Almost twenty years ago, our friend and colleague Judith Gardam offered an original and illuminating perspective on the law of armed conflict. She deployed the persona of an alien — filling in time during an intergalactic storm — for the purposes of reading the laws of armed conflict. Back in the person of a scholar of international humanitarian law (IHL), Judith then engaged in a conversation with the alien, comparing its observations on the texts alone with her understanding of how the law operates in practice. Judith's alien-scholar dialogue allowed her to illustrate the malleability of the legal concept of objectivity and the way that the law constructs particular realities while obscuring others. This striking approach was both playful and disconcerting. It revealed, among other things, the gendered nature of the law of armed conflict and its incorporation of Western images of femininity and masculinity.
Inspired by Judith's imaginative method, we reflect in this chapter on international developments over the last two decades which address the lives of women in the area of armed conflict. In 1997, when Judith was in dialogue with the alien, the primary relevant legal framework was that of IHL — notably the Hague and Geneva Conventions and Protocols. In the intervening years, the number of international legal lenses has multiplied. Human rights law, international security law and international criminal law now also regulate the situation of women in armed conflict. Moreover, the plight of women in conflict and its aftermath has achieved much greater political prominence. After sketching a range of issues that shape the situation of women in conflict, we focus on two international documents on this topic, adopted in 2013 by different United Nations institutions, and speculate on what Judith's alien might make of them.
WOMEN AND CONFLICT
Discussion of women and conflict invokes categories such as ‘conflict’, ‘armed conflict’ and ‘post-conflict’. The difference between these terms is, however, difficult to establish in any particular situation — violence typically seeps from periods of formal conflict into the ‘post-conflict’ phase. The term ‘post-conflict’, in particular, can mislead in the context of women's lives. It suggests a neat transition from a state of conflict to peace and implies that ‘post-conflict’ societies are distinct from other conflict scenarios.