Women and International Relations


By Cassie Greenwald

Considering women and gender in the scope of international relations allows us to examine the fundamental contributions women have made politically. “The divide itself is complex, weaving together threads of history, of academic, political and gender identity, of power and resistance” (Youngs, 2004). In the realm of international relations, masculinity should not be the only lens through which both men and women communicate foreign policy.

A common belief in the United States, and throughout the world, is that military and foreign policy are arenas of policy-making that are not appropriate for women. Personal characteristics such as strength, power, autonomy, and rationality are typically considered masculine traits. Those characteristics are what are most valued in areas of foreign policy. “Frequently, manliness has also been associated with violence and the use of force, a type of behavior that, when conducted in the international arena, has been valorized and applauded in the name of defending one’s country” (Tickner, 1992). Feminine characteristics are not thought of as having a viable place in the spectrum of global politics.

If women want to be successful in international relations, they must adopt masculine gendered characteristics. Typical characteristics associated with being feminine are not desired for international leadership. “There is a need to behave in “a masculine way” to succeed in politics, and it is difficult to not view international relations as a gendered discipline” (Zailani, 2014). The women that do want to participate in politics behave in masculine ways to gain acceptance, to be seen as powerful, and to make actual progress.

In the 1980s, feminism and the role of gender started to become more visible in the study of international relations. “In the United States in 1987,women constituted less than 5 percent of the senior Foreign Service ranks, and in the same year, less than 4 percent of the executive positions in the Department of Defense were held by women” (Tickner, 1992). The first wave of feminism in international politics was called feminist empiricism. The goal was to give a voice to women and expose areas where women were contributing to international politics. Another objective was to uncover gender bias, a strategy known as the feminist standpoint. The feminist standpoint argues that by considering the perspective of women, a more complete picture of the world and global politics can be established.

Historically, women such as Eleanor Roosevelt have played a significant role in the evolution of feminism in the political realm. “Eleanor Roosevelt’s commitment to women’s full recognition by and participation in American politics and business was intense and she worked with women’s groups around the nation to build their political base” (Eleanor Roosevelt, 2015). Foundations such as The Women’s International Democratic Federation, founded in 1945, became prominent feminists organizations. Their goal was to work for women’s political rights around the world.

Currently, feminists in the field of international relations study who is shaping politics and whether or not women are involved in the decision-making process. “Since foreign and military policy-making has been largely conducted by men, the discipline that analyzes these activities is bound to be primarily about men and masculinity. We seldom realize we think in these terms, however; in most fields of knowledge we have become accustomed to equating what is human with what is masculine” (Tickner, 1992). Equating what is human with masculinity has also prompted feminists to consider the potential that women have in contributing to foreign policy.

Women’s current involvement in politics nationally and internationally remains sparse. “The U.S. ranks #69 among countries with the highest percentage of women in government. Countries that have a higher percentage of women include countries such as Tajikistan, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uganda” (Dawn, 2012). Women make up 51 percent of the population in the United State but only 17 percent of congress members are women. Out of 195 countries world wide, only 11 countries have elected women as head of state.

The involvement of women in politics has the potential to impact a country’s overall welfare. Argentina’s first elected female president, Fernandez de Kirchner, presides over one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Veronica Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile, revolutionized trade relations between South America and Asia-Pacific. Mia Farrow is currently the United Nations Children’s Fund Goodwill Ambassador, working towards raising awareness about Darfur and advocating for children in war-torn countries (The Top 20, 2015). These women and many others, have become leaders in international relations and have been an inspiration to women around the world.

“Bringing women to the forefront of political and international issues and relations instead of continuing with the socially accepted norm of a male-dominated political hierarchy, can encourage creative thinking, leading to improved solutions for future conflicts” (International Relations, 2015). Throughout history, women have continually built a platform for their voices to be heard and should not have to speak through the filter of masculinity.


Dawn, A. (2012, January 1). The Gender Gap: Percentage of Women in Government Worldwide. We’re Number One, Right? Not So Much… Retrieved March 6, 2015.

Eleanor Roosevelt and the Women’s Movement. (n.d.). Retrieved March 2, 2015.

International Relations Online. (2015, January 1). Retrieved March 2, 2015.

The Top 20 Influential Women in the World Today. (2015, January 1). Retrieved March 6, 2015.

Tickner, A. (1992, January 1). Gender in International Relations. Retrieved March 1, 2015.

Youngs, G. (2004, January 1). Feminist International Relations: A contradiction in terms? Retrieved March 2, 2015.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s