Gender-Differentiated Leadership and National Security

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There is much debate on the means of gender equality in practice and how to achieve it in international relations, especially in regards to national security. Feminist scholars are the greatest advocates on this issue and strive for its global recognition. Feminist scholars propose that national security needs to be redefined on various levels of international security affairs. While other IR scholars, usually realist and their variants, contend that feminist scholars are unclear on their desired ends; because there remains questions on how the newly define terms of security will acknowledge the universal insecurities of both, women and men.

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This study demonstrates a constructivist alternative approach that analyzes the realities of nations along with their security concerns that reflect both male and female insecurities. Additionally, it explores the magnitude of female influence in international relations and how effective it is on the national security decision-making infrastructure.

In 2019, it is reported that the total world population consists of 50.4% male and 49.6% female. Women are a minority by less than one percent, yet gender inequality still remains a universal challenge. Some global patterns that address the inequality between men and women include: women tend to suffer violence at the hands of their intimate partners more often than men; women and men have different economic opportunities; women are over-represented among the poor; and women and girls make up the majority of people trafficked and involved in the sex trade (King, 2002: 1). Attaining equal gender representation globally is essential to understanding the world we live in.

Although gender equality still remains a goal that has yet to be achieved by other governments and international organizations, there is more involvement of women in international relations today than what is has been historically seen in the past. However, scholars recognize that women’s political participation and their representation in decision-making structures still lag behind men’s especially in regards to national security. In a constructivist alternative approach, this raises the question: What aspects of gender-differentiated leadership are effective for national security?

The Constructivist Alternative

It is agreed upon scholars that gender inequality is a social and moral justice issue. However, the focus of this discourse pertains to the lack of acknowledgment towards gender inequality as an issue within national security. Feminist scholars believe that this derives from the ties of an outdated paradigm that does not recognize women having a role, which they already have, in security affairs. They argue further that the neglect of gender by other IR theories results in a narrow conception of security and does not account for the changing realities in international affairs (Tickner, 1999, 406). On the other hand, realists argue that such solutions put forward to achieve the idea of a more encompassing security inadvertently risks reifying gender as innate rather than an artificial construct (Romaniuk and Wasylciw, 2010: 23).

This constructivist alternative differs from the scholarly discussion that focuses on the origins of the existing gender gap in national security political representation. Instead, this approach broadens the scope and takes careful consideration of these scholarly studies and arguments, to emulate the overall effectiveness of national security conflict-resolution infrastructure with, and without, female influence. Additionally, this case study elaborates the importance in identifying a progressive social understanding of the realities that raise national security concerns in modern international relations.

Gender Identities and Security Discourse

Post Cold War there have been more intrastate conflicts opposed to interstate conflicts. Many of these conflicts are believe to arise from human security issues. Human security issues are those that are centered on individuals rather than state; which inherently involves women. Researchers found that nations with a large gender gap had higher rates against violence and higher risks of intrastate conflict and instability. In some of these nations, when women were a part of peacemaking, that peace was more durable. Women have been effective participants in conflict resolutions and treaty writing in countries like Columbia, Northern Ireland, Sudan, and Liberia. Feminist scholars believe that women are needed in national security because there is a general disregard among representatives to the role that women already play in national security.

In the world today through globalization and social media, there is awareness of the issues around the world that involve women, especially violence towards women. Domestic violence is uncontrolled, even in countries of high economic development. For example, women’s responsibility to reproduce and maintain ethnic line, that in which they are targeted for rape and ethnic cleansing in some nations. Feminist scholars emphasize that these issues are isolated from each other rather than being part of a larger perspective and should fuel a larger power structure that should connect women to national security. Furthermore, feminists also argue that failing to understand the role of gender in international relations perpetuates gendered hierarchies that value the masculine over the feminine to the detriment of ‘women’s, and certain men’s, real security’ (Tickner, 2001: 62).

Feminists seek to redefine security that reflects the actual realities and conflicts seen in intrastate conflicts around the world today. By doing so, this will dissolve gendered hierarchies, and the assumption that men are the innate protectors and women are the innate caregivers will be abandoned. There is the assumption that great military power will make people more secure, that men fight wars to protect the ‘vulnerable people’ in society, yet it is found that women and children are 90% of casualties in modern war, and 75% of refugees (Tickner and Sjoberg 2010: 204). Some feminists claim that wars are fought to protect women, the elderly and children, is a form of structural violence. Caprioli uses Galtung’s description on structural violence:

“Structural violence has four basic components: exploitation which is focused on the division of labor with the benefits being asymmetrically distributed, penetration which necessitates the control by the exploiters over the consciousness of the exploited thus resulting in the acquiescence of the oppressed, fragmentation which means that the exploited are separated from each other, and marginalization with the exploiters as a privileged class with their own rules and form of interaction” (Caprioli, 2005: 164).

