The Ineffective Response of International Organisations Concerning the Militarization of Women´s Lives

Cristina Radoi



In this paper I analyze the extent to which international resolutions about women’s roles in security really reflect women’s interests concerning the matter.

Although international officials claim that the role of women is very important in preventing conflicts, reconstructing peace and rebuilding societies in post-conflict zones, in reality women only have a formal role, both as part of the army and as civilians in conflict zones. International laws see women as victims, not as important actors who are equal to their male counterparts in achieving these goals.

In the first section, I will present the effects of militarization on women’s lives. In the second, I will analyze, through a feminist lens, international resolutions and alternative security strategies.


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1. The effects of militarization on women’s lives

After the events of 9/11, the defense policies of most states have focused mainly on their militaries. After President George W. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war was adopted, the militarization of societies throughout the world increased. Thus, “the logic of military institutions permeated…language, popular culture, economic priorities, education systems, government policies, and national values and identities” (SUTTON;NOVKOV, 2008, p. 4).

Once the United States of America felt it had lost its supremacy, it began a long and painful process to regain its global military and economic dominance. Bush’s preemptive war doctrine, very well expressed by the statement, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists” (BUSH, 2001), created unbearable conditions for the civilian population, mainly women and children, and even for military personnel. The consequences of the preemptive war doctrine have affected people all over the world, from Americans and citizens of ally-states, whose public funds have been redirected toward financing military power […] “they also jeopardize their own internal political processes in that their alignment with U.S. dominance is often at great cost to their citizens. […] Allied governments support this war despite their own people’s opposition to their nation’s involvement” (KIRK, 2008, p. 38). Instead of using the funds for developing national projects, the Bush administration endangered civilians’ lives in the conflict zone through unjustified imprisonment or atrocities in the name of democracy and human rights (SUTTON;NOVKOV, 2008, p. 9-11). Therefore, the atrocities of Guantánamo and of Abu Ghraib “reinforce the notion that some lives are more expendable and that some deaths are just inevitable” (LEE, 2008, p. 58-59).

The United States claimed that it pursued the war on terror initially for its citizens’ security, and when this cause became unconvincing, the reasoning shifted to America’s duty to removing despotic regimes and rescuing Arabian women in the name of human rights. Therefore, a process of imprisonment started in the U.S. as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan, often without any real proof that those imprisoned were Al Qaeda members. The Bush administration also started attacks in Afghanistan without any proof that terrorists were still living there (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 39). The proportionality of the defense action, one of the principles of the “just war” (WALZER, 2004, p. 10) theory utilized by the United States, was not respected. Even if United States military action was a response to the 9/11 attacks, it led to atrocities and harassment against Afghans and Iraqis, and even against Muslims of other nationalities.

The brutalities and abuses inflicted by both male and female military personnel in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib are yet more violations of human rights principles. The image of women as perpetuators of violence challenged the assumption of women’s association with peace, and furthermore “race and nation ‘trumped’ gender […]. White U.S. women were among the perpetrators (appropriating the masculinist role); Iraqi men were violated (forced into the feminized role)” (KIRK, 2008, p. 43). This association reinforces patriarchy by accepting the ‘protector/protected’ myth (ELSHATIN, 1995; TICKNER 2001).

The type of war imposed by Bush’s doctrine relied on “a sexualized project of ‘manning up’”. In order to achieve their purpose of toppling the governments of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush Administration engaged in a project that subjected Afghani and Iraqi citizens to displacement, disability, abuses, torture and even death. This “manning up” project built a new type of citizenship. The duty of a “true” citizen was to value and support the war on terror and to embrace the national manhood (MANN, 2008, p. 180-181).

Feminist literature examining militarization and the characteristics of war shows that the construct of manhood has been built on the devaluation of femininity (ENLOE, 1990; STEANS, 1998; TICKNER, 2001). Militarism legitimizes masculinized men as the protectors, while feminized persons are labeled as weak, emotional and incapable (ENLOE, 2004, p. 154). In order to build manhood in war, soldiers are taught to repress all their supposedly feminine characteristics.

As we can see, the debated stereotypes of “just warriors and beautiful souls” or the myth of “protector/protected” (ELSHTAIN, 1995; TICKNER, 2001) still prevail in society, embodied in the image of the salvation of Middle Eastern women holding their children from their enemies. This image has been used as an effective justification to manipulate public opinion regarding the necessity and importance of a “just cause” (SJOBERG, 2008, p. 4). In promoting democratic principles, Western states are using the protection of women and children as a justification for fighting a man’s war on terror. The ways a father protects his family1 and Western states attempt to protect the whole world are similar. Western states are an impersonation of the patriarchal father, which justifies their presumed warrant to ensure security (SCOTT, 2008, p. 112).

Yet the effects of war, including economic deprivation, displacement, poverty or gender based violence, disproportionately affect women and children, and no conflict is gender neutral (SCHIRCH; SEWAK, 2005, p. 97). Statistics indicate that 80 to 90% of war victims are civilians, women and children. There are 22 million refugees in the world and 25 million people who have been relocated to camps due to the destruction of their homes (SHAW, 2003, p. 239-240).

Because conflicts are not gender neutral, feminists have pointed out how “militarism jeopardizes the environment and the health of individuals, posing a particular burden on women as caregivers” (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 17). In war-torn countries, conflicts have destroyed agriculture and forests, water and fuel supplies, basic infrastructure and the natural environment. Women have been the most affected, because they are the ones engaged in securing the survival of their families during and after the conflicts. These conflicts, as with all military missions, are consuming valuable resources that could be directed towards more worthy projects, like health or education, and also determine the extent of “environmental degradation and health problems even during peacetime” (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 17).

