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Debates

Women in international relations

19 May 2009 12:32

Sally Wilkinson writes (my thoughts follow):

On the weekend I was reading a few articles on The Interpreter. I was immediately struck by the banner. It has a photo of four men. Granted, the photo depicts very influential 20th century figures. But it also emanates an unfortunate symbolism. Seeing the photo tapped into my ongoing frustration at the fact that the majority of our public policy (and political) discourse is dominated and shaped by men.

COMMENTS

20 May 2009 10:43

A correspondent disagrees with my views about the lack of female participation on The Interpreter:

While there are many women with outstanding qualifications in international relations — and I look forward to reading more of their blogs — only a fraction of policy-makers, decision-makers and public commentators are women, particularly at the senior levels. Professional development and advancement has been limited until very recently and can still be an uphill push against entrenched senior views.

To use the Department of Foreign Affiars and Trade (DFAT) as an example, can I remind you that DFAT only got its first female deputy secretary in 1996, and that in 2008 there was still only one (out of five: DFAT Annual report 07-08). So the credence and weight given to senior female views or comments remains limited by simple virtue of their lack of numbers.

COMMENTS

21 May 2009 11:58

Susan Harris-Rimmer writes (my response follows):

May I say a hearty 'hear hear' to your riposter. Your first response was hardly designed to encourage women to sign up as a guest blogger. Except the ones that it slightly enraged, such as myself.

You are correct to point out that there is a gender imbalance in the broad international relations field. Some reflection on why that might be the case could be more interesting, rather than the end of the discussion. It especially applies to those areas of international relations at the 'hard' end such as international trade, defence, national security and diplomacy.

Your point on the diversity of opinion being important is well taken and well made, but perhaps taking outside advice on whether the blog does represent such variety would be more convincing than self-congratulation.

COMMENTS

22 May 2009 13:17

Amy King writes (my response follows):

Many thanks for encouraging the ongoing debate about gender imbalance with the international security blogosphere, and international relations generally.

I agree that 'positive discrimination' in the form of nicely-worded invitations to female contributors can appear patronising, and wholeheartedly agree that more women should take it upon themselves to contribute to the public debate. However, I take issue with the two explanations you have provided for the gender imbalance in international relations.

First, where is the evidence that 'relatively few women are interested in what Susan calls "hard" international relations issues, so they don't enter the field'? While any precise measure might be difficult to come by, a quick measure might be the number of young women entering international relations degrees, applying for positions with DFAT and Defence, or applying for jobs at the Lowy Institute. Do we see an imbalance here? In my own experience as an undergraduate student, think-tank staffer, and now graduate student, I have encountered equal numbers of women and men who are interested in 'hard' fields such as international trade, defence, national security, diplomacy and the like.

COMMENTS

26 May 2009 17:38

Why are more men than women visible in international relations, especially as analysts and commentators? As noted by Amy, visibility is important: role models will be a factor in helping young people make a decision about what they choose to study. That said, and absent a burning sense of vocation, my guess is that young people will give at least equal weight to studying subjects which enhance their prospects for employment.

Still, it is puzzling that women in the developed world are not as visible in the international policy world as they are in other professions. Women have made some serious inroads in the law and medicine and in the world of business and board rooms, though even here the ratios are not something to boast about.

I suspect the answer lies in part in the way international policy is thought and written about. International security voices are still overwhelmingly male because the analytical frameworks have changed little since the time of ancient political theory and the conceptual frameworks favoured by women tend to be more focussed on conflict resolution, development and gender-based approaches.

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