR literature has suggested that the state is disappearing, other evidence suggests that the state is very much alive and well and in partnership with international organizations that reinforce gendered characteristics and behaviors. Only through illuminating the continuing gendered and gendering aspects of these structures and institutions can human beings begin to also understand the full complexities of their policies and their effects.

2. War, Militarism, and Security

In rethinking war, militarism, and security, feminist IR explores to what degree gender as an analytical category can reveal a more complex and complete understanding of violent conflict and its affects on men and women. Sites of inquiry include definitions of war; the impact of war on gender and vice versa; why wars happen and how constructed notions of masculinity and femininity can legitimate militarism and the state; the gendered nature of post-war conditions; and the definitions and policies of security, insecurity, and human security. Several contributions in these areas are noteworthy.

For example, Laura Shepard has recently critiqued the war–peace dichotomies that appear in so much IR literature. She showed how an emphasis on only war or peace can miss the politics of everyday violence, what she described as the violence of in-between times (Shepard, 2009). This violence, which can involve attacks on refugees, recruitment of child soldiers, or the trafficking or forced labor of women, is often left unnamed or unrecognized by the international community.

At the same time, the focus of feminist IR has not just been on women and children as victims of war. As Kelly (2000) and others have noted, in times of war, women can challenge traditional feminine roles, become heads of households, work in nontraditional jobs outside of the home, and even bear arms or serve as soldiers themselves. Women’s agency and sense of empowerment can be enhanced by wartime conditions. Furthermore, women’s and men’s activism in organizing and promoting peace movements can also play out in ways that do not necessarily coincide with stereotypes of masculine and feminine roles and perceptions of war. As El-Bushra (2007) found, rather than viewing conflict as only a violation of women by men, researchers need to think about how men and women are each differently violated by war and what they do about it.

Feminist IR has also recently engaged with scholars who are articulating and analyzing so-called new wars. Mary Kaldor (2006), for example, has pointed to the need to rethink definitions of war and the role of the state. Using Bosnia and Herzegovina as an example, Kaldor examines how the purpose, methods, and financing of war has changed. Where war used to be conducted only by organized states and launched for the purposes of territorial gain or to justify the goals of a particular ideology, many contemporary wars tend to be about identity politics, conducted by decentralized groups, and using methods that instill fear or create more civilian casualties. Even the financing of such conflicts has changed and become more diffuse and not necessarily dependent on state resources. Peterson (2008) has drawn on Kaldor’s work and the literature of international political economy to talk about how these new wars and the economic means of supporting them are gendered as well.

Feminist IR has also explored why wars, new or old, happen and how conflict impacts gender and vice versa. Goldstein’s (2001) ambitious work, War and Gender, which attempted to bridge traditional IR and feminist IR approaches by using a combination of positivist research and notions of gender as a constructed concept, contributed to the discussion by arguing that connections between war and gender are persistent and interconnected across cultures and time. Killing in war is not natural for either gender, yet the potential for war has been pervasive in all human societies.

Additional feminist IR work has argued for a focus more on militarism and its effects rather than examining just the causes of war. Here, the idea is that militarism itself legitimizes violence as a way to resolve conflict and carries with it the means of redefining gender roles in order to support that behavior (Kelly, 2000). For example, work has been done on the usage of rape in war, the trafficking of women and children for the purposes of forced prostitution and who benefits, and the impact of posttraumatic stress on both women in the military and on families after troops return home.

The feminist IR literature on security takes research in new directions as well and often interconnects with discussions of conflict and militarism. Again, Tickner (1997, 2002) has been instructive here. She explained that feminist IR scholars have challenged traditional IR’s understanding of security as protection of territory or material wealth. Feminist IR sees security more broadly, noting the centrality of the human subject and revolving around protection against all forms of violence, including physical, structural, or ecological. (See also Carpenter, 2005.) To achieve security, one must understand different social hierarchies, the foundational stories and male discourses that support them, and how those same hierarchies influence and may be constructed by various forces in the international system and somehow work to change them.

