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Women, IR And G20

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

The study of International Relations and the enactment of Foreign Policy have, historically, ignored the representation of one-half of the citizens on this planet. Women, who are an indispensable part of a nation and its fulfilment, are often side-tracked and unrepresented when it comes to policy-making and governance, for the very same nation.

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Image Graphics by Team Geostrata

It is no surprise, that a few countries still aggressively prohibit women from participating in political life, the explicit examples being- Afghanistan and Iran.

International relations have for long revolved around wars, conflicts, and conquests. Hence, it has been perceived largely, a masculine field of play—of Power. The classical theory of International Relations is a good explanation to this. However, the recent developments in the study of International Relations and the changing perspectives with the dawn of modern approaches, have brought in some inclusivity. Many women have voiced their concerns, resulting in an entirely different approach—The feminist theory of International Relations.


The feminist theory of International Relations highlights the absence of women in decision-making and organisation. Cynthia Enloe in 1989 asked the question, ‘where are the women?’

One of the core assumptions of traditional perspectives that feminism has challenged is the exclusionary focus on areas that are considered ‘high’ politics – for example, sovereignty, the state and military security.

Traditionally, only men formed a part of war activities, military engagements, and diplomatic discourses; and women who were not directly involved in these activities were treated as secondary citizens.

Feminism played a crucial role in changing this rhetoric– exposing and deconstructing socially constructed gender norms. In making sense of IR in a way that takes both women and gender seriously.

The feminist scholar, J. Ann Tickner believed that- It is not war and destruction that makes the civilizations continue rather it is the very regenerative capacity of women- through the act of reproduction, nurturing and caring that builds and sustains the society.

If the approach, tone and context of IR and foreign policy changes, then women would indeed, find a place in the national and international political arena. It is in this light, that feminist scholars imagined an alternative conception of international relations, where the relations among nations can be dealt through soft power and creative engagement, not war.


Wars have been historically fought, with sheer physical power, the mindset to conquer; and have been largely considered, a man’s forte. However, the diametrically opposite and one of the most important aspects, that is paid less heed to, is Peace.

Peace, unlike wars, may not create the same buzz and news headlines; but irrevocably the best solution in the interest of humanity. In maintaining this much-needed peace, Women can play a significant role. Masculine notions of military firepower and monopoly can never bring peace, visible examples being the Russia - Ukraine war, nuclear threats by Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping’s expansionist strategies and many more.

The process of ensuring peace includes disarming combatants, facilitating peace deals between various state and non-state groups, monitoring elections and building rule of law capacity in state institutions such as police forces and the military.

Women have better potential in ensuring this, owing to their natural excellence in diplomacy and peace-making, which can be extensively used in policy-making, by framing policies with emotional intelligence.

Also, women are at high risk of experiencing violence during and post-conflict but are still excluded from peace processes and ignored in the peace-building policy. Therefore, their targeted exclusion from any kind of peace negotiations is utterly unacceptable.


Women have suffered the most during wars, despite not directly taking part in them—asserted by Swati Parashar as “grieving widows and mothers, selfless nurses and anti-war activists”. In a positive light, they have played various roles in war and for different reasons, depending on the conflict.

Eliminating women from wars and its related studies is a tool used to discredit women as potential agents in the international arena.

When war happens, it is women who lose the most—not only their male counterparts; but war also results in diminished resources and opportunities in society. The hierarchical nature of the societies, which has already put women at the bottom, gives them the least access to services and opportunities, when resources are diminished during wars. Henceforth, excluding them from the much-needed economic assistance as well.

The mass violence inflicted against women during wars, evidently witnessed, during and after the second world war (estimates put the number of rapes after the Soviet takeover of Germany to be around 2 million) and the targeted attacks upon them (evident during the Syrian, war, Vietnam war etc.) are nothing but by-products of wars; which humanity cannot afford to ignore for long. These issues of sexual and gendered violence in conflicts have only recently entered the international arena, and must be raised much more significantly.


Feminism is not one of the core and primary agendas of G-20 and different nations have different perspectives of looking at the meaning and implications of feminism.

However, the fact that the G-20 is a grouping that consists of the world’s leading economic powers as its members, makes it the perfect space to talk Feminism.

Any progress made by the G-20 nations, will have a larger reflection on the rest of the world. Though inclusion has been progressive in many countries, it is important to reaffirm the representation of women and their active participation in decision-making and policy formulations.

Women in G-20 countries face a plethora of issues- ranging from unemployment and workplace discrimination to sexual violence and harassment. With the world progressing into the era of technology, which is in every way considered- borderless and barrierless; it's high time that we address the barriers that society has historically imposed upon women. The primary agenda, at least in the upcoming G-20 meetings, must shift towards eradicating gender inequality, discrimination, and exclusion.




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