Feminist Approaches to International Law

Dianne Otto

in International Law

ISBN: 9780199796953
Published online March 2012 | | DOI:
Feminist Approaches to International Law

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  • International Courts and Tribunals
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Feminist perspectives have informed the development of international law at least since the early 20th century, when women’s international peace organizations supported the development of international law and international institutions in the hope that they would provide a means to resolve international disputes peacefully. These and other early feminist efforts bore some fruit, notably with provision for greater protections for civilians in the context of armed conflict, the adoption of antitrafficking treaties, and International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions concerned with women’s conditions of employment. However, this engagement with international law was largely uncritical. International law was understood as a hopeful site for feminist engagement; as providing a means for the improvement of women’s lives as well as enabling a permanent peace. By the mid-1980s, more critical feminist approaches were emerging as it was becoming clear that the law was largely impervious to feminist concerns, with women’s issues marginalized by specialist institutions and instruments, and women still being treated protectively rather than as full rights-bearing subjects of the law. It is at this point that the following bibliography commences, with the emergence of feminist structural and postcolonial critiques of international law, which examined its normative and institutional structures, finding them deeply committed to masculinist and imperial power and therefore in need of significant reconstruction. Feminist approaches to international law have always fallen under a very broad umbrella, resulting in dynamic engagements with the law and its fraternity, as well as passionate internal critique and self-reflection. Feminism’s basic commitment can be described as the struggle to realize women’s equality, but the reality is that multiple strands of feminism have been used to inform international legal theories and practices, and women’s “equality” is considered by some to be an inadequate aspiration. Postcolonial and critical race feminisms have a particularly significant role to play in a field of law that grew from European as well as patriarchal origins. And more recently, the challenge to fully denaturalize “gender” and treat it as an entirely social category has highlighted the importance of questioning the received male/female duality and examining the new possibilities that more fluid conceptions of gender and sexuality open for analyzing the law’s enduring exclusionary effects. Feminist engagements with international law have fostered a vast and diverse literature—marked by both hopefulness and despair, by creative advocacy as well as deepening critique—which touches on every branch or subdiscipline of international law.

Article.  16851 words. 

Subjects: International Law ; International Courts and Tribunals ; Private International Law and Conflict of Laws ; Public International Law

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