Towards a gendered security approach

Security in international relations has traditionally been preoccupied with military security and state security; however a human security approach can challenge the assumption of the state being the provider of security and places emphasis on human rights as well as on non-state actors. Nonetheless, the approach to security does not go far enough despite its broad and inclusive scope because the gender dimensions of human security are often overlooked.

To overlook gendered dimensions of security is to only have a partial understanding of security issues, particularly when looking at post conflict societies, and security issues in peace keeping operations. The term human appears gender neutral, however the values that are embedded in understandings of human security remain masculine based and so must be extended to a gendered approach that takes into account particular needs of women. For example, in refugee camps for internally displaced peoples problems that are gender specific are prone to being overlooked in processes of distribution of aid resources that can favour conditions that make women more vulnerable to situations of violence. Human security therefore hides differences of gender and the power dynamics involved in gendered relations, and so does not take into account the ways identities based on ethnicity or class also intersect with identities of femininities and masculinities. 

Nonetheless, as Hudson argues (2005), a gendered perspective on human security by simply seeking to incorporate women as a category in security discourses “without also integrating gender as unit of analysis” does not address the way in which gender issues can often affect women the most as it marginalizes women in the conversation that is dominantly masculine based and continues to make distinctions between international security and social security, in which gender is not seen to be relevant to international security. Traditional views of security are problematic for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the realist view the state as a unitary actor with a unified source of intent capable of devising coherent plans and policies  ignores techniques of governing that produce apparent solidity of a state and the separation from society (Li, 2008). To accept the view that the state is separated from society, and by extension accepting that the state security on international scale is not relevant to social security and social justice, is essentially a misguided view that reifies the state in the sense that it gives an abstract concept characteristics of unified agency.  

Secondly, to limit issues of gender to social security and see gender as irrelevant to international security is problematic because as a tool for global governance human security cannot ignore the power relations of gender that affect social security and therefore also international security. An example of this is peace building and peace keeping missions, and the way in which gender issues must be seen as an essential part to peacekeeping in international relations.

Jacqui True argues for the importance of looking at the political economy of the peace keeping and building operations in post conflict societies, and argues that by prioritising reconstruction of judicial system and law over the value of social and economic opportunities of women can exacerbate violence against women after conflict and so hinder reconstruction efforts of missions (2012). This is linked to the fact that long after war ends there are lingering social and economic effects and foreign interventions can in fact be destabilizing forces that fail to address violence against women. True also makes a bold claim that despite the aims of organisations such as the United Nations to mainstream gender equality into organisation’s goals in peacekeeping operations in post conflict countries such as through Security Council Resolution 1325, little attention is paid to the effects that their presence has on the political economy, in particular for example the political economy of sex in Kosovo which exacerbates the violence against women (True, 2012).

By political economy of peacekeeping missions is meant the division of labour that is based on gender, and so peacekeeping economies created during the missions that are based on the gender inequalities are long reinforced after the post conflict missions hence shaping the gendered power relations in a long term way. Furthermore,  because of the missions aim to re-establish “good governance” through law and order, with physical security as a priority over social and economic security does not address the underlying structures that perpetuate the inequalities, and violence between men and women. So when looking at security issues such as currently in South Sudan, the focus should not be on how a state is failing in terms of law and order, but rather how social security against violence can be achieved for the people living in a place of violent conflict.

Hudson, Heidi. “ ‘Doing’ Security as Though Humans Matter: A Feminist Perspective on Gender and the Politics of Human Security.” Security Dialogue 36 no.2 (2005): 155-74.
Li, Tania Murray. “Beyond the ‘state’ and failed schemes.” American anthropologist 107 no.3 (2008): 383-394.
True, Jacqui. “Rebuilding With or Without Women?” Chapter 8 in The Political Economy of Violence Against Women. Oxford University Press, 2012.


About School of Politics and International Relations

This blog has been set up for the students of PO665, Advanced Topics in Politics and International Relations: Global Gender Justice, which is a course for final year Honours students in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. As part of their participation in the course, students submit blog posts that examine issues pertaining to gender justice within the family, the community, the state and global society. We aim to explore the extent to which gender inequality within the state has an impact on state behaviour, with a specific focus on state development and state security, and further aim to analyse the effectiveness and limits of international organisations, international human rights instruments, NGOs and activists to bring about greater gender justice.
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