The policies of the U.S. military concerning the war on terror are, on the one hand, a strategy to secure its capitalist interests abroad and, on the other, a manipulative means for the Bush administration to gain support for all of the drastic measures imposed for the sake of war. These policies affect inequalities both in the U.S. and abroad, “creat[ing] unbearable conditions of social tension, violence, and crisis in many developing countries”(Frances Fox Piven apud SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 17).

Human history has been dominated by war and this constant presence makes people believe that it has become unavoidable and even extremely necessary (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 5-9). Instead of allowing for war, even as a last resort, Francis holds that citizens must value moral precepts characteristic to humanity and choose not to support war. Thus, Francis proposes “a constructive approach of human relations,” which should be controlled by the positive values of humankind, such as respect for dignity and human needs. In her view, this constructive approach is the valid alternative for a world imbued with war and self-destruction (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 5-9).

Militarization is invading every activity of people’s lives, starting with the media and continuing to the education system. Portrayed in television news as the brave acts of soldiers and the women bearing their children they save or in movies based on a hegemonic masculinity which, in the end, will save the world, militarization has become an internalized value (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 19). Media campaigns that present news according to an “Us vs. Other” dichotomy dehumanize the enemy and justify a militarized society. Intentionally providing only the number of victims from one side omits the human losses of the enemy, making it seem as though their losses do not even exist. The news media utilizes oppositional language like “our boys” against “the enemy”; American soldiers have human faces, but their opponents do not (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 15-19).

This type of argument is very seductive because it expresses the power relations between states and makes the presumably “just cause” seem valid. The dichotomy of “Us vs. Other” is specific to the pattern of power and domination, and speaks about “winners and losers, about controllers and controlled” (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 59). Moreover, this type of duality is specific to gendered power relations because it imposes a gender hierarchy. The power relations between states, as well power relations between genders, rely on the pattern of trying to dominate “the other”. These types of power relations are specific to patriarchal societies.

The language of war permeates our lives and is internalized as normal and acceptable. The militarization of the English language also distracts American citizens from the realities of war (KIRK, 2008, p. 41). All technical expressions used to refer to war are neutral because they hide and minimize the real consequences of war and do not express the real damage that is implied (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 19). Therefore, expressions like “peacekeepers” represent, in fact, “rocket-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles;” patriots are “smaller surface-to-air missiles;” national security is supposedly a justification for fighting the war on terror (KIRK, 2008, p. 41). “A bloodless phrase such as ‘collateral damage’ refers to the destruction of homes and hospitals, and to civilian casualties, an unfortunate side effect of bombing so-called military targets” (KIRK, 2008, p. 41).

This type of language not only disguises atrocities committed against civilians, but also provides moral support for these actions, because “in killing ‘the enemy’ we are doing something good, not committing homicide” (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 15).

This type of dualistic thinking is specific to all hierarchical systems, such as militarism, colonialism, racism, jingoism or sexism, and it relies on opposing attributes: culture/nature, mind/body, male/female, self/other (PLUMWOOD, 1993). Among the ideologies mentioned above, “sexism is one of the oldest and is universal” (MIROIU, 2004, p. 50, 172). All branches of feminism agree that this kind of ideology relies on dualistic attributes, sustained by the superiority of one group over another and contributes to the dehumanization of “the other.” Inequalities and discrimination can be found at the intersections between class, nationality, race and sexuality, but gender is circumscribed to all of these. Therefore, discrimination against women can take multiple forms; “gender inequality remaining the last one of all inequalities” (PASTI, 2003).

The educational system is another mechanism that morally justifies war. It teaches people from an early age about heroic battles and the building and rebuilding of nations, but forgets also to teach about the hard experiences of people in war, the carnage of battle and the grand scale of human destruction. Art also portrays war: in paintings or sculptures placed in city centers where “men on horseback brandish swords triumphantly, honored, it seems, for their naked, violent power, rather than their humanity” (FRANCIS, 2004, p. 11).

We are socialized to accept and honor a statue memorializing a national hero disabled in war on a famous boulevard, but not a statue of a disabled pregnant woman. Thus, Marc Quinn’s sculpture, “Alison Lapper pregnant,” evoked significant debate in 2005 and 2006 regarding its placement alongside statues of male national heroes. It seems that society has internalized the habit of valuing only the kind of courage that is still represented by “the malestream” (KENNEDY-PIPE, 2007, p. 79).


2. Theoretical framework

This section of the paper outlines several theoretical approaches to security, like the traditional approach, the Critical Security Studies approach and the feminist approach.

Even if realism and its principles do not represent the main theoretical approach to international relations, all of the theories discussed in this section are based on its principles. Though theory determines practice in general, in international relations the opposite occurs (KEOHANE, 2005, p. 406). Thus, realist orthodoxy, with its principles concerning the international system, nation-state and maintenance of peace and security, is still persistent (GOLDMAN, 2005, p. 355). As is evident, theories evolved from state-centered approaches to others that similarly focus on institutional mechanisms while admitting the role of actors other than the State.

While traditional theories focus on state security obtained by defending state sovereignty against any kind of threat, there are some new theories, such as Critical Security Studies or Human Security, which focus on ensuring the security of the community or of the people though human emancipation or empowerment (SMITH, 2005, p. 41). These new theories add a moral dimension to the concept of security. Even though the theory of Critical Security Studies considers that a shift from state security to a broader definition of security, referring directly to society, must be made, it maintains the traditional framework, including “threats that locate danger, referents to be secured, agents charged with proving security and means by which threats are contained” (WIBBEN, 2008, p. 457).

Human Security, on the other hand, proposes a broader understanding of people’s security by including economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security (UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME, 1994, p. 24-25). Traditional theories, therefore, propose a negative definition of security concentrating on the lack of threats toward the state, while Human Security defines security positively, concentrating on the welfare and the empowerment of people (STEANS, 1998).

