Feminist IR. Why does it matter?

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Women's March in Teheran, 1979

The end of the Cold War witnessed the rise of two major frames for understanding and constructing the international system: Realism and Liberalism. Mainstream Realism has assumed the anarchic state of world politics, focusing on the needs of individual states in becoming the strongest they can militarily, economically and politically to be prepared for the inevitable conflict. This approach has been the most used in disciplines such as geopolitics and spread through classics such as The Grand Chessboard (Brzezinski, 1997) or World Order (Kissinger, 2014).

On the other hand, Liberalism understands that it is through cooperation and alliances that both inter-state and international relations can flourish, emphasizing normative institutions as a way to enhance this cooperation, based on notions of stability, or collective security (Ikenberry 2011). Both Realism and Liberalism take the state as their central piece for approaching IR, without questioning either the territorial state or what happens within the state.

In this regard, Feminist IR offers a critique of these two approaches by asking how and why the international system is at the current state. Feminist theories focus on how the world system and even the state itself have been constructed. These theories claim that women are often invisible within IR, and argue for the necessity of critically re-examining the concepts of sovereignty, state, and security within gender analysis.

Therefore they ask who is engaged in this system and in state affairs, emphasizing how it has historically been a male-dominated system. Furthermore, they ask what counts as important, highlighting the importance of the traditional divisions of the private/public, which have been tied to a gendered structure of reality. Public would, therefore, be the masculine, associated with the state, whereas the private would be the feminine, the unimportant, the everyday.

Gendered spaces would mean that state issues are more often than not ascribed to the realm of the public and thus away from the experiences of women, particularly gender-based violence. gendered relations become especially relevant within conflict contexts, where they are more tangible and violence on women’s bodies often not acknowledged within formal declarations of war or peace.

Therefore, Feminist IR helps us develop a more comprehensive frame and in-depth analysis of how the international system becomes; it is a necessary tool and frame to explore topics that have been previously neglected & question issues of high importance in IR such as war, security, sovereignty or citizenship.

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