Gendering European security


Feminist scholars have proved that gender is of central importance to European security both in terms of its conceptualisation and practice. This chapter sheds light on the gendered structures and practices of European security. The first question to ask is why is a feminist perspective necessary and what does it add to our understanding of European security? To do so, the chapter introduces students to feminist conceptions of European security through the lens of Feminist Security Studies. This means situating Feminist Security Studies in wider debates on the shape and scope of Security Studies as a project and drawing attention both to the continued silences inherent within wider disciplinary conceptions of security and the value of feminist approaches in exposing the way in which gendered hierarchies are upheld and reified. In so doing, it is possible to expose why gender remains marginal to mainstream accounts of European security.

In addition to considering the place of gender in theorising European security, it is also necessary to consider its role in practice, in terms of how European security institutions are gendered, but also in respect to contemporary developments in gender and security and the place of a key global gender norm and Europe’s role in shaping it. Here we discuss the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda embodied in UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and its seven follow-up resolutions. This Resolution was intended to challenge the marginalisation of gender (specifically women) from international security. In particular, the chapter focuses on the passage of WPS through the Security Council to help explain some of the contradictions inherent within the agenda. This analysis also highlights the role of key actors, both UN member states and civil society groups, who continue to shape its implementation at a global, national, local and European level. Only with this understanding is it possible to establish the ways in which it has shaped the value placed on the agenda by European actors, but also how Europe has become a key site for ascribing meaning to WPS.

Finally, the case studies of the EU and NATO as regional security actors provide a point for comparison on the gendered composition of two key European security institutions. This highlights the ways in which gender underpins European security structures and practice as far more than just a peripheral concern. Specifically, in so doing the chapter explores the role of both structures and practices in gendering European security. These institutions also provide useful sites for analysing the integration of WPS into European level security. Europe has been at the forefront of engagement with the WPS agenda, but as this Chapter demonstrates WPS has been used to support instrumental gains rather than to transform the gendered structures and practices of European security. Examining how the EU and NATO are gendered as security actors, helps explain why WPS has been understood this way, rather than as a means to ‘re-gender’ European security institutions to ensure better gender representation in terms of both personnel and within policy.

A Feminist Security Studies perspective

Feminist scholars have made important contributions to our understanding of security. This has, more recently, mirrored wider developments in the practice of security which has also begun to take gender seriously since the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on WPS in 2000. Yet, critical feminist insights continue to remain on the margins of Security Studies. Both mainstream/ traditional and critical scholarship on security remains, on the whole, gender blind, with the decades of feminist theorising of issues of security largely ignored (Wibben, 2010, p. 7). Yet, somewhat paradoxically, while mainstream/ traditional scholars are resistant to feminist approaches, they are rarely well informed about them (Peterson, 2004, p. 43). In part, and as a result, approaches to European security that specifically take gender seriously as a point of analysis (rather than just a variable) have been few and far between. In order to understand why this might be and the implications of this marginalisation, it is necessary to consider the nature of the feminist challenge to the study and practice of security.

Feminist approaches to security are nothing new. For example, the feminist challenge to the study of war has been ongoing for decades and has its roots in peace research in the 1960s. Here, feminists began to incorporate an explicit focus on power into their analysis (Wibben, 2010, p. 4). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, feminists began to frame their analysis in terms of‘security’ and specifically as a challenge to the mainstream/traditional state-centred conception of security (Wibben, 2010, p. 4). This provided a critique of military force as the primary means of securing the core values of the state: sovereignty and territory. In doing so, feminist scholars contend that security defined purely in militarist terms presents a false image of reality (Hudson, 2005, p. 164). Feminist security scholars seek not only to challenge the state centric focus of security, but to reclaim it from its co-option within a militarist framework (Basu, 2013, p. 456). This critique also leads to the claim that the focus of many Security Studies’ scholars on the state as the primary actor in global politics creates the state as such, reifying a particular form of knowledge. This has led feminist scholars to study the margins of international politics, looking to the spaces and people absent from mainstream analysis. In identifying these silences, they are concerned not just with exposing how international politics functions, but in challenging the existing system, ultimately with the aim of provoking transformative change to both the study and practice of international politics. One of the central contributions of critical Feminist Security Studies has been to demonstrate that the personal is not only political but international (Enloe, 1989, p. 195). This notion underpins feminist approaches to international relations and builds on the second wave feminist assertion that the personal is political.1 This has meant shedding light on 'the complex interrelationship of local, national and global scales implicated in the study of security concerns* (Shepherd, 2013, p. 17). It also includes widening the definition of security to include individual and group security, while arguing that security is about all forms of violence, including structural violence, for example, whereby those on the margins of the international system have a shorter life expectancy because capitalism creates an uneven distribution of resources (Tickner, 1992, p. 22).

Much feminist work on security draws across disciplines, including, but not limited to, history, sociology and peace studies, with the multidisciplinary nature of feminist work one of its core strengths. Feminist Security Studies’ scholars may take different approaches to their analysis (for example, post-structural, constructivist, normative) but are united in viewing international relations through ‘gender lenses’ and seek not only to explain, but to transform and disrupt. They view the study and practice of security as co-constitutive. For example, feminist scholars have critiqued the authoritative discourse of mainstream/traditional approaches to security as ‘cool, objective, scientific, and overwhelmingly male’, drawing attention to how this has allowed scholars (and policy makers) to separate themselves from the reality of what their discussions concern (Elshtain, 1987, p. 245). Carol Cohn’s (1987, p. 688) seminal work has also exposed how language and social practice among defence intellectuals is gendered, serving to separate those making life and death decisions from the real lives impacted by them. These findings underpin the necessity for feminist scholars to ask questions about ‘how and why masculinist institutions at the heart of this exercise of power function’ (Cohn, 2011, p. 585). This includes those operating within European security.

Feminist Security Studies’ scholars have made important inroads in both exposing and challenging the silences within mainstream approaches’ explanations of international security. As a result, feminist insights make a valuable contribution to the study and our understanding of security. Yet, within European security scholarship specifically, gender approaches have remained marginalised. This poses the question, what is special about the study of European security? In part, the answer lies in broader silences within feminist approaches to security that have sought to challenge the mainstream preoccupation with states and international organisations. It also speaks to what we consider European security. In this chapter, the focus is on European security institutions, but feminist scholarship has been concerned with European security more broadly defined at the individual and group level, and beyond the EU and NATO (see, for example, Kronsell and Svedberg, 2012). We also need to consider the place of feminist scholarship within the wider context of European Studies and in particular on the EU. Feminist accounts are by no means absent from the study of the EU.

In fact, they have provided important insights into the gendered nature of EU policies and critiqued dominant theories of integration. Yet, little feminist work has achieved substantial traction within EU Studies. In part, this can be attributed to the limited systematic engagement by feminist scholars (with the notable exception of Abels and MacRae, 2016; Kronsell, 2016) with the gendered nature of the EU integration project itself (Guerrina et al., 2018b). The result is that, until recently, there was little feminist scholarship concerning 'high politics’ issues within the EU, including security and defence. Feminist scholars are, therefore, playing catch-up in theorising European security institutions.

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