Feminist critiques of mainstream approaches to foreign policy and diplomacy

Feminist scholars have long demonstrated that an analysis of foreign policy which does not account for gender is deeply flawed. First, this is because it fails to reflect on the relationship between patriarchy and the war system (see Reardon and Snauwaert, 2015). Second, mainstream approaches which claim to be gender neutral are in fact deeply gendered (see Ackerly et al., 2006; Enloe, 1990; Runyan and Peterson, 2014; Tickner, 1992). Focussing explicitly on hegemonic masculinity, they demonstrate how the field silences and disregards women, and bereaves them of their agency (Cassidy and Althari, 2017, p. 3) As a result, we are unlikely to be able to achieve a gender just and more peaceful world as long as gender hierarchies persist and are constituted through the study and practice of foreign policy.

Our focus here is on foreign policy and diplomacy as an area of state policy that is intensely hierarchical and concerned more with questions of security and war than peace. We therefore draw primarily on feminist IR, which has dealt more explicitly with this area of state policy. Yet, there are important insights to be drawn from feminist peace researchers, in particular when it comes to peace as the objective of foreign policy and diplomacy within international politics. Additionally, attention to feminist peace in understanding the gender dimensions of foreign policy and diplomacy is crucial since it is counterintuitive to silo feminist research as only belonging to one disciplinary tradition — feminism in the study of Global Politics is inherently interdisciplinary. As feminist scholars, we look beyond the constructs of disciplinary boundaries, which necessitates a challenge to the “boundaries within which the discipline of International Relations has sought to confine it” (Weber, 1994, p. 338).

Fundamentally, feminist perspectives go beyond the numbers of women in foreign policy and diplomacy. Instead, there is an investment in analysing “how the world is constructed” (Tickner, 1992, p. 4). Understanding gender relations is thus the starting point to understand the underlying reasons for a persistent exclusion of women in foreign policy, the implications of including women as actors in the field, and what it means when gender issues are prioritised in policies.

Gendered dynamics are part of ongoing discourses on diplomacy. Men are often associated with the public sphere, while women are associated with the private sphere (Cassidy and Althari, 2017, p. 2). These same gendered ideas influence perceptions about people and structures, including in the diplomatic realm. Feminists claim it is important to expose and examine gendered dynamics of diplomatic practices, and to reveal how these in turn inform and shape policymakers and decision-making in the international realm.

As an emerging field, feminist peace research explicitly focusses on the gendered implications of war and peace, and the outcome of foreign policy making and diplomatic practice (cf. Confortini, 2012; Wibben et al., 2019). While foreign policy per se has not been the focus of feminist peace research, unsurprising, there are important overlaps in the theoretical patterns that emerge within the different approaches to feminist Ilk (Blanchard, 2003, p. 1290; cf. Wibben et al., 2019). First, feminist Ilk theories question “the supposed nonexistence and irrelevance of women in international security politics” and expose the relevance of gender in connection to power and decision-making in Ilk. Second, feminist Ilk scholars also challenge the persistent claim that the state can and does ensure women’s protection during war and peace. Third, feminist Ilk theories challenge essentialist notions of gender, that is the notion that women are inherently more peaceful than men, and men are more violent than women. And fourth, feminist Ilk theories have “started to develop a variegated concept of masculinity to help explain security” (Blanchard, 2003, p. 1290). Feminist Ilk as an approach owes a debt to feminist peace advocacy and education, which has long sought to broaden notions of security so that it has a grounding in human rights and anti-militarism. This work gave rise to concepts in foreign policy that we take for granted, such as the “human security” with emphasis on the environment and the importance of economy and development for international peace (see Ikeardon, 2010).

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