Human Rights and International Law are anchored in the ideals of the Age of Enlightenment. Within this period, the human was imagined as a cis-heteronormative white European masculine “universal” subject. The United Nations (UN) is a product of this type of thinking.
Following World War II, the UN was founded in 1945 out of the desperation to end war and conflict in Europe and across the world. It is set out to maintain international peace and develop friendly relations among nations. However, the UN favours liberal state formation practices, imperial dynamics, and ultimately continues to be stuck on traditionalist masculinist views of international relations and foreign policy.
In light of this, the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is perceived as a ground-breaking turn, led by civil society advocacy, towards the inclusion of feminism in the international political system. This resolution, followed by 9 others, makes up the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. The WPS aims to address women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict situations and contest traditional masculinist views on conflict and peacebuilding. Despite being a crucial step forward and innovative for many reasons, the WPS policy framework still fails to push for a shift away from the imperial and colonial modes of politics found in the international order, fails to tackle gender outside of traditional views on “womanhood,” and ultimately essentialises women. And let me tell you why.
International politics, policy, and academic research that tackles gender equality and justice-related issues are dominated by what is often understood as “mainstream feminism.” This brand of feminism primarily refers to cis-heteronormative white feminism, which revolves around the man/woman binary and fails to include, among others, queer, afro feminist, or indigenous feminist perspectives. Thus, despite the façade of progress that accompanies feminist policies in the international realm, patriarchal modes of policymaking continue to be reproduced, replicating the very issues that feminism is set to “cure.”
The WPS is dominated by this liberal mainstream feminist discourse. Similarly to the larger UN framework, the WPS framework accepts and reinforces the gender binary and does so through the essentialising of women. First, gender and women are used as interchangeable terms. Women are portrayed within a protective frame that emphasises their vulnerability, dependability, and need to be conserved from sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations. In this way, they are often understood as beings without any agency meant to be protected from harm. Furthermore, women are understood as inherently peaceful and resourceful in creating peace.
Women are also often equalised to mothers, and simultaneously infantilised, being found throughout the resolutions in the company of the word children, “women and children.” Additionally, the WPS framework is notoriously silent when it comes to homophobic, queerphobic, and transphobic violence in conflict-related environments. By contrast, (all) men in these conflict scenarios are framed as brutish, primal, and a threat to all women. Thus, in quoting the feminist critic Gayatri C. Spivak, reproducing the trope of “white men (…) saving brown women from brown men.” This narrative also invisibilises gender-based and sexual violence against men in conflict situations.
The WPS resolutions generalise the Global SouthThe term 'Global South' is used to refer to lower and middle income countries. The term is seen as more value free than 'Third world' or 'developing world,' but is also criticised. The term is geographically inaccurate (most of the Global South countries are actually located in the Northern hemisphere), it homogenises countries that are part of the Global South, and the term is narrowly focused on economic development.close, portraying the region as a site of perpetual grief and violence needing Global North expertise and aid. Recently, following the events of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we have seen this trope reinforced, as the popular media outlets and nations have short-circuited after seeing European white men acting as the unmistakable threat.
As it stands, the UN and the WPS re-inscribes heteronormativity and essentialises understandings of what is considered a woman and a man, ignoring the LGBTQ+Lesbian (L), Gay (G), Bisexual (B), Trans (T), Queer (Q), Intersex (I), Asexual (A), + denotes an umbrella term used by 'marginalized sexual and gender diverse people whose gender, gender expression, or sexual identity do not conform to cis-gender or hetero-dominant gender identity'. This acronym is intersectional by virtue of its nature as well as non-exhaustive and inclusive (as denoted by the +). Over the years, the + has been understood as encompassing Questioning (Q), Two-spirit (TS), or Pansexual (P). In other words, this term represents fluid (non-conforming) notions of gender identity and sexual orientation supposedly transgressing the binary constructs of our society (male v. female and heterosexual v. homosexual).close community, and reproducing imperial and racial dynamics. However, what is the alternative? In a system dominated by heteronormativity and whiteness, how can a product of this system ever not be heteronormative or overwhelmingly white? How can we truly achieve a racial and gender transformative security agenda, one that challenges the status quo, addresses the insecurities of all, and fashions long-lasting solutions for peace? Change it from within or tear it down to better rebuild it? You tell me.