This blog post is part of the Women and Foreign Policy program’s interview series on Gender Equality in Foreign Policy, featuring global and U.S. officials leading initiatives to promote gender equality in the defense, development, and diplomatic sectors. This interview is with Joanna Roper, the United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s first Special Envoy for Gender Equality.
What makes a person choose to support or fight for a non-state armed group (NSAG)? This is a question that social science scholars have been asking for years. Work from political science and international relations has crystallized around two overarching reasons why individuals participate in organized political violence. The first, stemming largely from work by Ted Gurr, deals with grievance. This notion predicts that rebellion is not solely a rational act, but that it also requires feelings of frustration, exclusion, and/or relative deprivation. Scholars building on this idea have usually operationalized this to mean a grievance centered on political, economic, ethnic, and/or religious factors. The second school of thought, based on rational choice and economic models, predicts that individuals will choose to join a rebellion only when there is a perceived personal benefit–like power, money, or loot.
As noted in my recent article in the Journal of Global Security Studies, prior works that look at “greed” and “grievance” as motivating factors have found that both of these explanations are at least partly right. However, these examinations have usually been undertaken with the assumption that the default recruitment pool is made up of men and boys. Recent work has challenged this assumption, showing that women have contributed to the majority of NSAGs active since 1990, that they have contributed to rebellions in about 60 countries, and that women are more likely to be present in groups that use terrorism to further their aims (here, here, and here). Given this new knowledge, previous research using male-focused economic indicators or surveys that over-sample men seems to only tell part of the story.
J. Ann Tickner is Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American University. She is also a Professor Emerita at the University of Southern California where she taught for fifteen years before coming to American University. Her principle areas of teaching and research include international theory, peace and security, and feminist approaches to international relations. She served as President of the International Studies Association from 2006-2007. Her books include, A Feminist Voyage Through International Relations (Oxford University Press, 2014), Gendering World Politics: Issues and Approaches in the Post-Cold War Era (Columbia University Press, 2001), Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Achieving International Security (Columbia University Press, 1992), and Self-Reliance Versus Power Politics: American and Indian Experiences in Building Nation-States (Columbia University Press, 1987).
Where do you see the most exciting research and debates happening in your field?
I think the most exciting research is being done at the margins by scholars who are pushing the disciplinary boundaries of what we think of as IR into areas such as historical sociology, post-colonialism, race and gender. Although the mainstream US discipline is still quite hegemonic, I believe this hegemony is somewhat on the decline and there is more space for critical perspectives.
There are good revisionist histories that tell non-conventional stories about the origins of the discipline. And there is a great deal of exciting critical work being done by scholars in other parts of the world that attempts to construct an IR that reaches beyond geographical and disciplinary boundaries. The Worlding Beyond the West series edited by Ole Waever and Arlene Tickner and by Tickner and David Blaney is a good example. Other examples are recent work on race, empire and gender. It is quite astonishing how IR has erased imperialism and the anti-colonial struggles of the twentieth century from its historical memory. These are issues that are fueling so many of today’s conflicts.
The linking of women’s rights to national security became a defining feature of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as US Secretary of State. The core of what became known as the “Hillary Doctrine” can best be described as follows: when women are given equal rights “nations are more stable and secure,” while when they are not, national instability “is almost certain.” Clinton additionally argued that the subjugation of women was “a threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of [the United States].” Or to break this second assertion down further, states that deny rights to women and tacitly accept violence against them tend to be more fragile, politically divided and economically underdeveloped, which means they then pose greater threats to international security, due to the increased terrorism and internal conflict that they invariably invite upon themselves and others. Well, as powerful as these claims may be, are they actually true? To be fair, Clinton’s claims have undeniably advanced the interests of women and girls around the world, but one can argue that by blending policy with advocacy, they have proven to be politically influential, but also too broad and inaccurate to facilitate the development of reliable government policies.