As a concept, a field of research and an analysis tool, gender is not used enough by and in geopolitics, which has negative aftermaths in public action. Yet, women’s and LGBTI’s rights, sexual and sexist violence, sexuality, relationships between men and women, whatever the geographic area, have become major preoccupations.
In addition, more common items of the geopolitical agenda, such as poverty, socio-economic inequalities, origin-based discrimination, religion, development, health, migrations, work, economy, education, environment, sport, culture, military should be studied and addressed through gender studies. Because domination and power can take several forms, such approaches should be combined with other scientific tools.
Gender studies help us to understand reality in its complexity. Not only in social sciences, but also in biology, medicine, digital science — understanding gender-biased algorithms, big data, artificial intelligence is a geopolitical issue.
When it comes to feed international public decision, taking the gendered aspect of the agenda into account brings a political and prospective advantage. When political goals are gender-neutral, bias in favor of men and gender stereotypes are reinforced. Diplomacy gradually takes gender into account in its development programs to target vulnerable groups more efficiently. While some countries or regions obviously fight more than others sexist discrimination, sexual violence and violence against LGBTI, and promote access to rights and resources, a backlash can occur anywhere.
There are lots of examples in the world today. Populist, nationalist governments and authoritarian regimes are obsessed with reinforcing gender stereotypes and inequalities, and fight their deconstruction: gender studies departments are closed in Hungarian universities, the US puts pressure on the UN in order to suppress “sexual and reproductive health” mentions in texts about war rapes, LGBTI’s rights are being stigmatized in Brazil, women protesting against compulsory veiling are arrested in Iran, Saudi Arabia implements gender washing policies, etc. The slogan of 2016, “Don’t be a pussy, vote Trump”, set the tone for the current US masculinist presidency. Moreover, scientific articles and books showing the role of “toxic masculinity” in mass shooting and white supremacism are more and more brought to light.
Conversely, with #MeToo, Women’s marches, demonstrations in Hungary, Argentina, Ireland, the number of mobilizations headed by women has increased because fighting gender inequalities is a protest motivation. In addition to defending women’s rights over their own bodies, and their political and economic emancipation, they claim social justice, denounce global inequal access to health and education, defend environmental protection, and so on.
One should not underestimate the ability of people suffering from unfair situations to act and revolt. If we do not take it into account, we run the risk of essentialization and generalization, which reduces women to their status of victims and, paradoxically, reinforces patriarchy. This is why UN agencies encourage women’s role in peace and political transition processes. In Sudan, Iran, Algeria, they are among the first to promote freedom, denounce oppression and conservatism, but men still confiscate power. Women’s combat not to be left apart from decision-making institutions should be given a bigger media and political focus and be more strongly supported.
Gender studies enrich traditional geopolitical analyses. Pluri-disciplinary research can help tackle more efficiently — and through an integrated approach — many topics of an agenda aiming at promoting women’s empowerment. A feminist diplomacy is one main aspect of it but not the only one. Let’s hope that the leaders of the G7, who recently met in Biarritz, in France, be inspired by it.
This article was initially published in French in “Le Monde”, August 23rd 2019.