Gender, security and development – I | Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

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Gender, security and development – I

Pakistan Press Foundation

March 8, 2020 was celebrated as International Women’s Day. Women marches were held throughout the world and in Pakistan’s major cities in highlighting the growing awareness of women’s role in national life. Any nation comprising half of the global population and unproductively involved in nation-building efforts cannot progress in the comity of nations.

The reality is that majority of countries have ‘gender-blind’ foreign policies. Such policies fail to take into account gendered discrimination, inequalities, violence and lack of inclusion of women and marginalized groups in society.

Notable is the wide gender imbalance in workforces of different departments and organizations of international relations. For example, a distressingly low number of women tells us that women hold key diplomatic and senior postings and play only a negligible role in key policy-shaping activities. Research has shown that countries with greater gender equity are more stable and display less aggression toward other states. In fact, gender equality has been proven to be the single most reliable indicator for conflict prevention.

Realism and neo-realism paradigms own the ‘throne’ of theories, especially in Security Studies. However, they are being challenged since the end of Cold War and post-9/11 developments. Non-military threats, such as, climate change, pandemics, cyber security, poor governance, smuggling and drugs have appeared along with deteriorating economies that impede socio-economic development.

Definition of ‘security’ is heavily influenced by classical and neo-realist theory. Yet gender issues have started claiming a major say in formulation of security policies. Gender study scholars claim that since women constitute about 50 per cent of the global population they should have a rightful say in matters of framing policies.

This is important as, heretofore, security and threat issues have concentrated mainly on the nation-state; they assert that the strongest state is that which can boast of a large army and sophisticated weapons, including nuclear arsenal. A realist in this regard, Robert Mearsheimer, opines that Realism shall remain the future sustaining trend in International Politics.

But the world has undergone fundamental changes in the last thirty years – thus warranting that security as a concept needs revisiting. Especially, using the gender perspective and gender-informed approaches, many of the pressing threats and dangers could be re-defined. In fact, from the gender perspective it is posited that international security allows us to re-think what is meant by the term ‘international security’.

Today, most of the world’s defense establishments and weapon production ministries are the principal adherents of realism as the latter dominates other paradigms in neglecting the gender perspective. Many other theories have been put forward but remain buried under the realism juggernaut. Likewise, there is a close relationship between working in foreign security policy and political realism; therefore realist ideas on security tend to have a tangible impact on the policies that affect people’s lives and experiences.

Realism is quite old but was given formal recognition during the Cold War period. Basically, it talks about a bipolar world order and foreign policies of Big Powers. Now the world is moving toward a multi-polar world. While many writers about realism, including Mearsheimer, state that the methodology is value- free, empirical and akin to human nature, which has been unchangeable and craves for power-domination and utility of force.

To elaborate this, the most befitting example cited is the policies of Germany in the 19th century (1860-1945). Many inter-wars are explained by this theory as nations maximize national power to dominate, coerce and influence others.

Ironically, globalization, besides accruing positive results in inter-connectivity, trade, flow of knowledge, goods and movement of people, has also wrought dramatic impact on the realist definition of ‘security’ and ‘threat’ perceptions. In the last 30 years, the global phenomenon has exponentially accelerated to the point that it is responsible in spawning ‘new threats’ that realism fails to explain.

A threat such as cyber warfare is only made possible through technological advances; also diseases have become pandemic due to travel – thus making it a wholly modern threat. Others such as terrorism are centuries old, yet have morphed and taken an international dimension. The 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, made considerable use of mobile phone networks. Money laundering now occurs on an international scale due to globalized banking and financial services.

The realist-informed mainstream narrative holds that the world is made up of states which compete in a ‘semi-anarchic’ system to maximize power. Hence this makes them the only actors worthy of attention in IR and characterizes them as self-reliant, rational and independent. Further, the discourse defines security in militaristic terms. Finally, but not the least, a key component of realism, as posited by protagonists, is the commitment to positivist methodology, pursuit of ‘value-free’ and universal values of ‘objective’ values.

Similarly, Kenneth Waltz explained the Cold War scenario as of US and former Soviet Union’s mutual distrust and potential use of offensive/and defensive measures in competition for influence.

However, gender as a salient actor is conveniently ignored and its relevance for harmony and peace is under-emphasized. Further, it is espoused as a statist model which assumes a ‘mascualinized’ version of security in which gender is excluded. On the other hand, gender scholars from their perspectives define the state as a collection of institutions which contributes to the legitimization of gender identities through law and practices.

Albeit, there is no singular feminist position the core argument remains about state as a unitary actor. The liberal feminists criticize the state for bias towards vested interest of dominant groups in society, mostly men, who see it as a powerful force in furthering their interests. On the other hand, radical feminists look at the state as an inherently gendered ‘patriarchal power structure’ which can act as an oppressor and hardly as protector.

Social feminists examine how state policies can negatively impact on women, for example, in employment, reproduction, education, health, law and human rights. The construction and subsequent ‘naturalization’ of family unit makes state itself complicit in legitimating gender stereotypes: men as economic earners and women as household care takers. They further observe that state protection of civilians, women and children in the history of warfare has often resulted in killing, rape, deprivation, health and psychological traumas for women and children.

Newspaper: Business Recorder


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