Courtesy Reuters

What to Read on Gender and Foreign Policy

Feminists have long argued that it is wrong to ignore half the population when crafting policies meant to secure a stable world order. Now foreign policy experts are beginning to grasp a different point: a "gender perspective" is relevant not only to those concerned with making the world better for women, but also to anybody who cares about military effectiveness, alliance stability, democracy promotion, actionable intelligence, the stem of pandemic disease, or successful nation building. The following sources are essential reading for anyone interested in the connections between gender relations -- norms and assumptions about men and women, masculinity and femininity -- and the practice of foreign policy.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. By Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Alfred A. Knopf, 2009.
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Offering a trenchant critique of gender-based violence and repression of women in the developing world, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn argue not only that oppression of women is wrong but that developing countries are hampering their economic growth by holding back half of their citizenry. Evidence shows that education and economic opportunities for girls and women are crucial factors in population reduction, which is a key variable influencing economic stability and growth. The book is replete with anecdotes and insights about how to combat the oppression of women in the developing world as well as the indifference to this pressing global issue in the developed world.

One of the Guys: Women as Aggressors and Torturers. Edited by Tara McKelvey. Seal Press, 2007.
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Feminist peace activists and conservatives keen on keeping women out of the military disagree on many things, but they share a common belief: that women are naturally less aggressive than men. Although women (like many men) are active in peace movements, it is misleading to assume that they are incapable of violence or that their presence will serve to "civilize" their male counterparts in political institutions. In this heart-wrenching account of female participation in sexual violence and torture in Abu Ghraib, Tara McKelvey and her collaborators encourage us to reconsider the notion of women as "inherently peaceful." Instead, the authors argue, what must be rethought is the devaluation of attributes associated with "womanliness" -- caring, empathy, and connectedness. Research has shown that both men and women value these characteristics less than they do tough-mindedness, rationality, and independence. Contributors to this volume document the consequences of foreign policy institutions that incentivize the latter at the expense of the former, and urge a careful rethinking that does not itself rely on simplistic gender stereotypes.

War and Gender. By Joshua S. Goldstein. Cambridge University Press, 2001.
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Joshua Goldstein, a seasoned international security scholar, has compiled, sorted, and analyzed evidence for and against a long list of hypotheses about war and gender drawn from evolutionary biology and feminist theory. His scientific overview demonstrates the links between gender inequality and war and shows that gender differences are not "bred into bone," as Francis Fukuyama asserts, but result from cultural beliefs that then influence human physique. His chapters provide systematic evidence for the different status men and women hold in institutions dealing with war and peace, the gendered cultural constructions that sustain these disparities, and the political implications that follow. But more important, Goldstein's research confirms a key insight: gendered language and assumptions impact relationships among men as much as they disadvantage women. Goldstein cautions that in some ways culture may prove harder to change than biology -- a word of wisdom to those aiming to export a feminist agenda to the developing world. He argues, however, that gender dynamics are a crucial variable in foreign policy. Rather than simply being part of a "feminist agenda," they underpin the entire system of war and peace. Sound foreign policy-making requires a careful acknowledgment of these dynamics.

Maneuvers: The International Politics of Militarizing Women's Lives. By Cynthia Enloe. University of California Press, 2000.
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Cynthia Enloe's work on civil-military relations and the political economy of national defense demonstrates how security-related decisions seemingly removed from the needs of ordinary people are in fact contingent on elaborate social arrangements implicating women, men, and configurations of gender norms at all levels of society. Writing about topics as diverse as the fashion and toy industries, military recruiting in high schools, the importance of diplomatic wives in alliance maintenance, and the roles of civilian men and women in munitions factories, Enloe draws connections between security policy and the politics of everyday life. Her work teaches us that understanding international security requires "the ability to read budgets and interpret bureaucratic euphemisms, but also to understand the dynamics of memory, marriage, hero-worship, cinematic imagery, and economies of commercialized sex." And her insights connect to current policy debates over veterans' benefits, defense expenditures, and winning hearts and minds in U.S. strongholds throughout the world.

Gender, Conflict, and Peacekeeping. Edited by Dyan Mazurana, Angela Raven-Roberts, and Jane Parpart. Rowman & Littlefield, 2005.
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UN member states frequently deploy soldiers trained to kill (an activity traditionally associated with masculinity) to conflict zones where they are expected to keep the peace (an activity conventionally associated with femininity). Some of these same soldiers sent ostensibly to protect women and children have preyed on civilians, undermining the stability and support operations they are meant to assist, the image of their governments abroad, and the international institutions they serve. Aside from the obvious human rights dimensions of these issues, there are important implications for the effectiveness of such international missions. The insertion of international forces into conflict zones displaces local economies, puts outsiders with greater financial resources and moral authority in competition with local males for women and status, and introduces a set of gender norms often perceived as culturally inauthentic. In order for initiatives designed to support sustainable governance to be successful, they must be attuned to the gendered trade-offs associated with different nation-building strategies. This hard-hitting set of chapters from academics and practitioners -- covering peace negotiations, judicial machinery, electoral reform, and bureaucratic staffing -- provides both detailed analysis of gendered stability operations and recipes for saner peacekeeping policy.

Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia's Surplus Male Population. By Valerie M. Hudson and Andrea M. den Boer. MIT Press, 2004.
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Approximately 160 million females go missing each year -- aborted while in the womb, killed at birth, or dead early due to food discrimination, lack of health care, and family violence. Their disappearance is largely due to a preference for sons in the world's most populous countries, China and India. This is not only a problem for women and girls, as Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer explain, but for regional security in Asia and beyond. Missing daughters lead to a demographic disproportion of young men in such countries, whose inability to marry and socialize into "normal" society has historically become a threat to states with such high sex ratios. Governments have typically dealt with these "bare branches" through domestic repression (shown to increase bellicosity against one's neighbors) or by sending surplus males on military campaigns abroad. Hudson and den Boer draw on numerous historical cases and statistical data to sketch the causal links between the "proliferation of small men" and the aggression of powerful governments. They conclude with policy recommendations for both regional and global powers, and encourage foreign policy experts to pay more attention to the gender dynamics underlying demographic patterns and regional stability.

Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan: The Politics and Effects of Intervention. By Lina Abirafeh. McFarland, 2009.
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The war in Afghanistan was justified in part as an operation to rescue Afghani women from the Taliban, and promoting women's rights and dignity has been integral to the U.S. agenda in the country. While some improvements have been made, particularly in the cities, violence against women has increased since the intervention, and many Afghan women's rights activists feel trapped by the association of women's rights with Western occupation. The book is filled with anecdotes, insights, and the voices of Afghan men and women quoted in extensive interviews. Throughout, Lina Abirafeh demonstrates the difference between "gender and development" and "women in development"; why well intentioned gender interventions can fail and how they might succeed; and how getting it right can support wider U.S. goals in Afghanistan.

Gender and International Security: Feminist Perspectives. Edited by Laura Sjoberg. Routledge, 2009.
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Gender issues may be fundamental to the foreign policy landscape, but they traditionally have been neglected by theorists of international security. And bridging the theory/policy divide is of little use if gender-blind theories leave policymakers with incomplete tools for responding to a changing world. Reexamining security studies through a feminist perspective, the contributors to this volume provide new insights into power transition theory, arms control, and statecraft. They call upon the international security community to acknowledge that gender is conceptually and empirically essential to understanding international affairs.

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