Women truly do make the world go ’round. I am a fervent feminist, and I am not afraid to admit that, but feminism is often construed as a vile hatred and condemnation of men which is simply not the case.
Feminism for me, is ensuring that men and women have equal rights and equal access to economic success and social justice regardless of where in the world they were born. It is a fact that women make up roughly half of the worlds population, with a slight majority of 51% in the UK and 53% in the United States (Ritchie and Roser, 2020).
Even with this majority in two of the biggest economic global powers, women face an under representation within local and nationwide governments, limited access to reproductive care, and fewer economic opportunities to their male counterparts (Ortiz-Ospina and Roser, 2020). But this is not limited to the western world; Women in some of the poorest countries such as Malawi and Afghanistan control even less of the wealth.
In Malawi women are the most at risk of falling into deep poverty, and are statistically not as well educated as the male population with only 55.2% of women being literate compared with 69.75% of men (Country Economy, 2015). These limitations in female empowerment, educational and economic opportunities are often directly linked to International Law and foreign affairs.
Women and children are the two groups most at risk when an armed conflict breaks out between states, and are most at risk to suffer from human rights abuses and crimes of violence. The International Criminal Court (ICC) the Rome Statute and the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence were put in place to ensure that women who were victims of sexual violence, trafficking, forced sterilization and forced prostitution could, in theory, seek legal representation and justice against a state or perpetrators of these crimes of violence (Gender and the ICC, 2015).
Whilst these measures that are in place should reduce violence against women a number of logistical oversights and complex bureaucratic barriers often stand in the way of seeking justice; “Procedural and substantive deficiencies have marred the work of the court, leading to lengthy delays and frustration. In ten years of existence, the ICC has opened formal investigations into 28 of the most serious atrocities and has conducted cases against a number of the alleged perpetrators. Yet, as John Bellinger recently noted in the Washington Post, it has completed just one, raising concerns regarding the effectiveness of the court.” (Jones, 2012).
Elements of Humanitarian Law, such as states having their own legal sovereignty has allowed Hybrid and International Tribunals to be marred and swayed by political influence with more of an emphasis on expanding surveillance and repression to push a political agenda as opposed to expanding access and legal representation to those affected by global conflicts, including women (Jones, 2012).
The reluctance of leading global powers such as the United States, Russia and China to become Party States of the Rome Statute is another complex issue that has limited global resources and the ability to pursue justice, particularly for crimes against women caused by overseas intervention of these global powers. (Bulger, 2013) For example U.S. foreign policy initiatives have limited the progress of women’s rights globally, and destabilized much of the Middle East a region which historically has trailed behind in regards to women’s rights (Chamlou, 2013).
With the United States not a State Party of the Rome Statute, they are outside of the jurisdiction of the ICC that would prosecute U.S. involvement in the Middle East and any crimes of violence this incurred, including crimes against women. U.S. involvement, most commonly in Islamic countries such as Iraq and Libya has had direct effects to the progress of women’s rights and the international legal community (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020).
“The U.S. formal discourses [in Islamic countries] have unwittingly structured the way Muslim women’s rights are viewed…the absence of feminist rights is criticized in the United States and used as a tool for identifying the Muslim Arab Middle East and for helping U.S. policy makers intervene in the region under the pretext of humanitarian necessity.” (Chaudhry, Aniol and Shegos, 2018).
Famed U.S. activist, author and 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate Marianne Williamson laid out her plans for battling global violence against such limitations, and much of her agenda focused on the progression of women’s rights. She said in a May 2019 interview with journalist Kim Iversen that in order to wage peace global powers such as the United States need to focus on “expanding economic interests for women [and] reducing violence against women” when it conducts its diplomatic efforts. To achieve this, Williamson proposed slashing the Military Budget, properly funding the State Department (which is supposed to function as a diplomatic entity) and creating a Federal United States Department of Peace. (Iversen, 2019)
But what are the logistical barriers towards such a bold foreign policy agenda? Oxford professor Richard Caplan in 2014, released an in depth report on the challenges of exiting from overseas conflict when an exit plan is not in place as was the case in the U.S. invasion of Iraq; “exit strategies are hard to formulate” and often lead to a “confused and violent aftermath” (Singh, 2014) These exit strategies often do not include bold agendas for protecting women’s rights or expanding economic opportunities for women, and these are also often not prioritised in state-building initiatives following the end of a global conflict (Singh, 2014).
Whilst the UN has its own entity branch associated with women and the progression of women’s rights globally, many of its state-building policies are merely temporary or short term with little to no emphasis on the broader long term goals and women’s issues are merely seen as social not political issues. “The UN has adopted international commitments to address gender-related violence in conflict, including UN Security Council resolution 1960, which provides an accountability system for conflict-related sexual violence; stipulates coordinated and timely collection of information on such violence; and calls for countries to establish specific time-bound commitments.” (UN Women, 2014). Whilst these international commitments are integral for combating crimes against women they often do not contribute towards such efforts once a conflict has ceased due to state sovereignty stipulated by Humanitarian Law.
This is largely due to the fact that many post-conflict initiatives lack the resources and personnel who truly understand women’s issues; “Gender advisors are more effective when they have gender expertise, including the technical skills, competencies, and experience necessary to provide appropriate, in-depth guidance to integrate a gender lens, and a gender analysis, throughout the process of policy formulation and program development.” (Council on Foreign Relations, 2020).
The main concern here is that there are just not enough women in diplomatic or powerful governmental positions making it extremely difficult to prioritize women’s rights and freedoms and any efforts to do so in their current form, often fall short due to a lack of female voices at the table when making foreign policy decisions. This combined with stipulations by Humanitarian Law which grants states with their own sovereignty essentially leaves women’s issues overlooked thus holding no state or singular organisation responsible for a failure to defend women’s freedom.
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Chamlou, N., 2013. Women’S Rights In The Middle East And North Africa | Global Policy Journal. [online] Globalpolicyjournal.com. Available at: <https://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/03/10/2017/women%E2%80%99s-rights-middle-east-and-north-africa> [Accessed 16 September 2020].
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Jones, K., 2012. The Many Troubles Of The ICC. [online] The National Interest. Available at: <https://nationalinterest.org/commentary/the-many-troubles-the-icc-7822> [Accessed 10 September 2020].
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