The feminist theory of international relations also criticizes the traditional perspective on security by contesting the notion of the state as an abstract entity and criticizing its advocates for intentionally omitting gender from their analysis (TICKNER, 2001, p. 22-27; ELSHTAIN, 1995; ENLOE, 1990). Feminist approaches offer a new take, developing a constructive pluralism by presenting the unheard voices of women in this area (COCKBURN, 2007).

In the attempt of proposing an alternative to traditional theory, Elshtain (political philosopher and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at The University of Chicago), deconstructs war discourse, highlighting its construction of stereotypes for both men and women. According to Elshtain, men are seen as Just Warriors and women as Beautiful Souls (ELSHTAIN, 1995). Men are both subjects of war and its narrators, while women are told to remain in the private realm; therefore, their statute of person in need of protection becomes the reason for men’s wars (SYLVESTER, 2004, p. 4). Feminists have argued that by using very technical language, these theories do not take into account human lives, and therefore women’s role should be to offer a moral perspective on war (ELSHTAIN, 1995, p. 75).

Elshtain was the first to point out that women’s association with peace and men’s association with war benefit neither. These stereotypes disadvantage both pacifistic men and warlike women by claiming that a woman’s place is in the private realm as a non-combatant and a man’s role is to be a warrior (ELSHTAIN, 1995, p. 4). Although Elshtain has criticized these traditional roles, she does not support women’s admission into armies, arguing that they will only represent trophies and not achieve the real power as they believe they will (ELSHTAIN, 1995, p. xi).

For Cynthia Enloe (Research Professor in the International Development, Community, and Environment Department at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts), a gender lens is an important analytical instrument, which highlights gender relations as power relations that persist in every aspect of state policy. She emphasizes that though women’s experiences are invisible, not having been taken into account for their good services offered to their communities, women play a very useful role in sustaining international relations through their unacknowledged work in tourism, diplomacy, agriculture, textiles, domestic services, or work on military bases (ENLOE, 1990, p. 1-5). Men’s masculinity is constructed and mantained in correlation with women’s sexual services. Therefore, the emdeded patriachy in international relations sexually objectifes women for the proper development of activities (ENLOE, 1990, p. 197). Even though women contribute to the development of international relations, they are seen as merely victims, whether in a conflict or in the armed forces (ENLOE, 2000, p. 235-244). Enloe considers that the concept of power in international relations must also include women’s constributions to the field. Furthermore, she underlines the importance of a reconstructed concept that will eliminate power relations (ENLOE, 1990, p. 195).

J. Anne Tickner, a feminist Professor of International Relations at University of Southern California, adds a few important criticisms of traditional theories of international relations and security by considering that it is neccesary to also value women’s roles in maintaining peace and promoting security, not only the roles of soldiers and officials (TICKNER, 2001, p. 37, 127-130). She has argued in favor of institutional changes, including expanding women’s access to the army and increasing their role in achiving sustainable global peace, insisting that women can offer a different perspective on war gleaned from their positions as mothers, wives and citizen-defenders2 (TICKNER, 2001, p. 60). She has also criticised the concept of citizenship, suggesting that it is imbued with a hegemonic view of masculinity and correlated with a devalued femininity. The social construct of devalued feminity perpetuates the “protector/protected myth,” which has allowed men to subjugate women because of their presumptive vulnerabilities (TICKNER, 2001, p. 25-28, 34-35).

Tickner holds that a feminist perspective that values the relational universe could contribute to the reconstruction of the concept of security. A relational universe imposes the necesity to cooperate with ‘‘the other’ (state, organization, the proximate community). Therefore, that kind of universe is different from a dichotomous or a competitive kind. To this end, she argues that a security approach which relies on other states’ insecurity is unsustainable. A feminist approach to security would not consider an abstract state but rather human beings as referents (TICKNER, 2001, p. 83).


3. Security strategies from the perspective of NATO and UE

As mentioned above, achieving security is seen as synonomous with achieving military security. States have monopolies on violence and can legitimately use it in an emergency. Given these conditions, states’ sole objectives are to preserve their territory and sovereignity and to legitimately use violence to eliminate any threats to their national interests (CHENOY, 2005, p. 168). Citizens’ security is perceived as equivalent to state security (STEANS, 1998, p. 104-107).

9/11 led to a change of perspective concerning the approach to security, even for U.S. allies. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war was an incentive to believe that the security of the whole world depended on the war on terror. In the name of freedom and security, the Bush administration invoked Article 5 of the Washinghton Treaty, which states that NATO allies must assist each other against attacks: “NATO will deter and defend against any threat of aggression, and against emerging security challenges where they threaten the fundamental security of individual Allies or the Alliance as a whole” (NATO, 2010, p. 7).

By obeying the American design of the war on terror, “allied governments trade national sovereignty for U.S. support and protection, real or imagined” (KIRK, 2008, p. 39). Citizens of allied states have been affected when large parts of their nations’ budgets, ordinarily allocated to promoting equal access to education, health care, politics or economics, were redirected to defense. In this way, allied governments lost the support of their electorates. Being a member of the NATO Alliance implies providing a large budget for military expenditures, because member states must be in “a continuous process of [military] reform, modernization or transformation” (NATO, 2010, p. 9). Consequently, when states cut budgets, structural inequalities are reinforced and militarism imposes structural violence (CAPRIOLI, 2004, p. 412-413).

The duties that NATO assumes in order to achieve security for all its members are collective defence, crisis mangement and cooperative security (NATO, 2010). NATO fulfills these duties by using all political and military means necessary. NATO’s Strategic Concept is still based on the principles of traditional approaches to international relations, which see the international system as anarchic and hostile, and therefore conclude that state soverignity and security can be achieved only by gaining military power (CHENOY, 2005, p. 168;TICKNER, 2001).

