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Fernanda Vazquez Rojas

Women, war and feminism within IR

- The war and the role of women within it are important elements of study within the feminist theory in the RRII; In this article you can find the relationship between the concepts of women, war and feminism.

Women, war and feminism within  IR

Throughout history, girls and women who have faced some type of war in their respective countries have participated, directly or indirectly, in its development; on the one hand, they have played a crucial role in defending their sovereignty, whether doing care work [1] or in combat, and, on the other, they have been exposed to greater inequalities and violence, such as the use of their bodies as spoils of war.

The recent outbreak of the armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine is an example of the above, since, on the one hand, sexual abuse by the Russian army of the Ukrainian women has been denounced and, on the other hand, the latter have played an important role as they are 15% of the armed forces that are fighting against the Russian army. However, it is important to bear in mind that although this is one of the most recent examples, it is not the only one, since "a large part of history [...] is written as if women did not exist, as if the Second World War ―or the Falklands or Vietnam War― had only depended on men in war rooms and in the trenches" [2].

The United Nations, especially the Security Council through resolution 1325, recognizes the consequences that armed conflicts have on girls and women, but also recognizes the importance of women in decision-making and in the consolidation and maintenance of peace [3]. In this regard, the feminist theory in the RR has important positions to understand the differentiated impact on girls and women.

What does feminist theory in the international relations say about war?

Feminisms, mostly and especially feminisms within the International Relations, have been characterized by being extremely critical and condemnatory of the existence of war and armed forces because it implies greater inequalities and violence against children, women and people who have traditionally been placed in a situation of vulnerability. Due to the above, most of the analyses, postulates or reflections made by feminists within the discipline listed below disprove the existence of armed conflicts.

Feminism, as we can consult in this article on feminist theory in the International Relations, entered as a critical approach in the eighties in order to fully understand international reality by adding new categories of analysis. War has been a subject of special attention for feminists within this discipline, since, as mentioned before, its mere existence implies greater inequalities and violence for certain populations.

In this sense, and in general, feminisms within the International Relations understand that war follows a patriarchal logic where power, domination and hierarchies are key to its existence. In this sense, war and patriarchy share the same values: "hierarchy, violence, obedience, individualism, disdain for life and the environment, authoritarianism, minimization of women [...] both repress dissent and defend the interests of the ruling class and under these the bodies of women are colonized, controlled, seen as a military objective, as a weapon, as a battlefield"[4].

In particular, Jean Bethke Elshtain, one of the pioneers within this theory, made a reflection on war taking as a starting point the dichotomy that exists in an armed conflict between "Warriors and Beautiful Souls", in which "Western men are considered adequate to plan, direct and narrate wars, and Western women are considered too beautiful, soft and maternal for any role other than that of beneficiaries of warrior stories" [5]. In this regard, for feminist theory in the RR, it is important to fight against the essentialisms of genders that in the long run cause and maintain gender stereotypes that dictate that women have to be relegated to the private sphere, far from decision-making.

Another of the important issues for feminist theory in the International Relations is the feminization of war. In this sense, in recent decades some countries have incorporated women into their armed forces with the discourse of gender equality and their empowerment; However, feminism is highly critical of this issue, since “nothing changes in the structures; Because of this, the armed forces are no less patriarchal, less violent or more egalitarian, although this is the intention of many armies and police forces by allowing the incorporation of women into their ranks" [6]. On the other hand, one can also resort to exploiting the previously mentioned gender stereotypes by wanting to "soften" or "maternize" the image of the armed forces to obtain social legitimacy.

Far from advocating for the inclusion of women in the armed forces that obey the patriarchal system of domination, feminisms advocate for the participation of women in decision-making and in peace processes, without falling into the essentialization of genders, since, according to the United Nations, when women participate in said processes, peace is more lasting [7]. In this sense, resolution 1325 makes a lot of sense by urging States to include women as mentioned above.

Final thoughts

Taking the above into account, it is ensured that feminisms configured within social disciplines, such as the International Relations, have been characterized by showing an anti-militarist and pacifist position, since they understand that the existence of an armed conflict and that the presence of the military in a certain area influence the populations living in vulnerable conditions, such as girls and women, to experience more violence and inequalities.

From feminisms, it is a priority to use the postulates of feminist theory in the International Relations and the gender perspective to carry out analyzes on the specific actions of girls, women and other vulnerable populations in contexts of armed conflicts and the presence of military troops and, thus, recognize them. Likewise, it is important to carry out these analyzes in situations that we would not consider an armed conflict, as is the case in Mexico with the increase in the military presence in the streets and in megaprojects.

In addition to identifying the little recognition that exists of women who participate in some way in an armed conflict without falling into the essentialization of gender, either as victims -by ignoring the differentiated effects that war has on them, especially violence-, as subjects who act and resist -by ignoring the work they do while in combat, caregiving or taking the jobs that men leave when they leave for a war- and as part of the armed forces -by keeping them in the same macho structure-. In the end, the patriarchal system, like other systems of oppression, is always looking for a way to stay alive, even if it means incorporating women into its tasks.

"Women have always fought, but we tend to lose sight of that fact"

Pamela Toler, historian


    [1] El trabajo de cuidados se refiere a todo el trabajo que las mujeres realizan, la mayoría de las veces, sin remuneración para la subsistencia de una sociedad; en el caso de la guerra, muchas mujeres realizaban tareas de enfermería o de cocina y sin ellas los ejércitos no podrían subsistir;

    [2] Enloe, Cynthia. Does Khaki Become You? The Militarisation of Women’s Lives. 1ra. Edición. Londres: Pluto Press, 1983;

    [3] Barranco, Xochitl, «Plan Nacional de Acción sobre Mujeres, Paz y Seguridad de México: Análisis y recomendaciones», Fundación Friedrich Ebert, junio 2021,;

    [4] García, Natalia, «Feminidades y masculinidades: Analizando el militarismo a través del lente del patriarcado», Internacional de Resistentes a la Guerra, abril 2020,;

    [5] Sylvester, Christine, «Presentando a Elshtain, Enloe y Tickner: Una mirada a los esfuerzos feministas más importantes antes de continuar el viaje», Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2014,;

    [6] García, Natalia, «Feminidades y masculinidades: Analizando el militarismo a través del lente del patriarcado», op. cit;

    [7] Organización de las Naciones Unidas, «We need more women leaders to sustain peace and development», s.f.,

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Vazquez, Fernanda. “Mujeres, guerra y feminismo dentro de las RRII.” CEMERI, 23 sept. 2022,