Feminism and International Relations

By Jayati Sagar 

The word “feminism” was first seen in the in the nineteenth and early twentieth century in the U.S. and the U.K. as a synonym for the promotion of equal contract, marriage, parenting, and property rights for women. Later in time, the term was further employed in debates on sexual, reproductive and economic rights. Looking from a political aspect, as is the case in International Relations, “feminism” contains a distinct definition.

Feminism is to challenge structures of powers established by the males to benefit them. Power is a kind of power over; if we speak of the structures or mechanisms of power, it is supposed that certain people exercise power over the others. In a patriarchal world, with a historically entrenched male class, political institutions are dominated by men, and power is thus exercised by them. Feminism thus seeks to rectify this uneven balance of power by attempting to challenge such institutions and by making them more equal and fair.

The relationship between gender and feminism has been the most important in International Relations. When we think about gender, we think about the ways in which gender is categorized i.e. masculinity and feminine. We think about the ways in which these categories operate in terms of hierarchy as well as how they institutionalize and perpetualize inequalities in some ways. Thus, one can say that feminism aims to realize fundamental transformations in gender relations by shifting existing power relations in favor of women. It is about seeing the gender dimension where it is not obvious. An example of this is wars. Since the advent of feminism, war casualties are not only looked at in terms of the number of deaths of soldiers but also the number of women rapes. The practice of war has been gendered in divisions of labor, the languages in which war is justified, legitimated to use gendered kinds of categories.

Often people mistake women’s rights as human rights. But they are two different things. Human rights usually focus on three kinds of laws: civil, social, rights of people. Women’s rights deal with more fragility than the human rights, which are and should be provided to every individual irrespective of gender. Human rights are more centric towards an individual whereas women’s rights revolve around the aspects of women realizing her very own “feminine” rights.

All human rights are based on the same traditional flaws. They are built on the typical male life experiences and in the current scenarios do not respond to the pressing risks women face today. For many women out there who don not feel comfortable in their own houses, some set of political and economic rights can provide no justice. The tone is very suppressed when it comes to the issue of domestic violence. One such example where this case is most prevalent is in our own country – India.

Feminism is not just a word to create awareness among women, but a word to be most importantly echoed amongst the men. It is an issue that the men of our society should be aware of because, at the end, we as humans run this world and not on the basis of a single gender.


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  • Squires, J. and Weldes, J., 2007. Beyond Being Marginal: Gender and International Relations in Britain. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 9(2), pp.185-203.
  • International Relations – Feminism and International Relations (4/7), 2014, Hutchings, K., OpenLearn from the Open Learn University
  • Squires, J. and Weldes, J., 2007. Beyond Being Marginal: Gender and International Relations in Britain. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 9(2), pp.185-203.
  • Freedman, E., 2007. No turning back: The history of feminism and the future of women. Ballantine Books.