Even assuming that crisis management and cooperative security could amount to real benefits for both allied and non-allied citizens, if the aims of NATO’s operations continue to be the achievement of “an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities,” overall security will continue to be endangered. NATO will not encourage disarmament as long as NATO itself remains a nuclear alliance and as long as its core elements remain:

The maintenance of an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional forces, the maintenance of the ability to sustain concurrent major joint operations and several smaller operations for collective defense and crisis response, [sic] developing and maintain robust, mobile and deployable conventional forces.
(NATO, 2010, p. 6-14).

There is a strong contradiction between the “supreme guarantee of the security which is represented by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance” on one hand and the assumed purpose of preventing conflicts and disarmament policies on the other (NATO, 2010, p. 14, 20, 23).

NATO collaborates with other actors like the UN and EU to maintain peace, stability and security in the world. Yet even if NATO were to declare that it had accepted the new measures adopted in the Lisbon Treaty concerning the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), over the years, there would have still been some tensions between NATO and the EU regarding EU capabilities (VAN HAM, 2000, p. 215).

The ESDP’s goals are to prevent conflict and to participate in the reconstruction of post-conflict areas by providing civilian and military capabilities in the following areas: police forces, the rule of law, civilian administration and civil protection capacities. The Lisbon Treaty marked a step further in achieving the ESDP by creating the position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, adopting The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and ratifying the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Even though significant changes concerning EU defense have been made, power over military capabilities remains at the national level.

Just like NATO, the European Union considers terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to represent two of the biggest threats to global security. However, the EU also considers organized crime, state failure and regional conflicts equally important threats to which sufficient attention should be paid to avoid an explosion of conflicts. Therefore, one of the European Security Strategy (EES) core principles is achieving security by “spreading good governance, supporting social and political reform, dealing with corruption and abuse of power, establishing the rule of law and protecting human rights” (EUROPEAN UNION, 2003, p. 10).

Given the type of threats menacing global security, the European Union advocates constant action towards conflict and threat prevention. The EU admits that none of the threats mentioned above can be eradicated without concerted economic, political, judicial, military, police and humanitarian efforts (EUROPEAN UNION, 2003, p. 7-11). If “security is a precondition of development,” then it mandates a range of activities, from diplomacy, negotiation and trade to development and reconstruction (EUROPEAN UNION, 2003, p. 2). The European Union is trying to achieve the security of its citizens by developing programs that promote equal opportunities, justice and the protection of human rights.

If, prior to the election of President Obama, NATO relied on developing its ‘hard military capabilities’ and the EU, its ‘soft capabilities,’ afterwards, both adopted a shift to ‘smart power.’ While ‘hard power’ consists of constraining measures imposed by military, economic and financial powers and ‘soft power’ include measures such as diplomacy, negotiation and economic and social provisions for reconstruction, the concept of ‘smart power’ combines the characteristics of both to construct an ‘integrated strategy’ (CSIS Commission on Smart Power apud LECOUTRE, 2010, p. 4-5).

Contrasting the NATO Strategic Concept (NSC) and the European Security Strategy, the ultimate goal for the former is state security while the goal of the latter is the security of the European Union’s citizens. The EES considers all sorts of threats, explaining the interdependent processes among them and offering valid solutions for confronting them. The EES’s focus on ‘soft capabilities’ addresses all sorts of problems that can affect citizens’ security and argues that the exclusive use of a military approach is not sustainable.

The abstract qualities of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, referring to the capabilities of these organizations’ capabilities, are the embodiment of general patriarchal thinking which defines as valuable a masculinized approach to the military and a feminized approach to civilians. Neither strategy makes any explicit reference to gender, but instead assumes the gender neutral approach that has long been criticized by feminists for disguising a masculine perspective (HUDSON, 2005, p. 157; TICKNER, 2001). Even though none of the strategies refer directly to women, the NSC is a masculine and militarized approach to security, while the EES is less-militarized because of its citizen-centered nature, being a version that lies between a militarized perspective and a Human Security approach. A feminist perspective on security could create a sustainable partnership with the Human Security approach, extending the basic understanding of this concept toward the inclusion of specific concerns of women (HUDSON, 2005, p. 157).

Concerned with social cohesion, equal opportunities and gender equality, the European Union is an important partner for those fighting against gender-based violence. Its “feminine political culture,” which is characterized by democracy, confidence and participation, could provide good support for integrating gender into mainstream security and for constructing a perspective that is more inclusive of women’s interests in the field (Hubert apud LICHT, 2006, p. 210).


4. Feminist critiques to international resolutions regarding women, peace and security3

One of the most important moments in addressing women’s security was the adoption of UN resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889 and 1960 (UNITED NATIONS, 2000, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2010). The adoption of the “Women, Peace and Security” resolution in October 2000 was the result of women’s and feminist organizations’ lobbying for peace and security (UNITED NATIONS, 2000). The UNSC 1325 resolution was the first that recognizes the active role of women in conflict prevention and the peace-building process. One of the resolution’s greatest merits was its proposal of integrating a gender perspective in all documents related to conflict prevention, peace agreements or security maintenance.

The resolution stresses the need for women’s active participation as equal participants “in all efforts for maintaining peace and security and in the decision process for prevention and conflict solutions” (UNITED NATIONS, 2000). The UN Security Council requested that all member-states both assure a greater participation of women at all decision-making levels in peacekeeping, peace-building, conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and also financially support measures to facilitate the implementation of its objectives.

The United Nation Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) highly recommends that women occupy positions as representatives and envoys to “pursue good offices” in the name of the UN General Secretary and also recommends the expansion of women’s roles, “especially among military observers, civilian police [and] human rights and humanitarian personnel” (UNITED NATIONS, 2000, p. 1-2). The resolution mentions that the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) “expresses its willingness to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations and urges the Secretary-General to ensure that, where appropriate, field operations include a gender component”4 (UNITED NATIONS, 2000, p. 2). In order to incorporate a gender perspective, the UNSC proposes the adoption of some measures, which should improve the status of women and girls in conflict situations. These include measures concerning the special needs of women and girls, measures to stimulate women’s participation in all the stages of peace implementation agreements and “measures that ensure the protection of and the respect for human rights of women and girls” (UNITED NATIONS, 2000, p. 3).