Influential in some feminist perspectives on security was the publication of the United Nations Development Report (United Nations Development Programme, 1994) that first provided a definition for the term human security. The report argues that human security requires the protection of human lives in ways that enhance and support human freedoms and potential. Feminist IR research, although acknowledging the potential of this concept, continues to ask probing questions about whether UN attempts at human security programs fall short and how such policies may still be affected by gender distinctions or limited by Western biases or aspects of the global capitalist economy.

3. Globalization, Development, and International Political Economy

Feminist IR has also tackled the gendered aspects of globalization, development, and international political economy, redefining these terms and contributing to a wider understanding of men’s and women’s experiences of political, social, and economic relations. For example, Ruth Paterson (1999) has been an important contributor in this literature. For her, globalization should not be narrowly defined in terms of the international exchange of material goods or the flow of international trade. The study of international political economy should not be limited to the analysis of trade agreements or the work of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, or the World Trade Organization or states’ political and economic interactions. Globalization, development, and the studies of international political economy need to be conceived in much broader terms and involve the spheres of women’s work and activities. Studies should explore to what extent or how gender has mattered and to what degree women in particular may have been disadvantaged or advantaged by certain gendered structures and institutions. Traditional international political economy must be challenged to recognize that the household and private domains where women may dominate are critical in fleshing out connections between economics and politics in all domains (Tickner, 2005).

Feminist IR has indeed moved in the direction of focusing on the local experience of women in order to understand larger global economic and political issues. Some interesting and important contributions have included the following: Christine Chin’s (1998) book on Filipina and Indonesian female domestic workers in Malaysia, which demonstrated the connections among women’s labor, the state, and modernization projects and Elizabeth Prügl’s (1999) work, The Global Construction of Gender: Home Based Work in the Political Economy of the 20th Century, where she explored numerous links between women’s work and economic and political issues.

4. Transnational Feminism and Human Rights

In the last 5 years, feminist IR has also turned its attention to a critical examination of issues of human rights and the emergence of transnational feminism. Transnational feminism, often used more as a descriptive term than a theoretical framework, refers to the existence of issues, advocacy groups, and organizations across borders and cultures that are interested in the treatment and condition of women (Desai, 2007). The issues that occupy transnational feminism go from a focus on political representation to a concern about economic and social conditions experienced by women in the South and developing or underdeveloped countries as well as in the developed global North. The United Nations has been perceived as the center for consensus building about these issues, particularly with the creation of key documents like CEDAW (Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women) and practices such as gender mainstreaming, which advocated for the representation of women in government structures and international organizations for the purposes of drawing women into policy-making processes.

Three edited collections have made significant contributions to the study of these topics: Meyer and Prügl’s (1999) Gender Politics in Global Governance; Feminist Politics, Activism, and Vision: Local and Global Challenges, edited by Ricciutelli, Miles, and McFadden (2004); and Global Feminism: Transnational Women’s Activism, Organizing, and Human Rights, edited by Ferree and Tripp (2006). A new work by V. Spike Peterson and Anne Sisson Runyon (2010) tackles global gender issues and the importance of understanding gendered lenses on world politics. In these works, feminists investigate what role transnational feminist networks play inside and outside the international system; to what degree international and regional organizations have remain gendered even with the growing consensus about the need for women’s participation; and what challenges remain in understanding diversity, multicultural perspectives on human rights, and indeed connections between global and local agendas.

IV. Usefulness of Feminist International Relations and Policy Implications

One of the shared desires among practitioners of feminist IR is that their research be useful to both women and men, whether that be at the level of international organizations or in individuals’ day-to-day lives. In the United Nations or the European Union, practical implications can range from the method of collecting data and its interpretation to the usage of those interpretations in determining policy. With gender mainstreaming, for example, intellectual theorizing, advocacy for inclusion, and real-world policy meet. Women have started to be included in some of the bureaucracies, decision-making processes, and programs of these organizations. However, problems still exist in recognizing diversity, acknowledging multicultural and cross-national differences of men and women, and in being self-conscious, reflective, and careful in understanding the gendered nature of policy practices (Carney, 2004).

