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“Women and Security”


Sarah Taylor


The Encyclopedia of Political Science Set, by George T Kurian (Editor), James E Alt (Editor), Simone Chambers (Editor), Geoffrey Garrett (Editor), Margaret Levi (Editor), Paula D Mcclain (Editor), Sage/CQ, 1801 Pages, Published 2010


The inclusion of women in security studies results from the confluence of several trends in both the study and practice of international relations. Within the academy, there has been a growing realization that disaggregating along gender lines (along with other identities) is analytically useful. In the policy and practice world, security studies in general are expanding from a narrow examination of armed conflicts and elite actors to a more expansive approach. Finally, women have increasingly been participating in international conflicts and peacekeeping efforts at all levels.


By the late 1980s, women’s studies and gender issues had a significant presence in the academy with the recognition of “gender as a useful category of analysis,” which staked the claim that women and gender are integral to our understanding of social processes and power dynamics. In conflict and security studies, using women as an analytic category has been particularly useful, showing that the treatment of women is valuable as an early warning indicator of potential conflict; revealing that women and children bear disproportionate burdens in conflict itself; recognizing rape as a weapon and crime in war, etc.


Academic work on women and security has primarily been located within a wider feminist discourse, using the concept of patriarchal systems to critically examine gendered aspects of war and security. By disaggregating gender, this work drew attention to how constructs of masculinity and femininity have been used to legitimize war, the different ways in which war impacts men and women, and shone a light on gendered aspects of militarization. Using the argument that valuing masculine qualities such as aggression has led to rampant militarization, this literature initially tended to claim that women’s inclusion in security concerns will mitigate these trends. Authors on gender and international relations – who variously agree and disagree with this perspective – include Cynthia Enloe, Jean Bethke Elshtain, J. Ann Tickner, V. Spike Peterson, Jill Steans, and Laura Sjoberg.


Concurrently with this academic shift, international organizations were turning their attention to the specific topic of women and security. Traditionally, security studies have focused on what is known as “hard” security: specifically dealing with outright armed conflicts and the threat of same. However, there has been a recent trend to recognize HIV/AIDS, population growth, the persecution of different identity groups, and environmental degradation as significant security threats. This expansion has included the recognition of the different ways men and women experience and participate in conflict, and how gender is implicated in these non-traditional threats.


Part of this development has been international meetings, resolutions, and agreements that have served to both encourage and compel parties engaged in conflicts to recognize the role of women and the importance of including a gender perspective in conflict transformation processes. Major international agreements include the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979, which set the stage for the fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 (known as Beijing ’95). The topic of women, peace, and security is outlined in Chapter 1 of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which specifically calls for the inclusion of women at all levels of conflict resolution and transformation by drawing on the United Nations Charter, and by framing women’s inclusion as part of the organization’s fundamental mission. Termed “gender mainstreaming,” this concept has been adopted almost universally by intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). As stated in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, “it is a strategy for making the concerns and experiences of women as well as of men an integral part of the design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic, and societal spheres.” Subsequent to Beijing 95, a large network of IGOs, NGOs, and academics developed to work on women, peace, and security. By October, 2000, momentum and pressure had built to the point that United Nations Security Council Resolution finally recognized the specific rights of women in conflict by unanimously adopting resolution 1325. This is one of the major outcomes of the growing awareness of the different ways in which men and women are victimized by and participate in conflict. Impetus for SCR1325 included the war in the former Yugoslavia--in which rape and sexual violence were used as weapons of war (later prosecuted for the first time as war crimes at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia)--and the shifting role of women in the elite levels of conflict negotiation in the conflicts in Ireland, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The ad hoc nature of women’s agency and empowerment in these peace processes is evidenced by their exclusion from the 1995 Dayton negotiations despite major lobbying by NGOs, but women’s pivotal role in the Northern Ireland peace negotiations and were central involvement in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.


Women have also become more involved as participants in conflicts, not least because they are becoming members of the military in growing numbers. An example of this shift is that, as of 2004, women represent approximately 14% of the United States armed forces, an increase from 2% in 1950. Women have also been more involved in combat and as agents of conflict. As the frontlines of wars become blurred and conflicts increasingly take place in areas inhabited by civilians, women are becoming more involved in the actual fighting, regardless of the policies of individual armies as to whether women should or should not see active combat. Institutional policies in international governmental organizations such as the United Nations now actively call for greater participation in both their police and peacekeeping forces.


There are numerous developments in the field of women and security. One is the slowly increasing number of women teaching in the field of international relations, where they have been traditionally underrepresented. Academically, the lens through which women and security is viewed is changing, as essentialist conceptions of women as peacemakers are no longer the only ones used to analyze both women’s impact on security studies and the impact of conflict on women. In addition, as women are increasingly present in leadership positions and in military operations, the future study of women and security will likely focus on these areas. In the policy world, 2008 and 2009 saw the adoption of three new UN Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security – SCRs 1820, 1888, and 1889 – that aimed to better address the specific rights and interests of women in conflict. One element that is not changing, however, is that women, be they civilian bystander or participant in the conflict, continue to bear a disproportionate burden of war as refugees and as as targets of widespread sexual violence in conflict areas, while continuing to be excluded from the peace processes that seek to end such conflicts.


See also Gender Mainstreaming; War Crimes; Women, Violence against


Sarah Taylor




Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Women and War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.


Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches and Bases. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990.


Peterson, V. Spike, ed. Gendered states : feminist (re)visions of international relations theory. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 1992.


Politics and Gender Issue: “Are Women Transforming International Relations?” March 2008.


Scott, Joan W. Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988.


Sjoberg, Laura, “The Norm of Tradition: Gender Subordination and Women’s Exclusion in International Relations,” Politics and Gender, v.4, n.1, March 2008, 73-80


Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2006, Table 501, United States Census Bureau.


Steans, Jill. Gender and international relations : an introduction. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1998.


Tickner, J. Ann. Gender in international relations : feminist perspectives on achieving global security. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

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