In order to accomplish this objective, the UNSC recommends that states monitor both the impact of armed conflict on women and girls and the process of building peace in a conflict or post-conflict society. To the same end, the UNSC declares that it will collaborate with local and international feminist and women’s organizations (UNITED NATIONS, 2000, p. 3).

As for the adoption of this resolution, feminists agree that it is a good start for international law to incorporate feminist ideas in order to promote “gender equality and secure peace,” but criticize the superficial manner in which these ideas were transposed, that removes their valuable content (OTTO, 2009). International lawyer and feminist Diane Otto argues that “the institutional reception and management of feminist ideas works to divest them of their emancipatory content,” leading international institutions to transpose them as a “cooption” rather than use them through the potential of “governance feminism” (OTTO, 2009). If the “governance feminism” assumes that the implementation results of the legal or institutional power are intentional, the “cooption” of feminist ideas highlights taking over these ideas without any real interest in transposing them.

In demonstrating the positive outcomes of adopting of an international standard regarding women’s roles and conditions in peace-building, peace-keeping and security-maintenance, the development of gender-inclusive language recognizes women as autonomous and deserving of the enjoyment of human rights in these processes. Second, this type of resolution creates an institutional environment for the debate of feminist ideas and thus for new policy-making in this area. It also provides legitimacy for the development of new networks and organizations in the area of women’s rights (OTTO, 2009). The benefits of international organizations as actors in defining a constructive role for women in an area that traditionally emphasizes a male perspective cannot be denied. Any limitations to the positive outcomes they bring are attributable to the purpose for the adoption of these resolutions, namely, gaining legitimacy for UN actions while not empowering women. This can be demonstrated by the way in which women are portrayed in the text of the resolutions. They are associated with children, peace or victims and are therefore seen as vulnerable. Although the gender mainstreaming perspective is used in the text in order to gain legitimacy, the link between the feminist perspective and the content of the resolutions is missing. This argument is bolstered by the fact that feminist critiques of UN militarism are not taken into account. These critiques stem from the feminist argument that a society with a high level of gender equality is more likely to be inclined to peaceful measures (CAPRIOLI; BOYER, 2001).

As stated above, feminists have also heavily criticized the form of the resolutions. Women as well as children are presented only as victims. The resolutions reflect a tendency to evaluate women’s roles in the security process on the basis of a type of essentialism that associates women with peace and defines them as the primary victims of war in need of protection (CHARLESWORTH, 2008, p. 351). Feminists in international relations believe it is necessary for women to overcome their status as victims or pacifists in order to be truly empowered in the process of achieving gender equality in the institutions that are delegated to achieve and assure security (TICKNER 2001, CAPRIOLI; BOYER, 2001). Diane Otto observes:

Resolution 1325 goes on to invoke many other independent and self-sufficient representations of women as peace-keeping personnel, including ‘military observers, civilian police, human rights and humanitarian workers’ as participants in peace building as peace advocates and implementers of peace agreements as bearers of human right as refugees and ex-combatants as well as representing women as victims of armed conflict having special repatriation and resettlement needs needing protections as civilians during armed conflict and requiring ‘special’ measures to protect them from gendered violence.
(OTTO, 2009).

Elshtain’s theoretical critique may apply to the resolutions as well; she points out the fact that the society is portraying men as Just Warriors and women as Beautiful Souls (ELSHTAIN, 1995) and that is not a good strategy for either of them. These stereotypes disadvantage both pacifist men and warrior women (ELSHTAIN, 1995, p. 4). They claim that women’s place is in the private realm as non-combatants and that men’s role is to be warriors (ELSHTAIN, 1995, p. xi). Men are both subjects of war but also its narrators while women should remain in the private realm although their status is the reason for men’s wars (SYLVESTER, 2004, p. 4). Feminists have argued that by using a very technical discourse, these theories are not taking into account human lives and thus, women’s role are limited to offering a moral perspective on war (ELSHTAIN, 1995, p. 75).

Otto underlines the use of gender in an institutional context. “The term is understood as a synonym for women’s issues, which significantly limits its progressive possibilities because the contestability of conceptions of femininity and masculinity, as well as their relationality, is ignored” (OTTO, 2009).

The association of women with children causes them to be seen as mothers, and therefore pacifists who are vulnerable in conflict areas. The history of armed conflict contradicts this perception of women as pacifists; female suicide bombers and combatants are just two examples (SJOBERG; GENTRY, 2007). This association of women with children emphasizes their vulnerabilities as mothers in the context of conflict, yet omits that these vulnerabilities originate more from an increase of gender inequality in a society in general (CARPENTER, 2006).

Nadine Puechguirbal observes:

Women are not more vulnerable per se in times of war; they are made more vulnerable because of pre-existing inequalities in so called peaceful societies. [. . .] As a result, women keep being associated with children in the private realm and by extension their needs are defined similarly according to the needs of girls and boys in conflict areas.
(PUECHGUIRBAL, 2010, p. 176).

Since they are perceived as birth-givers and caretakers in societies with gendered power hierarchies, women are not considered able to have a dynamic role in peace negotiations or conflict resolutions.

The association of women with victims comes from stereotypes regarding both men and women’s roles. These stereotypes depict men as strong, powerful and authoritative and women as weak, vulnerable and passive. Because of these stereotypes, women are seen as victims of war and men as protectors/warriors/policymakers.

