The Feminism and International Law Interest Group of the European Society of International Law Event on the theme of:
Whose Global Public Goods, Global Commons and Fundamental Values?
University of Naples Federico II, Corso Umberto I, 40, Naples, Italy
6th September 2017, 2-5pm
The Feminism and International Law Interest Group of the European Society of International Law invite paper around the theme of:
Whose Global Public Goods, Global Commons and Fundamental Values?
Call for Papers for Interest Group Event
To be held in Naples on 6th September 2017
Feminist approaches to international law have long worked to challenge the “global” nature of international law through various means. One way this area of scholarship has done this has been to show how international law in many ways ignores and silences women’s experiences. At a pragmatic level, access to global public goods has been a key issue with access to things like water, food and health often being gendered and racialised with women and other minorities gaining unequal access. International law has therefore proven to be a discursive space which broadly promotes itself as liberal, yet this has also worked to disguise the limitations of international law, with international law often ignoring the pleas of people whom it, at the same time, promotes itself as helping.
There is no denying that women and their needs have been given more recognition and attention in international law over the past two decades, through the recognition of women’s rights for example. However, feminist work has also noted the ways in which the promotion of women’s rights as a fundamental value has been appropriated and used as a tool for power. One example of this is the way “women’s rights” were used by many Western States to justify the war in Afghanistan (the war being called for, in part, in order to “save” Afghan women). International law’s feminist focus can be seen as limited in that it mostly focuses on liberal feminist considerations, thereby silencing the diversity of voices within feminist and gender scholarship as well as ensuring that international law itself focuses primarily on certain women.
The same critique of international law’s limited, liberal focus, it is noted, applies to the status of queer people and activists in international law. Queer scholarship, such as Puar’s work on homonationalism, has shown how “the global” has been willing to promote LGBT rights as a fundamental global value whilst, in turn, working to use this global value as a tool for power. One example of this can be seen through the pinkwashing phenomenon, whereby States such as Israel promote themselves as global protectors and promotors of LGBT rights (and thereby as progressive liberal States), thus using this to hide and conceal other human rights abuses. With the emergence of a homonormative standard for the liberal assessment of legitimate nationhood or communitarian projects, in the context of LBGT rights, this often being done through the promotion of rights such as marriage, the more radical elements of queer thought, which challenge these structures as being founded on racist and heteronormative functions, are suppressed. Further, by aiming to impose the Western, liberal LGBT rights framework globally, as a fundamental value, many LGBT activists work to ignore the contexts in which queer people live in and what these people themselves may see as liberation (which may not, for example, be the possibility to marry, for example).
Further to this, the focus of international law on promoting civil and political rights over economic, social and cultural i.e. the rights which ensure equal access to global public goods such as water, has worked in many ways to silence women’s needs through promoting a limited, liberal account of freedom. With global goods such as water now being largely commodified across many parts of the world, there have been many calls in recent years for these public goods to belong, instead, to the commons. Liberalism, as one of international law’s fundamental values, has become neoliberalism, as can be shown in the IMF’s reductive accounts of freedom for women and LGBT people as access to the market alone (without account to the fact, for example, that having a low paid job is not necessarily freedom, especially in a world where things like water are commodified and may thus be inaccessible for those on low wages).
This Interest Group event will challenge these limited notions of what queer and feminist subject’s needs, working to challenge the very structures of international law itself and the values it pertains to promote. Topics may include (though need not be exclusive to):
- Women’s access to and feminist perspectives on global public goods such as water, food, free trade and public health.
- Feminist and queer critiques of international law’s ‘fundamental values’ such as liberalism and
- Feminist perspectives on the global commons such as: the law of the seas, the law of outer space and immaterial cultural heritage (for example).
- Feminist perspectives on fundamental values such as: human rights, peace, protection of the environment, self-determination and
This panel event thereby aims to situate in discussion, critical feminist perspectives on international law, intersectional and/or postcolonial and decolonising feminist perspectives as well as queer perspectives and is open to abstract submissions on these themes accordingly.
We invite presenters who wish to showcase their work using non-traditional formats, such as through art, photography and performance, to apply.
Abstracts of no more than 300 words along with an up to date CV should be sent to email@example.com by no later than Friday 28th April 2017.
