Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law
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Research Handbook on Feminist Engagement with International Law

Edited by Susan Harris Rimmer and Kate Ogg

For almost 30 years, scholars and advocates have been exploring the interaction and potential between the rights and well-being of women and the promise of international law. This collection posits that the next frontier for international law is increasing its relevance, beneficence and impact for women in the developing world, and to deal with a much wider range of issues through a feminist lens.
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Chapter 3: Women as makers of international law: towards feminist diplomacy

Susan Harris Rimmer


Feminist international law scholarship has always insisted on showing the human faces of the state. The sources of international law are learnt by heart from Article 38 of the International Court of Justice statute, namely treaties, customary international law derived from the practice of States; general principles of law recognised by civilised nations; and, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of international law: judicial decisions and the writings of ‘the most highly qualified publicists’. This chapter delves deeper into which actors are producing these sources, from the point of view of the female bodies now making international law. One of the most important changes to modern diplomacy is the increased participation of women, both as foreign policy elites and in wider transnational networks. If this most fundamental aspect of diplomacy is human interactions, then the new representation of women and LGBTI+ persons in the practice of diplomacy since the mid-twentieth century should have made a profound impact on the field of diplomacy studies. Moreover, societal changes in gender relations have affected some of the content and focus of foreign policy, along with the advent of female foreign ministers. This advent could be even more significant than the Internet or the rise of NGOs for the practice of diplomacy. In fact, I find that efforts since World War II have resulted in inclusion of only some limited diversity in diplomatic personnel. This is not to downplay the achievements of the pioneers in diplomacy as their efforts to serve have often been extraordinary, as I outline. I argue instead that the ‘business model’ of diplomacy has been resistant to transformation on gender equality grounds thus far, and the ideal diplomat is still gendered heterosexual, upper-class, rational and masculine. This chapter considers gender dimensions in theories of diplomacy; gender dimensions in diplomatic practices; the changing role of the diplomatic spouse; and sex, sexuality and diplomatic cultures. I argue that the diplomatic spouse model with women in ancillary, decorative and undervalued roles has morphed into junior diplomats, or celebrity goodwill ambassadors. More data is needed on specific areas of diplomatic practice (peace negotiations, trade talks, summitry) to see how the participation of women and LGBTI+ persons is shifting the practice and content of diplomacy. However, the creation of thematic ambassadors focused on gender equality in the US, Australia, the Seychelles, Norway, Sweden and Finland is an interesting phenomenon that shows transformative potential.

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