These critiques of male-dominated notions of security have helped to reformulate the concept of security in a way that allows for a more holistic response to peace and security, one that is inclusive, rather than exclusive, and one that empowers those who have previously been invisible in security discourse and practice.
(WILLETT, 2010, p. 146),5

These stereotyped assumptions about men and women’s roles not only deny women’s roles as active combatants but also that men can be victims of conflict (MOBEKK, 2010, p. 288-289). These types of assumptions highlight the type of essentialism that is specific to international organizations. This brings to light another major limitation of UN discourse relating to victims of armed conflict. The official discourse of the UN often puts together ‘casualties’ and ‘women and children’. Puechguirbal argues that at a closer look, male, not female non-combatants are more often victims of armed conflict (2010, p. 176, 181). The association of women with victims is integrated into an argument that peaceful women are victims of conflict and therefore in need of protection from men who are more inclined to conflict than they.

As explained above, feminist critiques of the association of women with children, peace or victims cannot be taken separately. These associations are interconnected, mainly in order to emphasize the minimal role of women in the areas of conflict resolution and peace building. This emphasis occurs in societies with clear gender hierarchies where dichotomies like women and peace, women and victims and women and children prevail. These dichotomies devalue women’s agency and, in doing so, construct stereotypes for men as well; for example, men and war, men and protectors and men and aggressors. One of the fundamental feminist critiques to the UN resolutions is that the latter stereotypes are built upon these dichotomies and therefore reinforce hierarchical gender power relations in society, and more particularly, in conflict areas.

Another important critique of the resolutions relates to the inappropriate manner in which they have been adopted. Specifically, when it comes to including a gender perspective in the resolutions, UN officials have not taken into account all feminist suggestions. Consequently, these resolutions refer to gender only with respect to women, not to men (CHARLESWORTH, 2008, p. 351). Gender represents a social construct that defines power relations. The dynamics of power relations between genders is obscured when it is equated solely with the feminine. Gender is a concept that supposes the existence of structural relations whereby norms and hierarchies are institutionalized relations of dominance and non-dominance (HOOGENSEN; STUVØY, 2006, p. 216; GROVES; RESURRECCION; DONEYS, 2009, p. 193-194). A feminist redefinition of security will foster a partnership between women and men such that both will benefit (HUDSON, 2005, p. 156).

Another feminist critique relates to the fact that despite women’s important roles in conflict prevention and peace-building, they do not have the opportunity to visibly participate in initiatives. In order to assure sustainable peace, it is important that women are included, since they represent more than half the world’s population, assure family continuance and have been the subject of continuous discrimination and inequality in gender relations, such that they are more likely to empathize with victims of conflict (WALLSTROM, 2010).

One of the limitations of the resolutions is that they do not constitute ratified treaties; instead they only comprise sets of guidelines without creating mechanisms to enforce them. Consequently, Willett observes:

There is a lack of resources to support gender advisers, in the field, to aid the training of peace-keepers in gender awareness, to monitor and verify the implementation of gender mainstreaming in all peace keeping operations, to train women as peace keepers, mediators, negotiators and senior diplomats, to prioritize women’s needs in peace building and to empower local women’s peace groups and their security priorities and initiatives.
(WILLETT, 2010, 143).

Hence, one can observe this lack of consistency between the resolutions purpose and their enforcement in practice. “Until the policies translate into meaningful practice, women’s institutional inclusion is just a game of shadows” (OTTO, 2009).


Dissatisfied with the UNSC’s lack of responsibility concerning the implementation of the resolutions, the feminist and women’s organizations put pressure to adopt another resolution to solve the problem. Unfortunately, the adoption of UNSCR 1820 did not significantly remedy the lack of responsibility of the UNSC. What is more, this resolution’s objectives are even narrower than the first’s. The new resolution addresses the problem of sexual violence, which is used as a ‘war tactic’ against women during and after periods of armed conflict. This resolution fails to increase “women’s potential to make valuable contributions to conflict resolution and peace-building,” and treats them again as victims of war, as is manifest in the use of “women and children” language and the stereotypical assumption that women are in need of protection because of their exposure to sexual violence (OTTO, 2009).

Even if it “rejects the idea that sexual violence is a ‘natural’ expression of masculinity,” the UNSC treats the problem “as a ‘fixed reality’ in women’s life (OTTO, 2009). The UNSC judges that this sexual abuse can only be ‘fixed’ legally, failing to follow a plan to fight the core of this type of human rights violation. Proposing only measures that assume the necessity of stopping this kind of masculine activity evidences a belief that women are seen as “helpless in the face of sexual violence and that it is futile to fight back” (OTTO, 2009).

Thus, the feminist critique that the UN fails to incorporate gender equality as a political component remains. Resolution 1820 fails to recognize that women’s inequality is a factor that allows sexual violence to exist. “In the absence of a commitment to gender equality, and despite its nod to debunking myths, Resolution 1820 is grounded in the old script of biological certainties, which accepts women’s inequality as natural and armed conflict as inevitable” (OTTO, 2009).

In the face of feminist critiques concerning the type of women’s agency allowed for in Resolution 1325, the UN failed to affirm that it had credibly fought sexual violence. A UN response should have proposed some empowerment measures for women and strategies to involve women who have had this type of experience in becoming agents for social change, encouraging them to participate in “training in self-defense and collective actions” (OTTO, 2009). “Such measures would tackle the causes of gendered violence by treating women as full and competent subjects of international law and policy, rather than reinforce the mythology that women are always victims who need to be rescued” (OTTO, 2009).

From 2008 to the present, the UN has adopted three more resolutions concerning the situation of women in armed conflict. If UNSCR 1820 sets a framework which addresses the problem of sexual violence, UNSCR 1880 represents a step further in addressing the necessity for gender balancing, recommending women’s roles as peacekeepers to solve the problem.

