Let's Hear It for the Girls: Women in IR/IPE

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 1/21/2010 03:50:00 PM
The role of women in International Relations and International Political Economy is a much-neglected topic that deserves wider mention in the malestream of Anglo-Saxon academic research. Fortunately, one of my supervisors, Jill Steans, corrected me from the error of my ugly macho attitudes (well, most of the time) a long time ago. For those interested in this fascinating topic, I recommend her book on Gender and International Relations, which is pretty much the standard textbook here in the UK. The related area of development and gender is also interesting and I've taken courses on it. While I now have more difficulty distinguishing among Gender and Development (GAD), Women and Development (WAD), and Women in Development (WID) perspectives, there are important differences in the literature.

Fortunately, some long-overdue redress among our (more chauvanistic?) American colleagues is now evident in the pages of Foreign Affairs. First up is a booklist from Charli Carpenter who blogs for our friends over at the Duck of Minerva. She introduces her interesting booklist thusly and I encourage you to read the rest:
Feminists have long argued that it is wrong to ignore half the population when crafting policies meant to secure a stable world order. Now foreign policy experts are beginning to grasp a different point: a "gender perspective" is relevant not only to those concerned with making the world better for women, but also to anybody who cares about military effectiveness, alliance stability, democracy promotion, actionable intelligence, the stem of pandemic disease, or successful nation building. The following sources are essential reading for anyone interested in the connections between gender relations -- norms and assumptions about men and women, masculinity and femininity -- and the practice of foreign policy.
Also in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Isobel Coleman reviews a still-new book by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn entitled Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity Worldwide that's gained much favourable attention:
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn's new book, Half the Sky, should convince any reader of why those priorities do, in fact, need to change. Kristof and WuDunn argue that "the brutality inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world" is "one of the paramount human rights problems of this century." Their statistics are numbing: every year, at least two million girls worldwide "disappear" due to gender discrimination. Given little societal value, girls are not vaccinated, not treated when they are sick, not educated, and often not even fed. Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are more likely to be maimed or killed by male violence than by war, cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined. More women have been killed by neglect and violence in the last 50 years than men have by all the wars of the twentieth century. The cost to the world is staggering -- not only in human terms but also in economic terms: lost IQ, lost GDP, cyclical poverty...

This movement has gained some influential supporters in recent years. By the early 1990s, development economists had produced a substantial body of research that quantified the economic benefits of empowering women. In particular, the funding of girls' education came to be seen as a highly effective way to improve economic growth and to overcome cyclical poverty. Educated women provide better nutrition, health care, and education to their families, in addition to having fewer children and lower rates of maternal mortality, than those women with little or no education. The result is a virtuous cycle for the entire community.

Swayed by such evidence, major development organizations, such as the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and CARE, now target their resources toward women. Today, most microfinance organizations also explicitly focus on women -- not only because women are statistically more likely to be poor than men but also because women tend to use any marginal increases in their incomes to invest in their families' nutrition, health, and education.
Development scholars and economists have long recognized that women are far less likely to waste precious resources on frivolous pursuits--e.g., wine, women, and song. If men were saner, then maybe we'd have less subprime stupidity and Icelandic idiocy to go around. In the meantime, let's hear it for the girls!