Gender and status in international politics: Dynamics of cooperations, conflicts and activisms
Status is a crucial factor in the relationship between states and international actors. As a set of collective and shared beliefs about the position of each actor, this group of perceptions determines who is entitled to what, when, and under what conditions. These are perceptions that clarify the rights, obligations and deference that actors can expect, as well as expectations about behaviour toward others in dominant or subordinate positions. The acquisition of status entails favourable treatment in different spheres (Weiss and Fershtman 1998, 802) as well as access to countries and groups, influence over agendas, and material benefits (Jakobsen, Ringsmose and Saxi 2018, 2), and so is seen as highly desirable.
The beliefs underlying the concept of status are based on the value ascribed to both material and immaterial attributes. Without being exhaustive, we can refer to wealth, coercive capacity, culture, demographic position, sociopolitical organization and diplomatic influence, as well as the ability of the state or organization to follow the civilizational standards of the time (Larson, Paul, and Wohlforth 2014, 7, 20-21, 25; Neumann 2014, 85-114). All these markers assume different contours, situated on a cline between status and stigma, depending on the historical era and geographical location. Our understanding of what is considered 'good' and 'desirable' in terms of culture, civilization, sociopolitical organization, to name but a few, is neither watertight nor set in stone (see Zarakol 2014, 319-324, Renshon 2017, 36).
In the normative evolution of international society, in which values such as non-discrimination, protection of the environment and humanitarianism, among others (Mozaffari 2001; Gong 2002, 82), have come to have greater weight in structuring social hierarchies of power between states, it follows that women's rights hold a unique position. Women's rights are generally taken as an indicator of how 'advanced' and 'modern' a state is (see, for example, Jayawardena 1994; Towns 2007, 2016; Abu-Lughod 2009), and have become central to policy in countries as diverse as Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.
In addition, on the level of relations within the global North, and between the North and South, there has been a series of interventions since the 90s – both military and non-military – as well as official operations to aid development, in which women's rights and/or gender mainstreaming were at stake (e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq and the Balkans). These interventions were controversial – taking into account the pre-existing contexts of colonial legacies and neo-imperial geopolitics – but also brought about a series of initiatives by both governmental institutions in the area of policy-making and by civil society. Transnational women’s movements, networks and alliances, including local women's organizations and activists, played a key role in establishing this ground, often marked by profuse conflict and disruption at the macro and meso levels. Recognition should be given to operations by organizations and movements on the transnational level, such as Women Living under Muslim Laws (WLUML) and Musawah; on the regional level, such as the Women's Regional Network; or at the local level, like the Afghan Women's Network. By dint of these interactions and engagements, norms and gender issues have thus become:
- a bargaining chip in particular transnational conflicts, as well as an instrument for managing political dissent (e.g. in Afghanistan and Pakistan);
- an important tool for advocates of women's rights in terms of strategy, advocacy, lobbying, coalition building and fundraising at both transnational and international levels (e.g. as seen in the work of Musawah and the Afghan Women's Network).
Among the various effects, programmes which support women's organizations and NGO advocacy can be highlighted, as well as programmes providing services – including education for girls and creating shelters for women, gender quotas, personal status laws or outlawing gender-based violence, among various others. These initiatives were well received by some actors, but heavily criticized by others. Regarding the latter, on the one hand, conservative actors within both government and civil society called these actions Westoxification; on the other hand, a postcolonial perspective gave rise to a critique in which these initiatives, understood as interventions, were attributed to a neo-imperial civilizing strategy and were seen as part of a move towards neoliberal globalization. The asymmetric power ratio between intervening countries and those intervened in, belonging to the global North and South respectively, also played a part.
Thus, not only have Western forms of feminism thus been challenged by women's movements (Roces 2010) but so have other forms of feminism (such as religious or liberal) within women's movements, both locally and transnationally. These are manifestly heterogeneous and multivocal regarding interpretation of issues about women and their rights, as well as the nexus between religion and gender (Ahmed-Gosh 2015). Counter-movements, often religious and conservative and sometimes transnational, have also emerged (see Derichs and Fennert 2014 on cases in Southeast Asia and the MENA region).
In the global North, despite the terms of the debate being stated differently due to different historical, social, economic and political circumstances, gender continues to figure prominently in national and international debate, and also serves as an indicator of how progressive states are. The European Union, for example, views gender relations as an important component of both its policies for expansion in Eastern Europe (Pető and Manners 2006, 97-111) and in the neighbouring areas of the Mediterranean and Eurasia (Gündüz 2015). In addition, as mentioned above, women's rights were selected by both Sweden, a Scandinavian country, and by the United Arab Emirates, an Arab country, as central arenas for the building strategies to set them apart from their respective neighbours. In the case of the former country, it proclaimed a feminist foreign policy in 2015, while the Emirates are actively engaged in an international campaign to be considered a model for women's rights in the Middle East (see Carvalho Pinto 2018, in press).
It therefore becomes clear that developing status anchored on women's rights has been an important driver in the interaction between international, regional and transnational actors both intra- and interregionally. However, while empirically salient, this theme is still absent from the literature on status. Therefore, this special dossier invites contributions which focus on the following topics:
- Works of a more general nature that engage with the literature on status and contribute to theories on the relationship between status and gender;
- How different foreign policy approaches, including but not limited to soft power approaches and interventions, military or otherwise, can be shaped into cooperative or conflict strategies with the aim of pursuing a policy on status;
- Empirical cases (from the global North and South) that address how states or groups of states, international or supranational organizations and regional alliances promote certain gender norms in international forums/organizations as part of a strategy for developing status. The role of norm setters in countries like Norway and Sweden is highlighted, as well as debate on the ratification and reservations of CEDAW and DEVAW, and initiatives pertaining to Resolution 1325 (2000);
- How this diffusion of gender norms – as a result of association with policies on status – constitutes translocal repertoires and their consequences, not only for women's and activists' movements and counter-movements, but also for the everyday life of women;
- Theories on and research into these practices and discursive policies from a feminist outlook on international relations, with particular reference to possible epistemological, theoretical and methodological instruments to be used in this study;
- Postcolonial, subaltern and decentred outlooks on the relationship between gender and the search for status by regional, international and transnational actors.