Sunday, March 18, 2007

Pink ≠ fluffy

In cyberland last week, musings on the role of women in international law:
Our own Lakshmi Bai [IntLawGrrl Jaya Ramji-Nogales] saw "many shades of pink" in the fact that women (including her and 2 other IntLawGrrls) outnumbered men as presenters at an academic conference. Yet the note of optimism in her question, "Is the Future of International Law Rosy?", soured when commenters noted that "in Europe at least," women seemed relegated to human rights, a field deemed "fluffy," while men dominated trade and humanitarian law.
Meanwhile, a query at National Security Advisors blog, on why a U.S. academic panel on the Military Commissions Act included no woman among its 6 members, drew remarks in like vein. "[W]hat exactly is 'women's national security law'?" a commenter asked, adding that having Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State trumps any panel imbalance.
A few comments: 1st, to work in human rights means to interview the victims and to defend the perpetrators of the world's worst crimes, to assess the credibility of horrific testimony, to campaign for conventions or to write articles that labor to balance outrage at atrocity against instilled values respecting the rights of the accused. None of that is "fluffy," and to call it such demeans the women and men (there are many of both) who devote themselves to that work. If indeed this is an emerging stereotype, it ought to be fought at every turn.
2d, the list of women who work in national security law neither begins nor ends with Secretary Rice. She was preceded, of course, by Madeleine Albright, who remains active in international matters. Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was among the members of the Iraq Study Group. Women, some of whom served in uniform, serve on boards of the National Institute of Military Justice. Several women help run the National Security Law Section of the very group that sponsored the questioned panel, and far more women teach and write on military justice and national security -- as is the case, at least in the United States, with fields like trade. (Included are many of us IntLawGrrls.)
Each of these many women no doubt approaches her work from her own vantage point. But most, I suspect, will describe what they do not as "women's" law, but rather, simply, as international law. Perhaps one day that description will draw no comment at all.
(Kudos to our colleague Steve Vladeck for raising the women-in-national-security question.)

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