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What is The Relationship Between Gender Equality and Armed Conflicts?

Section I. The Field of Women and Armed Conflicts

by Vivian Cassina INTA 689, Special Topics on Women, Peace and Security


A feminist perspective on structural and systematic relationships between gender equality

and armed conflict

Global dialogue surrounding women’s shared experiences of inequality have empowered new feminist movements to demand tangible change–pushing gendered policy matters of positive peace and security to the forefront of priorities applicable to international relations (IR) in the new millennia. And yet, international security expert Dr. Valerie Hudson poses the somewhat rhetorical question (2015)– “has this extraordinary shift in [foreign] policy focus resulted in actual positive changes for women?” Despite formidable qualitative and quantitative evidence since the late 1980s, feminist perspectives on IR remain seemingly invisible to top executives of national defense (Tickner, 2018). Enloe (2014) puts this historic conundrum of illegitimacy quite plainly, “women are forever being acted upon […] rarely are they made visible as thinkers and actors [of the world].” Unfortunately, shifts in gendered policy addressing global peace and security are largely utilized as tools for developmental initiatives, rather than pre-emptive or reactionary responses to armed conflict (Reiter, 2015). Only recently has the male dominated sphere of ‘legitimate strategy’ acknowledged the implications of gender equality and armed conflict; the empirical significance of interactions on peace and security–notably found in the works of Hudson et al (1995; 2008/2009)–left pro-realism IR scholars with little room for a simple counterpoint that frames cessation of hostilities as the only long-term solution.

Employing the guidance of feminist IR has the potential to not only mitigate the continuum of war, but also reveals sustainable strategies for peace, prosperity, and resilience among nations. This essay will build upon previous works assessing the relationship of gender equality and armed conflict as evident within structural and systematic levels of society. For ease of reference, gender will be constrained to the scope of the male/female hierarchal dichotomy, referring to the construct of social expectations based on sex, rather than the modern connotation of gender as a multidimensional self-identified point in space.

Societal enforcement of gender role beliefs provides the basis for the structural relationship between gender equality and armed conflict. Caprioli (2005) explains structural mechanisms of society as those which are created and sustained by cultural norms. Furthermore, a culture that is tolerant of violence is more likely to occur in societies possessing norms of gender inequality due to the inherent relationship of subjugation and domination in uses of force (2005). If violence is a cultural norm for solving disputes at the micro-level, the use of force on a larger scale becomes justifiable, and the mechanism of violence becomes structural. The relationship between a structural violence and inequality then reinforces expectation of women as centerpieces of nationalism by invoking the honor of men, their habitat making responsibilities, and their duty as boundaries of a nation (Hudson, 2009). Where these structural relations prevail, women are the boundaries of nations during armed conflict due to their intrinsic value as mechanisms of male kin and lineage (2009); as the physical “hosts” of future generations, they become subject to marginalization in law and practice out of a desire to maintain the culture of larger society. Concurrently, violence between in-groups and out-groups exploits a picture of submissive femininity that asks for ‘protection’ from a dominant aggressor, resulting in the legitimization of violence through inequality as a means to an end (Galtung, 1990). In times of conflict, the distinction of men’s productive labor (as heroin soldiers) versus women’s natural labor (as maternal victims) functions as a call to action in the form of “militarized masculinity” that reiterates the unequal power structures found in violent cultural practice (Cohen & Karim, 2022).

Scholars such as Mies (1988) and Cockburn (2010) further argue that gender bias conceptions are visible even among other inequitable power structures, such as economic class, implying a systematic relationship to armed conflict. Women’s work experiences a distinct label as an “act of nature” rather than a production of life itself (1988). The relevance of this distinction is important because it simplifies labor to be defined as solely work that is productive with the purpose of surplus market value. As class exploitation and historic thrusts for markets (i.e., imperialism) are observable causes of militarization and war, maintaining gender-based divisions in what constitutes as ‘productive’ labor is a systematic component of hegemonic-masculinized economies (Cockburn, 2010). Therefore, war surpasses the limitation of a severe act of armed conflict and achieves its status as a systemic institution of a structurally violent society. War and Patriarchy are consequently interdependent, and both institutions are reliant on repeated interactions that are rooted in hierarchal power dynamics that enforce compliance to gender roles. The threat of perceived insecurity of the contrary (where equality exists) results in a rigid dichotomous relationship of men and women–one that demands inequality for violence to be legitimized and men’s control of marketspaces (Caprioli, 2005; Mies, 1988). Deviation from the norm of systematic gender-based oppression is thus a threat to both productive and reproductive labor, the distribution of power, and the stability of a nation.

Gender equality presents a wide array of potential for sustained peace among nations (Wood & Ramirez, 2018). While feminist IR perspectives are extremely useful to the arena of security, it is ultimately necessary and crucial for men and women in a given society to not only recognize gender inequality, but to also support “active contributions” that promote egalitarianism in order to reduce the threat of violence (2018). Recalling Dr. Valerie Hudson’s question of whether “actual positive changes for women” are induced by international security policy, it becomes clear that the need for change at the societal level is essential. Alternative realist pathways to peaceful resolution or counteraction will otherwise become undermined by the structural and systematic relationship of gender equality and armed conflict.


Caprioli, M. (2005). Primed for Violence: The Role of Gender Inequality in Predicting Internal Conflict. International Studies Quarterly, University of Minnesota-Duluth, (2005) No. 49, pp. 161–178

Cohen, D.R., Karim, S.M., (2022). Does More Equality for Women Mean Less War? Rethinking Sex and Gender Inequality and Political Violence. International Organization, Cambridge University Press (Spring 2022) No. 76, pp. 414–44. doi:10.1017/S0020818321000333

Cockburn, C. (2010). Gender Relations as Causal in Militarization and War. International Feminist Journal of Politics, No. 12(2), pp. 139-157, doi: 10.1080/14616741003665169

Enloe, C. (2014). Gender Makes the World Go Round: Where Are the Women? Making Feminist Sense of International Politics, University of California Press.

Hudson, V. M., & Vore, C. S. (1995). Foreign Policy Analysis Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Mershon International Studies Review, No. 39(2), pp. 209–238.

Hudson, V.M., Caprioli, M., Ballif-Spanvill, B., McDermott, R., Emmett, C.F. (2009). The Heart of the Matter: The Security of Women and the Security of States. International Security, The MIT Press (2008/2009), Vol. 33, No. 3 pp. 7–45.

Hudson, V.M. (2015). Leveling the Field: A Global Inventory of Gender Equality for Women. World Politics Review (September 1).

Mies, M. (1988). Social origins of the sexual division of labor. In Women: The Last Colony. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Zed Books Ltd.

Reiter, D. (2015). The Positivist Study of Gender and International Relations. Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 59(7), pp. 1301–1326. doi: 10.1177/0022002714560351

Tickner, A.J. (2019). Peace and Security from a Feminist Perspective. The Oxford Handbook of Women, Peace, and Security (11 Decemner 2018) No. 2, pp. 15–25.

Wood, R. & Ramirez, M. (2018). Exploring the Microfoundations of the Gender Equality Peace Hypothesis. International Studies Review,Oxford University Press (2018) No. 20, pp. 345–367. doi: 10.1093/isr/vix016

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