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 28: Third World Approaches to International Law: feminists’ engagement with international law and decolonial theory

Giovanna Maria Frisso


The discussion about the role of women in international law is relatively recent. It denounces the underrepresentation of women and their interests in the area. In this context, studies with this focus assume not only a descriptive agenda, but also a normative one. This chapter aims to analyse the literature that explores the role of women in international law to examine whether the recourse to the category women, both as a descriptive and a normative category, maintains its relevance. For this purpose, the chapter aims to consider how the category woman is being built into the international law discourse and the extent to which it has been able to encompass the different elements constitutive of the identity of a woman, such as her age, her income, her race or her nationality. Among these constitutive elements, the chapter will pay particular attention to the division between women in developed countries and women in Third World countries. This delimitation was chosen because both Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) and feminists approaches to international law have been presented as theoretical perspectives that aim to give voice to those who have been silenced by mainstream international law. They deal with a context of exclusion. The combination of these theoretical perspectives will allow the examination of, on one hand, the extent to which TWAIL has been attentive to the reality of women and, on the other hand, the extent to which feminist accounts of international law have been able to identify and address the particularities of the experience of women in the Third World countries. The identification of possible similarities and differences between the forms through which these two theoretical approaches have acknowledged and dealt with the interests and needs of women in the Third World will provide a better understanding of their ability to describe and combat the context of exclusion faced by these women. As a result, it will be possible to consider the relevance of the category women not only to feminist approaches to international law, but also to a broader theoretical framework. In this context, the chapter will argue that, if the category woman is not everywhere, it should be.

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