The Interest Group is unable to provide funding for travel to and attendance at the conference. As this is an Interest Group event, there will be no fee to attend or speak. However, we also cannot offer a speaker’s discount to the main ESIL conference taking place 7-9th September.
Please see the ESIL website for information on finances and for other relevant information about the conference.
Selection Committee: Loveday Hodson, Troy Lavers, Emily Jones and Bérénice K. Schramm
The Feminism and International Law Interest Group are seeking papers for an Agora proposal for the ESIL Annual Conference to be held the 7th-9th September in Naples.
The theme of our Agora, in line the with the theme of the larger conference, is;
Whose Global Public Goods, Global Commons and Fundamental Values?
Please see the attached documents below for more information.
Papers are welcome in either French or English.
ABSTRACT DEADLINE: 20th January 2017
For any queries, please contact Emily Jones at : firstname.lastname@example.org
By Emily Jones (SOAS, London)
On Friday 9th September, the Feminism and International Law Interest Group of the European Society of International Law (ESIL) held an agora entitled ‘The Gendered Imaginaries of Crisis in International Law.’ The agora session was initially inspired by Hilary Charlesworth’s provocative statement that ‘international lawyers revel in a good crisis. A crisis provides a focus for the development of the discipline and it also allows international lawyers the sense that their work is of immediate, intense relevance.’ In this vein, the agora aimed to disrupt mainstream interpretations and perspectives on crisis as well as remind attendees of the various ways in which gender is implicated in the narratives of crisis.
The agora was bilingual (in both French and English). This bilingualism not only helped to disrupt the increasing dominance of the English language at ESIL but also allowed for a wider array of feminist perspectives to be considered.
The panel began with an intervention by Bérénice K. Schramm, the Agora Chair. Bérénice began with a reminder of the many ways in which crisis is utilised globally, not only by international lawyers to revel in but also as a moment for change and resistance, thus disrupting mainstream international legal views of crisis. She also highlighted the many elements of crisis which go unseen, including the sounds and images of crisis, showing pictures of women in Rojava engaging in radical democratic work and drawing on the work of German art collective Maiden Monsters to highlight both the existence of counter images to crises and sounds of crisis and the corollary fact that neoliberalism, from a feminist perspective, is, itself, a crisis.
Bérénice, in her introduction, also read an important statement regarding the situation of academics in Turkey. One of the panellists, Zeynep Kivilcim, sadly, was unable to attend the agora in person and was forced to intervene via Skype. This was due to the current political situation in her country and the crack down by the government on academics and academic freedom. As a signatory to the ‘Academics for Peace’ petition, Zeynep risks being interrogated daily. Bérénice reminded the agora participants of the ongoing situation in Turkey and the need to remember the ways in which crises affect academic work and freedom.
The first paper presented was by Dianne Otto and was entitled ‘Feminist Aspirations and Crisis Law: Navigating Uncomfortable Convergences and New Opportunities.’ Dianne noted the normalisation of crisis in international discourse and the ways in which this spreading atmosphere of crisis has allowed for the expansion of emergency laws and rule by experts and technocrats who often favour neoliberal ends. Her paper went on to highlight the ways in which ‘gender panics’ are also caught up in international discourses on crisis, noting, for example, how the trafficking movement and the panic over preventing sex trafficking has been used, not only to deny women agency and the right to make their own sexual and economic decisions, but also to ignore the wider, structural issues which surround trafficking, including poverty and exploitative labour conditions (noting how the focus on trafficking also works to ignore other migrants).
However, Dianne’s paper ended through the consideration of crisis as a possible moment for progress; crisis as resistance. She noted that crises can be used to highlight other causes, discussing the potential in the sex trafficking crisis to allow for other issues about migration and labour to be highlighted. Dianne further noted that one way to resist would be to resist the idea of crisis itself, highlighting the many ways in which HIV-AIDS activists were successful in doing this, leading to the WHO taking a human rights approach to the HIV-AIDS pandemic which allowed for the structural problems around HIV-AIDS, such as inequality, to be considered.
