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 4: Wildlife and international law: can feminism transform our relationship with nature?

Katie Woolaston


Humanity is facing a crisis. We are losing species at an unprecedented rate. The loss of species is both a moral issue and a practical one – human security is at risk as we lose species that perform vital ecosystems services essential to our survival. It is estimated that 58 per cent of all species were lost forever between 1970 and 2012. Human-induced habitat loss and climate change are significant contributing factors, however it is the human relationship with wildlife that is most damaging. Currently, that relationship is defined in law and policy by liberal notions of hierarchy, wherein humans (or certain privileged humans) are at the top of the hierarchy, ecosystems below, and individual animals at the bottom. That hierarchy results in a partisan style of management of wildlife interactions, wherein the wildlife are removed, and human behaviours, attitudes and values are not addressed. This relationship suffers the same dominating factors evident in patriarchal societies, and condemned by feminist theorists. Moreover, these factors are evident in the international law that seeks to protect wildlife and so minimise biodiversity loss. Currently, international law concerning wildlife management and species loss is in its fledgling stage. Wildlife has no blanket protection but instead is subject to the environmental principles encompassed in the Convention on Biological Diversity and a number of other international treaties with narrow scope. Those laws reflect a capitalist rights model, such that wildlife is managed to increase its value to humans (by either increasing its worth or decreasing its harm potential), and to maintain human socio-economic rights and individual interests. There is an ethical imperative to reassess our relationship with wildlife and find a more appropriate response to the vulnerabilities we have created. In this vein, we have been given a unique opportunity to insert the feminine perspective into law and management policy and transform our relationship with wildlife. Conveniently, critical feminist theory is largely concerned with the resolution of conflict and removal of hierarchy. There is a focus on interpersonal and environmental relationships and the care and compassion associated with them. This chapter will explore not only our ability to use feminism to transform international law, but also the use of feminism in international law to transform our relationship with wildlife and the greater environment. In doing so it will explore theories of eco-feminism and vulnerability. The purpose is to show that a sense of balance between gendered perspectives, reason and emotion, protection and compassion, can build a model of coexistence and work towards reducing species loss.

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