The resolution highlights the significance of female enrollment in peacekeeping activities. For example, female peacekeepers have proved to be very helpful in Muslim societies where they may perform certain tasks more appropriately. In order to carry out peacekeeping and peace-building operations, female officers are able to search female suspects without offending cultural norms. In conflict areas with Muslim populations, there have been examples of men who disguised themselves as Muslim women and even as female suicide bombers  (MOBEKK, 2010, p. 281).

However, the significance of Resolution 1880 crumbles before the arguments it employs. The resolution reinforces the oldest myth, which presents women as inherently peaceful agents, vulnerable people or mothers. Telling examples are found in the assumptions that women and children will feel more comfortable in the presence of female peacekeepers in a conflict area, and even that the latter’s example will encourage them to enroll in their national police or armed forces (UNITED NATIONS, 2008, p. 2).

This type of essentialism “may lead to an assumption that when women are included in security forces [it is because] they are better equipped than men to deal with rape and violence against women” (MOBEKK, 2010, p. 286). All the members of the armed forces or the police should receive training to deal with such situations; there is no guarantee that women will be more willing or able to perform these tasks. In order to expedite gender mainstreaming and gender balancing, it is important that women have access to all sorts of tasks, not only to those that keep with gender norms and devalues their work. The reassertion of the above-mentioned essentialism stresses that men are more fit to serve as protectors and policymakers, and that women’s active roles in conflict resolution and peace-making continue to be idealized and undervalued (WILLETT, 2010, p. 143). Even if there are studies regarding female officers’ use of force that portray them as less violent, possessing the ability to defuse “potentially violent situations” and as having a greater talent for implementing community policing, the essentialism of the resolution devalues their work, accomplishments and abilities (WILLETT, 2010, p. 143).

Feminists critique peacekeeping and peace building operations for their hegemonic and masculinized culture (WILLETT, 2010, p. 147). This is understandable, considering that these operations are conducted by UN member states’ masculinized security forces. The masculinity of security forces is reinforced by the assumption that men are the protectors of women and children. The masculine norm in this type of operation is demonstrated through “a complex of behaviors and attitudes that privilege physical toughness [and] heterosexual macho bravura,” constructed through “the denigration of women and femininity” (PUECHGUIRBAL, 2010, p. 174). Thus, the ‘natural’ bond between the protectors and the protected explains the mobilization of peacekeeping forces.

The ‘natural’ peacekeeper[s]/protectors not only have the collective physical resources to exercise definitive military power, but also assume they are most capable of thinking in strategic and rational ways. [ . . . ] For peacekeepers/protectors to exert this form of superiority, there must be a socially constructed ‘protected’. More often than not, this is constituted in the form of defenseless women and children, the victims of conflict. In the binary structures of the liberal peace the feminization of the protected is a necessary corollary to the masculinized protector/peacekeeper.
(WILLETT, 2010, p. 147).

Unfortunately, there is no improvement in the content of the last resolution analyzed. The language of Resolution 1880 subscribes to the standard line of UN resolutions, imposing masculine language on UN peacekeeping documents and translating it into the power-relation structures of these operations. The myths of protector/protected, women’s helplessness when confronting sexual violence, and female officers’ inherent peacefulness perpetuate “a vision of gender roles that reinforces inequalities and prevents progress on gender mainstreaming” (PUECHGUIRBAL, 2010, p. 173).

Even if there were gender guidelines developed for military personnel in peacekeeping operations to facilitate the implementation of UN resolutions, the situation in the field demonstrates that the results expected in the resolutions were not attained. “The military disciplinary measures [and] the training [of] troops on the categorical prohibition of all forms of sexual violence against civilians” (UNITED NATIONS, 2008, p. 4) did not eliminate or decrease the number of cases of peacekeeper misconduct against female colleagues or civilians. Currently,

Peacekeepers may become sexual predators on local women’s vulnerabilities, they collude to make the insecurity of women in conflict situations and post-conflict societies invisible, they ignore the proactive voices of women’s peace groups and in many scenarios they collude with warlords and military commanders to reinforce male privilege and power and enforce women’s subordination in the aftermath of war.
(WILLETT, 2010, p. 147).

UNSCR 1889 addresses women’s underrepresentation “at all stages of peace processes, particularly the very low numbers of women in formal roles in mediation processes” (UNITED NATIONS, 2009b, p. 2). One can observe a change of perspective concerning women’s roles in armed conflict. The content of this resolution takes into account feminist critiques regarding the necessity of condemning the set of patriarchal myths on the condition of women, “stressing the need to focus not only on protection of women but also on their empowerment in peace building” (UNITED NATIONS, 2009b, p. 2). However, without setting an implementation plan for the above goals, this small progress remains superficial and the resolution’s text remains empty. The promotion of gender equality policies in conflict areas is an objective which cannot be attained if the UN is still characterized by “a masculine norm …” which dominates all decision-making spheres on “the behalf of other men and women” and is legitimized by a process of institutionalization (PUECHGUIRBAL, 2010, p. 182).

UNSCR 1960 emphasizes the need to continue the directives of Resolutions 1820 and 1888 regarding the eradication of sexual exploitation in conflict and post-conflict areas. This resolution does not bring any new issues to the international agenda (UNITED NATIONS, 2010).

It also stresses the need to include a greater number of female military personnel in peacekeeping operations and provide specialized training regarding sexual and gender-based violence and the appropriateness of measures taken toward these issues.

The UN resolutions do express the need to include a significant number of women in conflict areas who could provide their perspectives on the process of achieving peace and security. Feminists support the idea of “citizen defenders” with access to political and military decision-making, but they also stress that it is not enough for women to fill a certain percentage of military staff and end up imitating the established masculine behavior model (TICKNER, 2001). Thus, one of the most significant limitations of these resolutions from a feminist perspective is that women must improve their perceived status in order to have an important role in shaping the defense concept to their own values.

