THE STRATEGIC ROLE OF WOMEN IN GEOPOLITICS

Introduction

Christine Lagarde, President of the ECB, spoke about the fundamental role played by women in geopolitical relations at the International Women’s Day event in Geneva. She emphasised the fact that women are exceptionally able to think holistically, manage complexity, and embrace cooperation, all of that are key qualities which are especially beneficial in times of geopolitical tension (1).

And yet, as of September 2023, there are only 26 countries where 28 women serve as Heads of State and/or Government, and only 26.5% of parliamentarians are women (as opposed to 11% in 1995). Such data highlights the fact that it remains crucial for political institutions and, more broadly, the world, to acknowledge female voices and ensure they are heard (2).

Recent efforts and advocacy for increased female representation in leadership roles within geopolitics are not just a matter of representation, but also a strategic move. This article aims to highlight and provide evidence of the power that women hold in influencing geopolitics positively, by leading and prioritising diverse perspectives, handling relations effectively, and promoting peace. Women possess the capacity to bring a fresh perspective, foster collaborative approaches, and develop innovative solutions to the multiple challenges nations are faced with globally, and it is time for the world to acknowledge and make use of the potential they hold.

Geopolitics for Women, Women for Geopolitics

Gender equality is inherently related to geopolitics and diplomatic relations among countries, and it dictates the success of global prosperity and security. When governance prioritises investments in women and girls, such as through improved access to education, it fosters economic growth, community health and stability (3). These decisions, which include foreign aid and trade policies, can influence the economic opportunities and rights of women across different regions. Recognising and prioritising gender parity in these areas is critical for promoting comprehensive global progress and security.

Examining historical instances, consider the downfall of the Taliban regime in 2001 and US intervention in Iran, which led to a substantial increase in school enrollments. This, in turn, contributed to a growing number of qualified women, enhancing the workforce, and a decline in infant mortality rates (4). Despite these positive trends, there are still populist governments and authoritarian regimes which remain focused on reinforcing gender stereotypes and inequalities. For instance, the 2016 US political climate set a tone of masculinist rhetoric with the slogan “Don’t be a p****, vote Trump” reflecting a particular gendered approach to leadership. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia persists in implementing gender-washing policies that perpetuate gender disparities (5).

And yet, whilst geopolitical decisions and the actions governments take have a profound impact on the advancement of gender equality, gender equality is likewise integral to the achievement of sustainable and equitable global governance. 

Women Leading in Politics

In leadership, there is growing evidence to highlight the positive impact of female authority in political decision-making. Countries with a greater female presence in leadership roles have proven to grow to greater extents from an economic, social and environmental point of view and, it is only when women leaders are equally represented, and gender equality principles are integrated across the board, that modern and relevant challenges (from climate crisis to pandemics) can be fully resolved.

Women who lead in politics are also recognised for their effective actions, demonstrating the ability to work across various party lines, even in politically combative environments. Additionally, they endorse vital issues of gender disparity, advocating for the elimination of gender-based violence, parental leave, childcare, pensions, gender equality laws, and electoral reform (6).

For instance, research on panchayats in India revealed a 62% higher number of drinking water projects in areas led by women councils compared to those led by men. Similarly, in Norway, a direct causal relationship was identified between the presence of women in municipal councils and improved childcare coverage. 

Furthermore, women bring valuable perspectives to the negotiation table due to their diverse experiences, priorities, and leadership styles. There is practical evidence proving that female participation in decisional institutions, their promotion of gender equality, and advocating for women’s rights and perspectives in national security, international affairs, and conflict resolution can improve the socioeconomic state of a nation.

Indeed, studies show that increasing female participation in politics can lead to greater investments in education, and companies with female board representation boast higher ROI. Similarly, gender balance in politics promotes gender balance in the workforce; women in positions of authority tend to resolve national crises without resorting to violence, advocating for social issues that benefit all, and allocating budgets to health and education (7).

Gender Equality and Diplomatic Relations

In terms of diplomatic relations, the positive impact of gender equality becomes evident in its effectiveness in addressing complex international issues, influencing the interaction between countries and their cooperation on a global scale, given that women’s participation ensures diverse voices are heard and various concerns are addressed (8). 

Moreover, incorporating gender fairness into foreign policy can lead to more stable and democratic partners, maximising the utility of foreign aid, and advancing national security (9). The UN states the importance of female participation and its role in achieving sustainable development, peace and democracy. Indeed, womankind represents half of the world’s population and, therefore, half of its potential; their expertise and priorities broaden the scope of issues to take under consideration and the quality of the decisional outcome.

Illustrating this point, consider Iceland’s support and advocacy for gender equality, which actively integrates discussions regarding women into bilateral diplomatic agreements, and collaborates with other countries that share its commitment to gender equality and diplomacy (thus strengthening the collective voice advocating for gender-responsive policies in international forums). Here, Iceland’s feminist foreign policy demonstrates the effects of targeting gender disparities, positioning itself as a leader and enhancing its soft power, as well as contributing to its stability, democracy and national security.

