Why Feminist Security Studies?

14 Sep

Guest blogger Jamie J. Hagen is an NYC based writer on feminist and LGBTQ politics currently serving as Contributing Editor for Autostraddle and a research consultant for the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders(GNWP).  She has worked with several women’s groups concerned with the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1325 and is currently consulting on a GNWP monitoring report in Liberia, Nepal and Norway. Find out more about Jamie on her website: http://jjhagen.squarespace.com/bio/

I first learned of the field of women, peace and security through an internship with the Social Science Research Council in the summer before graduate school. Walking into a conference room with about nine other interns to begin collecting data for their Gender Hub, I had little understanding of what the words women and peace and security would mean to me as I learned more about the developing field. What I did know was that my interests of feminism, women’s rights and political science had all brought me here.

The December 2011 issue of The Journal of the Women and Politics published a conversation among academics in the field of Feminist Security Studies. Feminists have added to traditional security studies gender-based perspectives encouraging analysis accounting for the roles women and gender play both during and post-conflict, as this is something often absent  in the subject of  security politics. Laura Sjoberg of the University of Florida introduces the conversation by raising some of the many questions still shaping the developing field, including “What is the relationship between Feminist Security Studies and international relations or its security studies subfield (in the United States or abroad)?” and ”What is the relationship between theory and practice in Feminist Security Studies?” Following Sjoberg’s introduction, several scholars address these questions from their varying points of view, allowing for a multi-faceted approach to understanding what end the field serves.

To my mind, shifting the field of security politics away from the more traditional emphasis on securing borders to instead securing the rights and well being of individuals is perhaps the most important task for feminist security studies. Feminist security studies reminds us that it’s important to ask what is being secured by any type of legislation or act of war in the name of security. For example, while traditionally politicians may point to an increased military budget as a sign of security, feminist security scholars may look to other metrics, such as accountability to human rights doctrines or the safety of LGBTQ identified individuals. Additionally, a feminist security studies brings an awareness of sex and gender to the table for the international security studies framework. As someone who comes to the field of security politics from non-governmental work in women, peace, and security with organizations such as Peacewomen and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, the projects I’ve worked on have sought to document and improve implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, which requires member states to empower women through active roles in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. I agree with Carol Cohn, director of the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights at the University of Massachusetts Boston, in her point that academics should be informed by the work of women in civil society in pursuing research projects noting, “I hope that some feminist researchers will be motivated by the question of which research projects are most likely to be useful to women’s civil society organizations and women peacebuilders. While there is no doubt that the constituency security studies was created to serve, – the civiliam and military police of world powers-has a major impact on the conditions of the lives of vast numbers of people, it is also likely true that no one is more likely to push a change agenda than the organized women who live in the shadow’s of those elite men’s decisions.”

As is the case in other fields of feminist studies, feminist security scholars often value the role of qualitative data individuals and especially women bring to research, in addition to otherwise faceless quantitative data.Our work at GNWP is largely geared towards supporting the grassroots efforts of our member organizations through capacity building training and  also reporting on their monitoring work to provide an international platform for local work.

As Annick T. R. Wibben of the University of San Francisco writes in the journal, “Feminist security scholars, with their unique methodological choices (including the recognition of the performative nature of gender/sex), can counter the prevalence of bodiless data in security studies by highlighting personal stories.” At the same time, as a student of feminist research methodology, I also agree with the point made by Valerie M. Hudson of Brigham Young University that if it is necessary to use more traditional methodologies of political science, such as statistical testing, historical process mapping, and other more quantitatively driven approaches to build the case to illustrate the strong connection between the security of women and the security of states, a researcher should do so. Working as a research consultant in the NGO world I, too, look to traditional quantitative models to boost the valuable qualitative personal narratives and experiences of women in  civil society seeking peace and security.

Feminist security scholars force us to reconsider what it is that our current security politics are truly serving to secure. By focusing on human rights, such as food security or protection of reproductive and sexual rights, feminists turn the traditional paradigm of security politics into a politics serving citizens rather than governments, corporations, or politicians.

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