Reflecting on the Australian Feminist Law Journal special issue, ‘Gender, War, and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the Twenty-First Century’

The nexus between war and technology has developed alongside the rapid expansion of military might and spending, evident in recent decades. Militaries have advanced their weapon systems and in theory saved civilian and military lives in the process. Weapons are now more accurate, theoretically cause less destruction to surrounding infrastructure, and require less time to deploy. Drones, for instance, can target ‘hostiles’ from miles away allowing the operator to never physically come in contact with the violence of war. Specialty ‘armour’ can better protect soldiers and make their job more efficient, by providing weight distribution. Therefore, soldiers (both men and women) will likely become less exhausted from carrying out common tasks and would therefore be allegedly clearer of mind when making key decisions on the battlefield. But, are these all welcome achievements? And, are individuals to accept these achievements at face value?

Alongside the development of these military technologies there has been a push from scholars to recognise that technology, war, and law are not the only sites of intersection. Gender, as a starting point for scholarship on war and technology, and as a tool to investigate the ways in which technology is used, understood, and imagined within military and legal structures and in war, offers an analysis that questions the pre-existing biases in international law and in feminist spaces. Using gender as a method for examination as well as feminist legal scholarship, expands the way military technologies are understood as influencing human lives both on and off the battlefield. This type of analysis disrupts the use of gender to justify and make palatable new military technologies. The Australian Feminist Law Journal’s special issue entitled ‘Gender, War, and Technology: Peace and Armed Conflict in the Twenty-First Century’ (Volume 44, Issue 1, 2018) has tacked key issues and questions that emanate precisely from the link between the concepts of ‘gender, war, and technology’ which editors Jones, Kendall, and Otomo draw out through their own writing and various contributing author’s perspectives.

The following thoughts/questions, which developed while reading this issue, speak to the critiques waged within these articles, and from the developments this issue’s engagement with these topics have generated. As this contribution suggests, intersectional issues remain ever present within new technological advances, which begs the question who are the programmers? If the desire and use of technology to gain military advantage is coming from a place of primarily white, Western, heteronormative, masculine, and secure socio-economic status, then does the method of technological advancement and deployment become defined along similar identities? Does the use of such technology change command structures whereby the weapon becomes ‘in charge’?

What does this mean for identity in these spaces? Amongst the fury of technological advancement, where is the end result presumed to lie? Are discussions of peace ever integrated within technology and war or scholarship on technology and war? Or is this the analysis gender and feminist studies are assumed to provide? If we move beyond the human, then the distinction in international humanitarian law between combatant and civilian becomes even more blurred. This leads to questions around responsibility of technology in war and the ‘accidents’ of continual ‘malfunctions’. Technology has in many cases provided a barrier between human operators and their ‘targets’, what does this mean for the mental health of those individuals who cause destruction from thousands of miles away? The development of exoskeletons has in some cases benefited civilians with physical disabilities, creating access to new advancements, and many would see this as a welcomed byproduct, how then does this influence the perception of military aims?

This special issue comes at a moment of change in critical international legal scholarship, where there is a movement to expand beyond pre-existing structures of law and legal scholarship towards an intersectional interdisciplinary understanding of posthumanism. This collection of articles speak to this shift by encouraging the need to look beyond sexual violence against women as women’s primary experience during armed conflict, to question the assumption that new technologies are an answer to global gender inequality, to dismantle the association of masculinity with only the perpetration of sexual violence, to reimagine the way different feminisms engage with technology and the law, and ultimately to unsettle the continual focus on humanist structures in legal, social, and political spaces. This collection is a welcome addition and sets the tone for further (and much needed) work in the areas of ‘gender, technology, and war’.

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