Fellow political participation has also been shown to be particularly influential on women in their communities, and factors such as female voter turnout, female political participation, and public service responsiveness towards women are positively correlated with the presence of women in decision-making positions across public and private sectors (10).

Female Perspectives for Peacekeeping

According to the United Nations (UN), the inclusion of women is particularly crucial in peacekeeping, and enhances the overall success of such political operations. A diverse group of peacekeepers with varied skills and perspectives improves decisional, planning, and operational effectiveness. When women are included in discussions regarding these matters, they contribute with unique insights that can enhance the performance of peacekeeping missions – for instance, helping address the often overlooked challenges faced by women during conflict and post-conflict situations.

For example, women are disproportionately affected by gender-based violence (GBV) during conflict, including sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence. In post-conflict settings, the prevalence of GBV can persist as survivors face stigma, a lack of access to support services, and challenges in seeking justice. Additionally, women are often disproportionately affected by displacement, facing heightened risks of exploitation, trafficking, and sexual violence. In these contexts, accessibility to basic needs such as healthcare can be limited, which might make it challenging for women to access reproductive health services and treatment for diseases, leading to higher maternal mortality rates, unsafe pregnancies, and increased vulnerability to preventable diseases. Overall, female perspectives can contribute to more comprehensive solutions that consider a plethora of factors (otherwise ignored by their male counterparts).

The presence of women in peacekeeping forces can additionally foster a sense of trust between peacekeepers and the population they are there to protect. Indeed, women peacekeepers can easily access and engage with entire populations, including women and children – which is fundamental to address issues such as GBV and violence against children. Such an ability to connect with and gain the trust of diverse community members helps in obtaining critical information and understanding local needs (11).

The proof of the key role played by women in this context is further supported by the Institute for Inclusive Security, which states that “where women’s inclusion is prioritised, peace is more likely — particularly when women influence decision-making”. The report proceeds to mention how women can offer new connotations as to the definitions of peace and security, going beyond the issues of military action, power, and territory, and considering also social, humanitarian, and other essential needs, that countries may fail to prioritise otherwise.

Indeed, women’s participation in peace processes has been shown to increase the likelihood of reaching an agreement and its long-term implementation. Moreover, women are particularly proficient at building coalitions in their push for harmony, mobilising diverse groups in society, and working across ethnic, religious, political, and cultural divides created by conflict. Female political and social participation can contribute to more long-term peace by taking a more inclusive approach to post-conflict reconstruction (12). 

Ultimately, the involvement of women in peacekeeping is a key strategic move for creating more effective, inclusive, and sustainable operations that address the diverse needs of the communities they serve. The UN’s efforts to increase the representation of women in peacekeeping forces reflect a commitment to harnessing the full potential of diverse views for the promotion of peace and security worldwide.

Conclusion

In conclusion, there is a plethora of evidence regarding the strategic importance of increased female representation in geopolitics, demonstrating the positive impact of female leadership in politics, diplomatic relations, and peacekeeping efforts.

First, women’s involvement in political decisions and resolutions has shown to drive economic, social, and environmental growth, addressing modern challenges effectively. Additionally, gender equality in diplomatic relations enhances global cooperation and contributes to stable and democratic partnerships, thereby advancing national security. Finally, women have an indispensable role in improving decision-making, operational effectiveness, and addressing unique challenges in peacekeeping. 

Nevertheless, there is still a long way to go. Data show that there are still too few women serving as leaders, Heads of State and/or Government, highlighting the fact that it remains crucial for political institutions and, more broadly, the world, to acknowledge female voices and ensure they are heard.

And yet, despite gender parity remaining a universal challenge, significant progress has been attributed to the implementation of gender quotas. In countries with legislated candidate quotas, there is a notable increase in female representation—five percentage points higher in parliaments and seven percentage points higher in local government, compared to countries without such legislation (13).

Ultimately, recognising the interconnectedness of gender equality, geopolitics and trade, as well as optimising the potential of diverse perspectives, is essential to build a more peaceful, prosperous, and safe international community  – no country will be able to develop economically, socially or politically on any temporal or spatial scale without first tackling the gender inequality present in it. It is thus necessary for nations and global institutions to actively champion and implement policies that empower and elevate women in leadership roles, not only on a national scale, but for the benefit of the globe.

Sources

  1. Empowering women in a changing global economy 
  2. Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation | UN Women – Headquarters 
  3. Numbers Matter: To fix the multilateral system start by including women  
  4. Understanding Gender Equality in Foreign Policy 
  5. Women and higher education in Iran: What are the implications for employment and the “marriage market”? 
  6. Saudi Arabia’s Newest Sportswashing Strategy: Sponsorship Of Women’s World Cup | Human Rights Watch 
  7. Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation | UN Women – Headquarters 
  8. Strengthen Women’s Political Participation and Decision-Making Power 
  9. Breaking Barriers: Empowering Women in Diplomacy for a More Inclusive Future | United Nations Development Programme 
  10. An era for Feminist Diplomacy 
  11. Women’s Political Participation and Leadership 
  12. Women in peacekeeping 
  13. Why-Women-Brief-2020.pdf 
Heidi Holcke
Livia Della Zoppa

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