The academic study of conflict resolution was born as as a critique of mainstream International Relations (IR), which explains why feminist theory and conflict resolution share many things in common. For example, both feminists and conflict resolution scholars challenge traditional power politics grounded in realist or neorealists analyses of conflict. They also share the core belief that war is not inevitable and that human beings have the capacity to resolve conflicts through nonviolent means. In the past two decades, with the expansion of feminist scholarship in IR, feminist interventions in conflict resolution have gained more currency. This essay reviews feminist scholarship in conflict resolution, with particular emphasis on five elements: critiques of the absence and/or marginalization of women in the field and an effort to include women and to make women visible and heard; articulation of a unique feminist standpoint for approaching peacemaking and conflict resolution, which is essentially different to, and qualitatively better than, mainstream (or male-stream) perspectives; feminist theorization of difference in conflict resolution theory and practice (challenges to essentialism, intersections, power and privilege, culture); feminist redefinition of central concepts in the field, especially violence, power, peace, and security; and original feminist research and theorizing, including field research in conflict areas, designed to transform rather than just reform the field. This essay argues that in order to further expand and institutionalize conflict resolution studies, mainstream scholars must be willing to engage seriously the contributions and critiques of feminists.
More than twenty years ago, feminist scholars began challenging conventional approaches to the study of war that they accused of being gender blind and excluding women’s involvement and experience of conflict. This feminist critique was articulated by Cynthia Enloe in her question “Where are the women?” in reference to the study of conflicts. Since then, numerous scholars have produced works that not only include women in existing accounts of war but also offer radical alternative approaches to the study of war. This body of feminist scholarship has sought to deconstruct and challenge three foundations of mainstream scholarship on armed conflict: equating gender with women or women’s issues; conflating women and children together as victims of war; and narrowly defining war as a masculine, public activity with a clear time frame. Feminist scholars such as Judith Butler theorized the concepts of gender and sex in order to complicate feminism beyond “women’s studies.” Despite these inroads into the way conflict is conceptualized and researched, mainstream approaches to the study of war in the past decade remain resistant to systematic and comprehensive considerations of gender. Recent scholarship presents a broader picture of women’s relationship to international conflicts. Feminist scholars demonstrate women’s multiple roles within, and impacts on, war; disrupt stereotypes and gendered norms associated with “women’s place” during war; and highlight some of the many different ways that women—as soldiers, rebels, and as perpetrators of violence—perform in, and influence war.