FEMINISM AND SECURITY

Security is freedom from, or resilience against, potential harm (or other unwanted coercive change) caused by others[1]. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs(an American psychologist), after providing basic physical needs such as food and sleep, a person needs to feel safe. All other requirements in human life come after these basic ones. So we can easily understand that a person or another being needs to feel safe in order to sustain his life properly.

Generally, states are the main actors responsible for ensuring security. In this process, states define and give priority to some topics which can be a possible threat. Some scholars explain this situation with some concepts called securitization and non-securitization. Simply, in securitization, a topic is presented as a threat so that the topic takes absolute priority over other issues. Political elites or decision makers should define the topic as a serious security issue that requires urgent and extraordinary measures. These discourses of political elites must be accepted and supported by the audience who are addressees of policy outcomes.[2] In society, if this issue cannot be solved, there would be a feeling that no other issue has any importance. With this securitization way, the power holders legitimize sanctions they will impose. However, securitization prevents the formation of a democratic political environment because it prepares the ground for extraordinary situations. These situations bring scholars another important concept named “non-securitization”. This concept defends that problems should be excluded from the security agenda as possible and they should be solved in daily political life. In non-securitization, there is more politics and less security approach. Later in the study, we will make some inferences about our topic which is feminism and security in international relations by using pieces of information mentioned above.

Feminism is a range of social movements, political movements, and ideologies that aim to define, establish, and achieve the political, economic, personal, and social equality of the sexes.[3]The person who gave the movement its name is the utopian socialist Charles Fourier. He defended that social development is only possible with more freedom for women. The feminist theory which emerged from these movements has spread many fields such as philosophy, economics, international relations etc. The theory focuses on lots of notions including oppression and patriarchy in societies and it wants to find reasons and results of gender inequality.

Women’s Strike for Peace-And Equality, Women’s Strike for Equality, Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, August 26, 1970. (Photo by Eugene Gordon/The New York Historical Society/Getty Images)

Feminist theorists have approached with criticism to every area that they spread including security. After the Cold War, some feminist international relations theorists looked with suspicion of traditional security understanding. Because the World saw so many tragic events throughout the years and actually everything they have done, created an atmosphere of greater insecurity. These scholars asked that when men were making decisions that led the World to greater insecurity, where were the women? This question is one of the reasons for the emergence of the feminist international relations theory. Because it drew attention to the scarcity of women in foreign policy and international relations.

The emergence and development feminist approach in international relations based on two points. Firstly, as I mentioned before, they talked about why the majority of decision-makers in civil and in the military sphere are men. Feminists saw the overwhelming majority of country leaders as men, as an important problem.[4]Secondly, the issue that disturbed feminists was that foreign policy practices and analyzes were carried out with masculine concepts. Actually, these masculine concepts come from an international relations theory named “realism”.

Realism is philosophically based mainly on the work of Thomas Hobbes and Niccolo Machiavelli. According to this theory, the power of state depends on the military and there is constant hostility in the international system. Realists think that human nature is selfish and competitive. It emphasizes the using force for national interests. Generally, these themes are associated with manhood. Feminist theorists argued that this approach causes serious security problems.

Photo credits, bottom row, left to right: Paul Thompson/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images (Women’s Suffrage Parade, New York, USA, 1913). Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images (Gulabi Gang, Uttar Pradesh, India, 2011). John Olson/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images (Women’s Rights March, New York, USA, 1970). AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis (Global Egypt Protest, London, UK, 2011). Top Row, left to right: Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Women’s Rights March, Okinawa, Japan, 1957). Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images (Women’s Rights March, New York, USA, 1970). Paula Kindsvater Wikimedia Commons via CC 4.0 (International Women’s Strike, Parana, Argentina, 2019)

Realist theory divides the topics of international politics into “high politics” and “low politics“. The high political field, which is seen as a masculine area, includes international security, the balance of power, military capacity, and state administration. Low politics, which is seen as a feminine area, includes environment, human rights, minority rights, migration and family.[5] Therefore, realist theory has created a hierarchy among the subjects of world politics and has made the subjects defined as masculine superior to the subjects it describes as feminine. Feminist theorists in international relations argued that this structure must be demolished in order to speak of a new understanding of security.

Feminist theory suggests that all forms of violence are interrelated.[6]Their approach argues that global security is related to local issues, so the success of comprehensive security depends on the action of women and men at all levels of society. It means that the concept of security is more related with individual and social security than state security. So the answer to the question of whose safety is addressed by feminists is the security of individuals and society.

Working in a patriarchal structure and pursuing policies in these structures are problematic. The very low number of women in management and leaving women’s security aside in the content are serious matters. Unfortunately, the issue of women’s safety, which requires serious measures, is often overlooked. Today, while women’s victimization in conflicts continues, on the other hand, the male discourses of decision-makers continue increasingly with the influence of the dominant populist political movement. With this point of view, I would like to connect the subject to the concepts  mentioned earlier “securization” and “non-securization”. In my opinion, we can evaluate women’s security issue in the field of non-securization. Even sometimes it is not considered as important as it cannot be included in this field. Because only when women experience very serious unfortunate events, this issue is brought to the policy agenda.

This combination of pictures created on 7 November, 2016 shows women leaders of the world at the time. (AFP Photo)

Feminist approaches emphasize that structural violence that prevents individuals from realizing and liberating themselves also leads to insecurity. Economic, social, and political inequalities constitute structural violence. They also state that for comprehensive security, structures that will create equal opportunities among individuals must be created. With this approach, they point out that security should be exhaustive.

In conclusion, feminist theorists approached the concept of security differently from realist theorists. Also, they argued that the classical policies of the masculine order caused more insecurity. For a safer and more peaceful world, they said that the safety of individuals should be ensured in society. Last but not least, feminists defend that the number of women should increase in governance and decision making.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security

[2] Hisarlıoğlu, Fulya, “Güvenlikleştirme”, Güvenlik Yazıları Serisi, No.24, Ekim 2019. https://trguvenlikportali.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Guvenliklestirme_FulyaHisarlıoglu_v.1.pdf DOI

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism

[4] Demirtaş, Birgül, “Feminizm ve Güvenlik”, Güvenlik Yazıları Serisi, No.3, Eylül 2019. https://trguvenlikportali.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/FeminizmGuvenlik_BirgulDemirtas_v.2.pdf

[5] Tickner, “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism”, s.429.

[6] :Pınar Atmaca, Ayşe Ömür ve Gözen Ercan, “Uluslararası Güvenliği Yeniden Düşünmek: Uluslararası İlişkiler Disiplininde Feminist Eleştiriler“, Uluslararası İlişkiler, Cilt 15, Sayı 59, 2018, s. 19-31.

Fatma Beyza Bayrak
Ankara Haci Bayram Veli University, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations.
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