Feminism in International Relations

Feminist theory in international relations comes with a unique contribution and perspective regarding international relations, regarding State system, regarding the overall international relations Theory. Knowledge, according to feminist Scholars, is shaped by culture, history, and context. It is because we believe that knowledge is something which is objective in nature, but in reality, feminist Scholars argued that knowledge in any field is shaped by culture. So, cultural factors do have an impact on the knowledge. whatever knowledge has been created in international relations, and international relations Theory, it does have an impact of the culture. It also does have an impact of the history and particularly the context in which things have been explained. So, knowledge is not something that you can see separately, rather knowledge is very, or you can say knowledge is a product of culture, history, and context. Feminist Scholars, they simplify, they signify relationships of power not only in the home but also in the world of foreign policy and international relations.

Historical Context and Emergence:

Feminism in international relations emerge nearly in the second wave of feminism, in the 1980s. It was the period when the second wave of feminism was at its peak. There are some important contributions of foundational work and scholars that established the foundation of feminism in international relations.

Broader Feminist Movements:

The rise of feminism in international relations began after the second wave of feminism, that is 1980s. Feminists in international relations are heavily influenced by the second wave of feminism. In the second wave of feminism, feminists were doing the movement for gender equality,  sexuality, family, reproductive rights, inequality in the workplace, and domestic violence. Feminists in international relations also highlighted gender equality and the abolition of gender bios.

Critique of Traditional IR Theories:

The male perspective has come to dominate international theory. They have provided theories like realism and liberalism and highlighted the primacy of power and national interest in anarchical international relations and liberals have highlighted cooperation through institution. Nevertheless, realists and liberals have faced criticism because they have placed too much emphasis on state-centrism. Here feminists argue that the role and experience of women have been ignored and that there is a gender bias in international relations.

Foundational Works and Scholars:

The scholars of feminists in international relations, and their contribution to international relations have a significant impact on international relations. They have provided some phenomenal works and challenges the problems that women are facing in international relations. So Key scholars are 

  • Cynthia Enloe
  • J. Ann Tickner
  • Christine Sylvester

Cynthia Enloe- American feminist Cynthia Enloe made a significant contribution to international relations by publishing her text “Bananas, Beaches & Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics” in 1989. In her seminal work, she examines the global politics from women’s points of view and she also mentions that the contribution of women in international relations has not been noticed. 

J. Ann Tickner:- J Ann Tickner, the Anglo-American feminist in international relations, published her seminal work  “Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving Global Security” which was published in 1992. Tickner, in her work, criticized the traditional international relations theories and she proposed feminist approaches to global security issues.

Jean Bethke Elshtain: Jean Bethke Elshtain, in her work “Women and War” published in 1987, explored how gendered narratives and roles are constructed in the context of war, challenging conventional militaristic and heroic masculinities.

Feminist Perspectives in IR

Feminist theory in international relations offers diverse perspectives that challenge traditional power structures and the male-centric nature of global governance and institutions. These perspectives examine how gender shapes global politics and highlight the ways in which various IR issues and concepts are dominated by masculine narratives.

  1. Liberal Feminist
  2. Constructivist Feminist
  3. Feminist Critical perspective
  4. Feminist Post Structuralist
  5. Postcolonial Feminist
  6. Eco Feminism

1) Liberal Feminist

• Analyse the role of women in world politics.

• gender gap in global politics and the disproportionate effect of war

• Concerned with problems of refugee women, income inequalities between women and men, and the kinds of human rights violations incurred disproportionately by women

• women equality – more female participation in high-level politics

2) Constructivist Feminist

• how gender is socially constructed?

• How gender influences global politics – a core component in influencing structures

• global politics shape ideas about gender.

• Elisabeth Priigl and Charlotte Hooper

3) Feminist Critical perspective

• roots in Gramscian Marxism

• Role of ideas and culture in the oppression of women

• Sandra Whitworth

4) Feminist Post Structuralist

• link between knowledge and power – men seen as knowers

• Hélène Cixous, Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva

• More prevalent in Literature than IR

5) Postcolonial Feminist

• Criticize Western feminists

• Criticise feminist knowledge based on privileged Western women.

• Chandra Mohanty – women’s subordinations must be understood within their own cultural context

6) Eco Feminism

• examines the connection between women and nature

• coined by French feminist Françoise d’Eaubonne in 1974

• domination of women and the degradation of the environment as a result of patriarchy and capitalism.