Along with impacting how data are collected and interpreting policies at either the state or the international level, feminist IR research itself can positively affect individual lives. One interesting example is the work of Maria Mies as described by Tickner (2005). Mies conducted research on sexual violence against women among rural women workers in India. Instead of remaining a distant observer or doing research for only an academic purpose, Mies invited the women of the area who were subjects of the study to participate in research of the researchers as well. All the results were translated into the local language of Telugu and made available to all. As Mies noted, the process sparked self-confidence among the women and allowed them to work collaboratively together to initiate new solutions and programs to benefit the community as a whole (cited in Tickner, 2005).

Another example of theory and practice coming together is the work being done by McGill University on human security, gender, and peace (Boyd, 2005). Their research and activities have resulted in special refugee programs in Montreal, supporting regional peace initiatives in various parts of Africa, and training for those who work with traumatized victims of war-torn countries worldwide. A central value in their approach is sharing the knowledge gained from groups and translating that knowledge into practical action whenever possible. As feminist IR scholars continue to invite conversation and collaboration with their subjects, no doubt practical implications and creative directions for new research will emerge.

V. Future Directions

The future directions for feminist IR are numerous, and only a few can be mentioned here. First, although feminist IR theory has created a space for the exploration of a variety of perspectives and topics, more work still needs to be done in examining or even acknowledging non-Western discourses about knowledge, transnational communities, and gender. As Giorgio Shani (2008) suggested, one future consideration for IR might be the exploration of various Islamist or even Sikh viewpoints on universality of culture, community, and politics and how those views intermix with diverse constructions of gender and social behavior.

Another dimension might be further investigation of the emergence of so-called NGO-ization of women’s movements and advocacy groups. NGO-ization refers to the proliferation of formal women’s NGOs, especially in regions such as the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, or even central and eastern Europe. On one hand, these organizations can be viewed as a promising sign of civil society and empowerment of women; on the other, they can be affected by the agendas of international donors, support of UN agencies, and other Western groups, sometimes fragmenting or weakening the possibility of sustained social change (Jad, 2003; Kamrani, 2007). Additional analysis might provide an expanded and deeper understanding of the ways these organizations work, where gendered discourses and distinctions may still come into play, and what their roles are in shaping international politics.

Another area of growing research currently involves how queer theory might contribute to feminist IR. Queer theory, as a critical theory of power, sex, and sexuality, can provide an additional lens for examining and understanding social realities and international politics. Here, queer theory and research can point to issues of human rights, variations of definitions of masculinities and femininities, and how these can enhance understandings of gendered structures and institutions (Kinsella & Holm, 2007).

Finally, continued work in the development of research methods is another area important to both feminist IR and the field of political science as a whole. Expanding a menu of methodological choices with interdisciplinary, qualitative, and quantitative tools can only help to yield more and more sophisticated causal and constitutive understandings of gender and global politics.

VI. Conclusion

This research paper summarized some of the key themes, theories, and methods associated with feminist IR. Like other reviews of feminist IR literature, the purpose here was not to be fully comprehensive or to somehow provide a complete description of how every aspect of feminist IR works. Instead, the intention was to give students of political science a brief sense of the key issues and debates. What students should take away from this overview is that feminist IR has expanded and increased knowledge about gender and global issues. Some of the main contributions include a critique of the methods of research of traditional IR; a reexamination of war, militarism, and security; the state and sovereignty; globalization, development, and international political economy; and finally, continuing investigations of transnational feminism and human rights.

Even though the contributions of feminist scholars have been extensive in the scholarly literature since the 1990s, feminist IR perspectives are still slow to reach undergraduates in the United States. As a recent survey revealed, only about 5% of faculty teaching international relations in the United States devote time in class to discussion of feminist IR, and about 13% of faculty use textbooks on international relations written by women in their classrooms (Jordan, Maliniak, Oakes, Peterson, & Tierney, 2009). Even though academic research and publication on international gender issues has blossomed, classroom discussion of these topics remains limited. It is to be hoped that this review of feminist IR gives students a good place to start their own inquiries about gender and international politics. A list of references and further readings follows.


  1. Ackerly, B., Stern, M., & True, J. (2006). Feminist methodologies for international relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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