The attempt to highlight and combat the phenomenon of the all male panel, or “manel”, as this now very popular tumblr feed does with humour, is to be applauded. But the compound effect of male experts selecting and inviting other male experts to take part in academic projects cannot be denied. If there are no – or few – senior women experts visible on panels and speaking or writing authoritatively in projects, then there are also very few pathways for younger women scholars to emerge. In one recent positive experience it became clear to me that many of the men who are culpable for creating and taking part in these “manels”, are in fact blind to this fact, and that once it is pointed out to them, they cannot help but see it all around them. These men have become great allies, a fact that gives me courage to continue to speak out rather than just complain.
A couple of years ago I made the move from international criminal law (ICL) and IHL to space law, with a particular interest in military activities in space. I assumed that because it’s a dynamic area of international law, I would escape the dominance of “manels” in ICL, and that there would be ample opportunities for me as an equal player. I was sorely disappointed in my first few months attending all sorts of events, from university, government and military events in Washington DC, to academic and space sector conferences in Canada, to truly international events where everyone interested in space gets together. Not only have the authoritative voices been nearly exclusively male, they are also generally very much of an older generation. There is little room for emerging voices of any kind, and among the few younger voices present, the majority are also men’s, endorsed by the “old masters”, who tend intuitively to mentor those who they recognise as similar to themselves.
The upside has been that among the women I have met who work in space law, there is a very strong camaraderie and an immediate welcoming into the network. Particularly among the senior women who, for a couple of decades, were few and far between, I have been welcomed and encouraged and supported.
So when it came to my involvement in a recent timely international project, to develop a Manual on International Law Applicable to Military Activities in Outer Space (MILAMOS), I decided to speak up where I would hope others would dare to as well. In September 2015, I had a key role in facilitating an Expert Roundtable, hosted at the McGill Institute of Air and Space Law in Montreal as a precursor to establishing the MILAMOS project. There were a few women around the table when we discussed substantive issues, but when it came to a smaller meeting on the third day, to discuss logistics and how we would move ahead, I was the only female “at the table” (there were two female graduate students taking notes). The management board of the MILAMOS were rightly focusing on how to enlist a team of experts sufficiently international to represent different views, and I hesitated a moment, wondering whether my junior status would work against me if I were to says something about gender representation as well. I decided to speak up anyway, and said in as clear a voice as I could, that it was imperative that the team also consist of women experts, if it were to be truly representative. I remember two of the members of the Management Board, one senior academic and one senior lawyer of the armed forces, looking me right in the eye and nodding with respect. They both took it very seriously and at our inaugural plenary last week, Editor in Chief Dale Stephens proudly stated that 31% of the participants committed to this three year project are women. While not as significant as gender parity would be, this is a huge leap forward.
The MILAMOS follows in the footsteps of previous manuals developed by independent international experts, as a way of clarifying the way in which IHL applies in times of armed conflicts, where technology has taken us beyond the context of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. In 1995 the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea was developed by the San Remo Institute of International Law; in 2009 the Harvard Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare was produced under the auspices of the Harvard Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research; and in 2013 the Tallinn Manual on International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare was published, with the Tallinn 2.0 expected to be published towards the end of this year, both under the auspices of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence. These manuals are important in clarifying the law where technology challenges traditional applications, and have been incorporated into some national military manuals, directly impacting the ways in which States engage in armed conflict.
For every single one of those previous manuals, women were in an absolute minority among the core experts, government and military representatives. As with any developing area of the law, ensuring women experts are included is simply a matter of addressing the covert (and sometimes inadvertent) sexism prolific in these fields. It is also true that including women’s voices in these projects can impact the content, by bringing different perspectives.
I am therefore honoured and excited to be working with the superstars who have been rallied together for this project, including IntLawGrrls’ own Beth van Schaak; as well as Setsuko Aoki; Laurie Blank; Emily Crawford; Heather Harrison Dinniss; Deborah Housen-Couriel; Major Susan Trepczynski; and Melissa de Zwart. We also have the benefit of the wealth of experience that Liis Vihul brings with her as one of the group editors, from her work as project manager of the Tallinn Manual; and the super smart Laura Grego, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, leading the team of technical experts.
I suspect that the 31% female participation includes graduate students who are taking part as research assistants, and while this is often a way of hiding how few women are in senior or leadership positions, for the purposes of this Manual, diversity is to be encouraged at all levels. And though we are not yet at parity, I acknowledge the Management Board of the MILAMOS for actively seeking out women experts to contribute to this important project, knowing that it will add to the credibility of the final product.