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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: June 2018

5 - Feminism

from Part I - Theories of international relations



This chapter examines a number of feminist approaches to the study and practice of international relations. It highlights the similarities between these approaches, but also the differences. First, it traces the interventions made by feminists into international relations and the creation of a distinctly feminist agenda. Second, it uses the ‘gender lens’ to demonstrate and analyse how experiences and understandings in international relations can be ‘gendered’. Finally, it explains and examines the critiques of the different feminist approaches to international relations.

Feminist interventions into international relations

On a global level, significant inequality remains between women and men. This is evident in many areas of politics, including political participation in governments and political decision-making realms, ownership of wealth and resources, and access to human rights and justice. The goal of feminist IR is to highlight, understand and address this inequality. It also seeks to encourage the discipline of IR to recognise and better understand the role of gender politics in shaping how we think about the world and the people and institutions in it. Consequently, like international relations generally, feminist IR is a broad and diverse field of study, rich with debate, controversy, cutting-edge research and challenging new methodological approaches. Feminist IR scholars are often necessarily interdisciplinary, synthesising IR with gender, cultural and post-colonial studies as well as history, sociology, international law and political theory. Feminist scholars have made important contributions to all areas of international relations, including theory, security studies, peace and conflict studies, foreign policy analysis, the international political economy and global governance.

While feminist international relations encompasses numerous feminisms based on distinct theoretical approaches, feminist IR scholars have a common commitment: to highlight and address the discrimination and disadvantage that women in particular experience in international politics. Thus feminist IR scholars are concerned primarily with how the study and practice of international politics discriminates against women and leads to disadvantage (see Box 5.1).

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Ackerly, Brooke and True, Jacqui 2010, Doing feminist research in political and social sciences, London: Palgrave. A good guide to research in this area.
Enloe, Cynthia 1990, Bananas, beaches and bases: Making feminist sense of international politics, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. A modern classic that answers the question, ‘Where are the women in international relations?’
Shepherd, Laura (ed.) 2015, Gender matters in global politics: A feminist introduction to international relations, ed., London: Routledge. A broad-ranging collection of feminist insights into a number of IR's key issues by some of the world's leading feminist IR scholars.
Steans, Jill 2013, Gender and international relations: Theory, practice, policy, ed., Cambridge: Polity Press. A comprehensive introductory study of the various dimensions of gender in international relations.
Tickner, J. Ann 2001, Gendering world politics: Issues and approaches in the post-Cold War era, New York: Columbia University Press. A magisterial analyses of IR by one of the discipline's most influential scholars.