War is a cultural construction that depends on the myth of protection for legitimacy, which helps us see how certain ways of thinking about security have been legitimated while others are silenced (Tickner and Sjoberg 2010: 205).

It is emphasized at the heart of feminist scholar insight, there is the belief that gender differences are socially constructed rather than biologically inherent (Eicheler, 2014: 82). These scholars believe there is a national security bias towards overestimating the efficacy of armed violence and undercounting it costs–along with underestimating the efficacy of nonviolence–comes from the extent and power of association of strength with masculinity and weakness with femininity. Some scholars argue that conflict over what women are and what they should do is characterized as a risk to global security. Other scholars would characterize gender as irrelevant to, or is one of many variables, in thinking about security. Yet, feminist scholars maintain that gender is across all areas of international security, and that gender analysis is transformative of security studies.

Sovereignty is a key concept in international relations; because it defines the role of states as political actors, as well as defining the political identity, or citizenship in state centered terms, which compounds real politics exclusively within communities (Youngs, 2014: 82). Realists believe that sovereign, self-interested states are the primary actors in an anarchical international environment (Tickner, 2001: 38). Realist scholars argue that the security of the state is associated with military and its preparation to fight wars. All states engage in power-maximizing activities to achieve their desired results (Schmidt, 2005: 527). The masculine trait of aggressiveness is found necessary in an anarchic international system where states are struggling for power. If a state is not aggressive, if it was unable to rely on its own capabilities, then it could be seen as weak and inferior to other states (Romaniuk and Wasylciw, 2010: 26). Realists view that while aggressiveness is not supported in the female, or private sphere, where the state maintains order and which it protects, this trait is encouraged in the male or public sphere.

In understanding both of these arguments, the constructivist alternative approach to gender inequality in national security takes the interests of individual actors, both men and women, into consideration. Farrell argues that for constructivists ‘ideas are not merely rules or “road maps” for action, but rather ideas operate “all the way down” to actually shape actors and action in world politics (Farrell, 2002: 49). Scholars under a constructivist lens attempt to minimize the divide between realist and feminist security perspectives to provide a method that can combine state centric interpretations of security, which align with the focus on individual security. Theo Farrell explains that a constructivist approach to the topic is concerned with how engrained cultural norms affect personal, human, environmental, national, and international security (Farrell, 2002: 49). One proposed alternative suggests that scholars should shift their efforts to include more male participants in the discussion of female discourse, and further emphasize male insecurities in addition to female insecurities. This shift in focus would arguably result in ‘denaturalized and dismantled’ gendered hierarchies in a manner that would contribute to greater security for all (Romaniuk and Wasylciw, 2010: 23).


It is found that there is no simple solution to the disassembling gender hierarchies to produce a greater security in international security. There are advantages both female and male leadership not due to gender identity but the personalities of the leader that specifically addresses the needs of resolve for that nation’s security. The current, underlying national power structure does lack female influence; because women are the minority among representatives. Right now, this leadership is efficient such that leaders around the world are crave the power advantage to feel safe, and this is seen with countries that have nuclear weapons at hand and those that do not. Having the advantage in military power does result in the people of that nation to feel safe on the bigger scale.

It is true that in modern international relations that the nature of war has changed. It can be acknowledged that there are more intrastate conflicts rather than interstate conflicts. National security issues in today’s world are predominantly concerns with human security in more underdeveloped countries, and this does inherently include women. Feminist scholars uphold that the current national security paradigm favors the status quo, they have yet to achieve their desired ends. While realists argue that it is beyond gender identity and that military power is essential in the state’s interest not because it is masculine.

The main difference in presented with these arguments is either working towards collective peace or maintaining the advantage in the competition in the world. Through the incorporation of the experience of women, feminists show that there is room for both ‘competition and cooperation,’ for aggressiveness and passiveness (Beckman, 1994: 5). This is not because women have certain innate feminine characteristics that differentiate them from men. Women and men alike have characteristics that can exist in both sexes. With this, I agree that peace is not the absence of open warfare and fighting. Carpenter may add that under this constructivist lens that gender should not be a reason to explain for decisions and outcomes within international relations, rather the character of the individual is more relevant. I agree that gender identity does not define the proposed solutions of efficacy in achieving national security; but by perception and understanding of how the world runs as a whole. Right now, the powerful nations remain in competition and negotiate peace in terms that advantages are managed by interests.

The limitations of this research are bound by that the argument of feminist scholars try to make and support an enabling political environment for national security, and turning that environment into influence. This enabling political environment is still under construction as it may become more effective in the future. Therefore, future research should still focus on the same question, as it is dependent with time. Women are beginning to rise with influence over national security relations, however it is difficult to tell if it is their gender identities are associated with comparable efficacy of solutions.


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Gender-Differentiated Leadership and National Security. (2021, Jul 05). Retrieved from