• Vandana Shiva









International Relations and Women

Feminists in international relations have raised many questions regarding Women in international relations. They state that why there is a lack of women in decision making roles. Why there is a division of labour between women and men, women are only for the private sphere whereas men are for the public sphere. Professor Cynthia Enloe’s seminal work “Bananas, Beaches and Bases” highlighted the invisible labor of diplomatic wives, military wives, factory workers, and others, demonstrating how the “personal is international” and the “international is personal.”

In decision making and leadership, males dominate the international decision-making role and leadership, whereas Women are hardly seen in leadership and decision-making roles. So it reflects a deeply entrenched gender bias. Division of labour based on gender relegates women to secondary roles within state systems, while men are naturally associated with leadership and power. This patriarchal structure pervades international relations, from male dominance at the top levels of state personnel to the notion that women should be “protected” from the so-called “hard professions” of diplomacy, security, and conflict resolution.

Feminists on Power in IR

Feminists argue that Power relations are organised on the basis of gender in international relations. Power is given masculine traits, such as strength, aggression, and dominance. As a result, women as secondary actors within state systems. Men are naturally associated with leadership. Feminists critique the way power dynamics in global politics reflect and reinforce patriarchal structures. They highlight how traditional notions of power privilege masculine characteristics and marginalize feminine qualities such as nurturing, empathy, and cooperation. This gender bias excludes women from spheres of influence and maintains male dominance in areas such as diplomacy, security, and conflict resolution.

Feminism on State

According to feminists’ views, Women’s roles are confined to the private sphere of the family and home, and men to the public sphere of politics, governance, and international relations. Male domination at the level of top personnel within the state, whereas females become the secondary actors. The state itself is structured in a patriarchal way which supports masculine traits. Women are often viewed as needing “protection” from the rigors of statecraft and international affairs, which are framed as inherently masculine domains.

Feminism On Peace and Security

Feminism on Peace and security, argues that theories like Realism and Liberalism consider the state as a key actor. These theories and theorists focus on the peace and security of the state and do not focus on the security of Women. Feminists believe that the concept of security needs to be understood from a bottom-up perspective, which means that the security of the state should not be given more priority than the security of the individual. Giving more priority to the state causes individual issues to get hidden in this race for the security of the state and it also causes a negative impact on Women. Because the problems of women are not highlighted. It is because of the concern for the security of the state, not the concern for Individual’s security. Feminists argue that the security of the Individual should be included, Which can secure the well-being of women and individuals. On Peace, Feminists argue that women should be included in the peace-making process and decision making process.

On War and Conflicts

In War and Conflicts, Feminists highlight how war and conflicts affect women. They state that, during war time, women and their bodies were treated as properties, and women were also used as women to protect themselves from enemies. Jan Jindy Pettman Provided a suitable example of this phenomenon- the Bosnian War. During this Bosniar war, women’s bodies were used for ethnic cleansing. So this belief reflects a deeply held patriarchal belief. Further women mention that during war time different nature of roles are being expected from both genders, presenting men as protectors and women as those in need of protection. They say that war is the greatest threat to women’s and children’s security.


Feminists have highlighted many critiques of realism. Feminist scholar Rosemary Grant believes that realist theory endorses patriarchy. Patriarchy is necessary for realists to maintain social order. It deals with concepts like power, security, and self-help, which are considered as masculine. Realism privileges men, not women. Feminists argue that,  why realist scholars consider the state as a key actor, and actors also represent masculine characters.

Gender Disparity in the Global Economy

Gender Inequality also exists in the Global Economy. Women are located at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale in every society. In some societies, women may earn more, but they still earn less than men, irrespective of their gender, nationality, religion, geography, etc. So it highlights the gendered division of labour. On average, women earn two-thirds of men’s earnings


Feminism challenges traditional power structures that perpetuate inequality and the male-centric nature of global governance and institutions. They believe that there should be an increase in women’s representation in global governance and institutions. they also study how gender shapes global politics and How several IR issues and concepts are dominated by males. The state is structured in a patriarchal way and should rethink its role. Feminist scholar calls for greater gender equality in decision-making bodies and Support increased women’s representation in IR. Feminists argue the redistribution of resources and power in more equitable ways.