Home Contact Us  

India - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5070, 28 June 2016

Dateline Islamabad

Gendering Strategic Discourses: Women as Opinion-Makers
Salma Malik
Assistant Professor, Department of Defence & Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad
E-mail: salmamalik@gmail.com

Speaking recently at a UN plenary on the subject of ‘women in disarmament’, it was indeed a matter of great pride and honour as the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva was presided by a woman ambassador who happened to be Pakistan’s permanent representative to the UN. Interestingly and not surprisingly, her counterpart in New York happens to a lady, who enjoys an equally stellar reputation.

Fortunately, for us in South Asia, there is neither a dearth of such female role models nor a lack of women as policy and opinion-makers. At least half the regional countries have had female heads of government, very strong and influential women with very powerful voices. If we search for women policy and opinion-makers, again they stand tall and formidable, prove their strength and lack of higher numbers through their excellence in performance and honest hard work.

Yet, in key decision-making, the masculine perspective and prevalent predominant order ultimately prevails. This bring us to the key questions: does a woman’s voice matter? Why is it so important to highlight the concerns and perspectives women bring to the disarmament debate? How do women effectively voice and establish their nuanced perspective? What should matter more: numbers, mere empowerment, or the quality of debate? How do women perceive and want to perceive themselves – as vulnerable victims or as active agents of change and stakeholders, when it comes to decisions regarding conflict, peace and security?

During interactions, this author often comes across confident, energetic young women who are highly knowledgeable about the subject matter. Their voices and perspectives have been highly appreciated and heard, yet none speak with a gendered bent. This trend is reflective in the developing world, and the region we represent, where the numbers of female students seeking degrees in security or defence studies is increasing over time. Several female students concentrate on nuclear issues. However, these students do not seem to focus on disarmament – or, in general, on the alternative perspectives on nuclear issues that might cause established points of view to be seriously challenged.

This may be due to several reasons, including the predominately masculine discourse and environment in which they learn and seek knowledge. If these young women are asked about their mentors, hardly any will name another woman. Security studies and policy-making are cut-throat worlds, where women are already disadvantaged by being fewer in number. Thus, they are always struggling to create a space for themselves, to make themselves heard, to be taken seriously, to be credible enough to receive respect. And though women are very scarce in policy circles, especially at the highest levels, the situation may be even worse than it appears – it is doubtful that women exert influence even to the extent that their low representation suggests they should.

Many women, perhaps most, therefore approach issues such as disarmament, policy-making, and science and technology from established, male-dominated perspectives, rather than trying to develop alternate perspectives. The task at hand for women who want to effect a change is by no means simple or short. Women in the policy world must not only demonstrate their competence but also struggle to rise above stereotypes. They must prove that they are equal to their male counterparts – or, at the least, must strive to sound gender-neutral. Consequently, women often take on personas that are stern, hawkish, and ‘masculine’.

Women also need to carefully choose areas of expertise, giving preference to ‘hard’ research areas such as nuclear policy-making, missile proliferation, arms races, and now cyber warfare, over ‘softer’ issues such as gender and security, women's rights, post-conflict reconstruction, and activism, which are stereotyped as more feminine or in undertones ‘weak’ policy reflections. Women are not well represented in the ‘hard’ issues; and when they do work on these issues, they tend to produce work that is not gendered, which largely reinforces the dominant (male) narrative. Women are better represented when it comes to ‘soft’ issues; but the issues themselves are considered less important, as it makes them appear irrelevant and weak.

Furthermore, in terms of lasting discourse, academic contribution and formal policy debate, women produce relatively very little work. This is probably because in the developing world, strategic issues are very much wedded to a nation-building narrative. Despite having moved well beyond the initial stages of nuclear learning, the discourse on nuclear issues remains, in effect, state-owned and state-directed. For any opinion-maker, man or woman, gaining credibility and acceptability depends on creating a niche for oneself that reinforces the nationalist discourse.

There is a strong presence of women in policy-making positions, but where they leave a personal legacy of strong work ethics and approaching their work with no half measures, their imprint or official legacies, most of the time, are no different than that of their male counterparts, as they occupy ‘genderless’ spaces, which must prove them stronger women than weak. The ongoing conflict in West Asia has a strong imprint of powerful and empowered women, opting for a legacy of complex conflict than accommodation to prove their power and strength.

Is there really any reason to think that a gendered approach to disarmament would result in quicker abolition of nuclear weapons? Even today, in many countries, governments have to pass and enforce legislation requiring equal opportunity and female-friendly workplaces. Quotas or special allocations might sometimes be required to ensure that qualified women get the opportunities they deserve. Women’s empowerment also means a strong shift in attitudes and mindsets across genders. Baseline change needs to be effected from the primary reference group.

In traditional societies, it is the family that defines and assigns gendered roles. As a primary group, the family, and then social reference groups, must change their attitudes and preconceived notions regarding gender. Women can be ‘soft’ – but soft does not automatically translate to weak. Religious and thought leaders have to be roped in; and story-telling, in which heroes are always men – sons of brave mothers – needs to undergo revision. Curricula must be reviewed, modified and adjusted. Women can take control of their destiny and change this mindset, not just by donning the ‘masculine’ avatar but by being women with ‘soft’ but strong voices.

Simultaneously, men need to be sensitive to, create space, and accommodate, gender concerns and perspectives. Often, gender champions are not women alone, but men as well, and for which those men must be appreciated. Over time, these steps would expand the pool of women policy-makers and experts and enhance women leaders’ credibility. Even so, chances are that the glass ceiling would still exist in some way, one that they would have to break through. Doing so will not be easy, but for women, things have never been easy.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee

Related Articles
Salma Malik,
"Forecast 2016: Pakistan," 4 February 2016

Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
Forecast 2016: Pakistan

Obama’s ‘Surge Strategy’ in AfPak: the Pakistani Perspective

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.