Since the adoption of the first resolution with respect to women’s roles in conflict areas, the UN’s position has not changed to include feminist critiques. With the later adoption of several resolutions on this subject, the UN’s position has only stressed to a greater extent women’s passive protected role as in conflict areas. UN officials did not act upon the feminist critiques to Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions only further stressed the association of women with children, peace or victims.


5. Feminist Human Security as an alternative to traditional securities strategies

If the traditional perspective on security is the expression of a masculinized, privileged point of view that breeds only “patriarchal structures,” the Human Security perspective expresses a wider agenda with a broader range of people’s concerns. For this reason, it is labeled a “feminized” approach that does not measure up to the imposed standard (HOOGENSEN; STUVØY, 2006, p. 210). Because the Human Security is a perspective focuses on “the everyday security of persons” (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 20) and feminism is concerned with the everyday experiences of women, there could be a solid partnership between these two approaches.

The UN proposed the Human Security approach especially in post-conflict societies (GROVES; RESURRECCION; DONEYS, 2009, p. 190). Within this approach, there are two directions of thinking that depend on the type of threat defined. The first direction focuses on violence as a source of insecurity or “freedom from fear,” while the second more expansively includes hunger, disease and natural disasters (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 20). The UN’s approach, “freedom from want,” focuses on an even broader agenda, which includes economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security (UNITED NATIONS DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMME, 1994, p. 24-25).

The UN holds that human security is not an alternative to state security, but “rather reinforces it from the perspective of the individual” (GROVES; RESURRECCION; DONEYS, 2009, p. 192). Human security legitimizes institutions and governments by sustaining their objectives of achieving human development, human rights and the contributions of non-state actors (HUDSON, 2005, 165). The methods of human security focus on preventive diplomacy, conflict management and post conflict peace building, developing economic and state capacity, and human empowerment (SUTTON; NOVKOV, 2008, p. 20).

Even if this perspective does address problems that threaten a person’s security, feminists have argued that its scope must be expanded so as to include violence against women, gender inequality, and human rights for women so that women and men are seen as actors and not as victims (Woroniuk, apud GROVES; RESURRECCION; DONEYS, 2009, p. 191).

Gender analyses could enrich the Human Security perspective, considering that it was proposed by highly-ranked officials from international organizations and national governments who may not have properly addressed the experiences and problems for people from “below”. “Gender approaches deliver more credence and substance to a wider security concept, but also enable a theoretical conceptualization more reflective of security concerns that emanate from the ‘bottom up’” (HOOGENSEN; STUVØY, 2006, p. 209). The feminist perspective on human security could provide a freer framework for the security field.

The gender neutral term “human”, which in principle includes men as well as women, “is often the expression of the masculine” (HUDSON, 2005, p. 157). Therefore, a gender analysis could make the voices of women heard. It is also a trap to consider traditional concepts of gender as universal because there are different groups of women with specific traits as well as different types of feminism (HUDSON, 2005, p. 157). Furthermore, a human security perspective cannot be valid if it is constructed only by “dominant state players” and imposed on those in a more disadvantaged position (HOOGENSEN; STUVØY, 2006, p. 219). A unilateral definition of the concept “perpetuates the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’: we, the secure, versus them, the insecure”: men versus women, white women versus black or Hispanic women (HOOGENSEN; STUVØY, 2006, p. 219). To avoid the construction of a unilateral definition, one can add “relational thinking” to gender analysis. This concept is useful for the human security perspective because it introduces subjectivity, sensibility and also clarifies its gender power dimensions (HUDSON, 2005, p. 169).

Human Security refers to a respect for human rights, sustaining the establishment of legitimate political authority, multilateral definitions, a bottom-up approach and focusing on conflict prevention (KALDOR; MARTIN; SELCHOW, 2007, p. 282-286). “Integrating gender into the concept of human security rather than applying human security to gender” will ensure that the concept offers a better understanding of the security of the people, women and men, who can achieve their objective in a safe and positive environment (HOOGENSEN; STUVØY, 2006, p. 219).

6. Conclusions

If international resolutions do not stimulate gender equality and women’s participation or promote women’s interests, there is a lack of real power bring about institutional change. For this reason, it is important that women are seen as real actors in achieving security and women’s access to the military is insufficient to achieving gender equality and sustainable peace. In order for women to be real “defender citizens” and to promote their values and interests in defense policy, it is necessary to also promote policies to change the perception of gender roles, help promote women into decision-making positions and create strong institutions to prevent and sanction prejudiced attitudes and discrimination.

Patriarchal society and institutions, which have imposed gender differentiated roles, are responsible for preventing women’s attainment of top level jobs in the security field, which have denied them the right to contribute to the construction of gender-balanced defense policy. Consequently, a feminist approach to human security best emphasizes the security concerns of women.

• • •


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1. I stand by this emphasis. The “father” represents the embodiments of patriarchy in a family through the social construct of the head of the household image.

2. The concept of citizen defenders was proposed by Judith Stiehm in her paper “Women and men’s wars” (1989).

3. A previous version of this section of the paper was presented in the paper “On Romanian military gender training and peace missions” (2011) – Cristina Radoi and Ilona Voicu, presented at Armed Forces and Society: New Domestic and International Challenges, organised by International Political Science Association and R24 Committee, in 17-19 June 2011, Ankara, Turkey.

4. The emphasis is according to the original text of UNSCR 1325, 2000.

5. See also Mobekk (2010, p. 28).

Cristina Radoi

Cristina Rădoi has a PhD in Political Science from the National School of Political Studies and Administration in Bucharest, Romania and wrote her thesis on national defense and war from a feminist perspective and the impact of women in military institutions. Rădoi has a Bachelor´s Degree in Political Science and a Master´s in Gender Studies. The author´s research interests concern gender studies, especially women’s conditions in military institutions, and female Muslim refugees.


Original in English.

Received on November 2011. Accepted on May 2012.