The second speaker was Marion Blondel, who presented in French, drawing greatly on contemporary feminist debates within France. Her paper, entitled ‘La vulnérabilité comme vertu: Recherche d’une transposition du care en droit international,’ which can roughly be translated as ‘Vulnerability as a Virtue: Looking for a Transposition of Care into International Law’ discussed the ways in which an ethics of care and theories of vulnerability have been, and can be, used in international law. Marion showed the ways in which an ethics of care may be applied to international law to create a system of interdependence and interrelation, as a way to re-think the idea of autonomy in international law. She further used conceptions of vulnerability to suggest new ways for international law to re-think its subjects. Her paper highlighted a number of instances where this has been applied in international law, showing possible models for the future, including in bioethics law.
The third paper was given by Jaya Ramji-Nogales. The paper was entitled ‘International Law and the Construction of Crisis: Feminist Approaches.’ Jaya’s paper explored the ways in which international law is implicated in the creation of crises, particularly focusing on migration and highlighting the many ways in which international law lacks sufficient connection with the lived experience of many of its subjects. She spoke of international migration law’s privileging of cisgender elite males, noting, for example, how the principle of non-refoulement operates to exclude many subjects, including women and LGBTQ individuals, from its central structures.
Like Dianne, Jaya also noted that international law’s gendered imaginaries often depict women as passive victims. She showed how migration law, in its efforts to include women, has been complicit in this victim narrative, offering legal protections to women who have suffered domestic violence, female genital mutilation or as victims of sex trafficking while failing to recognize women’s agency by adequately protecting, for example, migrant domestic workers. She critiqued the carceral approach of anti-trafficking laws as grounded in unsavoury gendered imaginaries of brown males from the Global South and insufficiently attentive to the vulnerability of all migrants. In short, Jaya argued that international law’s response to the needs of migrants with agency who move for a complex range of reasons – particularly the need for safe and lawful transit between states – is deeply inadequate, and that failing is a recipe for crisis.
The final paper of the agora was given by Zeynep Kivilcim who, as discussed above, was obliged to present through Skype due to the ongoing political situation in Turkey. Zeynep’s paper, also presented in French, was entitled ‘La démocratie radicale dans les discours légaux contemporains au Rojava au cœur de la « crise » Syrienne : Une analyse genrée’ which translates roughly as ‘Radical Democracy in Contemporary Legal Discourses in the Heart of the Syrian “Crisis” in Rojava: a gendered analysis.’ Zeynep’s paper noted that the focus on Syria as a crisis in international law has worked to ignore the radical democracy building which is ongoing in the Kurdish region of Rojava in Northern Syria. Rojava’s radical democracy is also based around gender equality, which has been declared as one of the foundational pillars of the new society the people are trying to build. Zeynep highlighted the many ways in which the people of Rojava are trying to ensure a gender equal society, including the making of sexism into a crime and the explicit inclusion of female politicians at all levels.
Noting that self-determination movements have often excluded women and feminist issues from their agendas, often choosing, instead, to prioritise other causes, Zeynep showed how Rojava may provide an alternative example of self-determination, a plural model which is working to explicitly include women and feminist causes from the offset. This movement provides a resistance to international law in the heart of crisis and provides a key example, going back to Dianne’s paper, of the ways in which moments of crisis may also become moments of resistance.
Unfortunately, after consultation with workshop participants we had to cancel the event we had planned jointly with the Law and Theory interest group. The majority of participants either expressly said that they will not come or expressed serious reservations about them coming to Istanbul. It was decided it would therefore be unworkable to maintain the workshop with the majority of those who were supposed to present being absent.
This bilingual roundtable (agora) seeks to convene various perspectives on the ways current crisis-ridden international law, or utopian crisis-free international law, thrive on gendered narratives, as well as how the contributions feminist approaches can offer enlarged critical engagement with the status quo of international law and its focus on crisis. Set up as a roundtable rather than a traditional panel, the agora aims at providing an interactive platform for feminist and/or gender-related engagement with the past, present and future of international law within and without its recurrent crises. Innovative approaches such as research on visual images as well as interdisciplinary reflections uncovering the powerful discursive complex resulting from the interaction between media coverage and international institutions’ communication politics and their impact on the gendered narratives of international law are welcomed. Contributions in French are strongly encouraged. More details and submission information are attached below.