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Reader riposte: Beyond 'genderisation' of IR

This post is part of the Women and the foreign policy commentariat debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

15 September 2011 08:43

This post is part of the Women and the foreign policy commentariat debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

Nina Markovic, a PhD candidate in Political Science, Centre for European Studies, Australian National University writes:

A month before the Women in Political Science Caucus meeting at the Australian Political Science Association conference in Canberra, Roger Shanahan's piece on the Lowy Interpreter blog has triggered a fresh debate on the question of female commentators and their visibility in international relations. Women leaders from all walks of life have joined this conversation since then. The debate spans several blogs now (Lowy Interpreter, Security Scholar, Women in Political Science, and others), and commentary about it has also appeared on Twitter and Facebook.

While Australia has its first female Governor-General and female Prime Minister, gender-specific stereotypes about women in political life continue to permeate public discourses and influence public perceptions. These are evident, for example, in the distasteful criticism of the PM's dress sense and hairstyle in The Australian and other newspapers, which would hardly be the case for a male PM.

Few women in strategic studies in Australia have achieved such prominence as Professor Corall Bell, one of Australia's finest strategists and visionary political scientists. Her recent interview on Asia's strategic future probably did not receive as much mention in the domestic political commentary on Asian affairs as the research work of her colleagues. The question which looms in the debate on women in political science and strategic studies is whether Australian female political scientists are better recognised in the international arena (both in terms of visibility of their work and personal exposure) than in Australia, and if so, why this might be the case.

Some notable examples of women leaders in political science in Australia include:

  • Professor Samina Yasmeen, internationally recognised  expert on diplomacy, counter-terrorism and Indo-Pakistani relations, who is also the founding Director of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies at the University of Western Australia.
  • Professor Jacqueline Lo, Director of the ANU Centre for European Studies, who is also a renowned expert on post-colonialism, cosmopolitanism and cross-cultural studies.
  • Professor Pascaline Winand from the Monash University, Director of Europe and EU Centre, who is a world-class political scientist and diplomatic historian.
  • Associate Professor Philomena Murray from the University of Melbourne, who is eminent political scientist, recipient of Personal Jean Monnet Chair in 2006, and a recognised strategist on Australia’s expanding relationship with the European Union.
  • Melissa Conley Tyler, National Executive Director of the Australian Institute for International Affairs, who is also a specialist on conflict resolution and negotiation.

These women are to be found within a pool of strong minority of women in political science who are world-class experts in their respective fields. Their research regularly appears in specialised publications, journals and international press. An under-representation of women in international relations commentary in Australia that many in this debate have been referring to, therefore, might be a consequence of a distorted image and perceptions held locally about women in international affairs and in modern society more generally. Perceptions always influence political reality.

One should stop genderising when talking about politics. Gender biases and prejudices certainly exist, although it is difficult to measure them. The obsession with marital status which some commentators have referred to in this debate (in an era of unlimited technological opportunities) represents a significant barrier to what we are trying to achieve.

Women are certainly more publicly visible as being engaged as active participants and actors of change in the field of international relations and in the not-for-profit sector than only half a century ago. When looking for all those experts who are commenting regularly on international issues in the media and blogosphere we need look no further than the talented group of Australia women who are making their mark on the international stage.