UN Women and Promundo’s “Understanding Masculinities”: A Shift From Fact-Based to Social Construction-Based Analyses of Gender Issues?

UN Women and Promundo recently published “Understanding Masculinities,” the nearly-300 paged result of the International Men and Gender Equality Study (IMAGES) conducted in the Middle East and North Africa, conducted in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine. The angle adopted in the Study is quite interesting. Studies on gender inequality often concentrate on statistics, such as on the education of girls, child marriage, the presence of women in specific professions, and so on. This research takes on representations of, and perspectives on masculinity, a social construction. It recognizes that increased gender equality is not only accomplished through women accessing different spheres of the society in which they were previously prohibited from, but also through changed social relations and perceptions.

IMAGES MENA - Understand Masculinities

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ASIL-Midwest Works-in-Progress Conference: Call for Submissions


ASIL-Midwest Works-in-Progress Conference

Call for Submissions

ASIL-Midwest, an interest group of the American Society of International Law (ASIL) is co-sponsoring its fourth scholarly works-in-progress conference at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio on September 15-16, 2017. The goal is to create a friendly, open conversation about works in progress and to foster a Midwestern United States international law community. To that end, the workshop will include both full drafts and early works in progress.

Those interested in presenting at the conference should send a 500-word abstract to ASIL-Midwest Co-Chair Cindy Buys (cbuys@siu.edu) by Friday, July 28, 2017. Please also include a sentence about the stage the paper is expected to be in by September (e.g., reasonably complete draft, early work in progress, etc.). Papers may address any International Law topics, and this Call for Submissions is open to everyone in the international legal community.  Preference will be given to ASIL members who are also members of the ASIL-Midwest Interest Group.  Paper presenters will be asked to circulate their drafts (or a summary of the project if it’s early stage) to workshop attendees no later than September 1, 2017.

Those interested in serving as a commentator for a paper should also send an email to the Co-Chair Cindy Buys by July 28 (cbuys@siu.edu).  Commentators will be asked to prepare five to eight minutes of comments on one or more of the papers. Those interested in presenting are also encouraged to comment on the other papers and should indicate whether they are willing to serve as commentators as well.

ASIL members and Cleveland-Marshall College of Law faculty, staff, and students may attend for free. Participants who are not ASIL members or Cleveland-Marshall College of Law affiliates will be required to pay a $50 registration fee (includes workshop and some meals) for the conference. Some meals will be provided, but participants are responsible for their own travel and hotel expenses. More details regarding transportation, hotels and other logistics will be provided shortly.

For any questions about papers and presentations, please contact ASIL-Midwest Interest Group Co-Chairs, Cindy Buys (cbuys@siu.edu) or Neha Jain (njain@umn.edu).  For questions about conference logistics, contact immediate past-Chair, Milena Sterio (m.sterio@csuohio.edu).

The Myth of ICT’s Protective effect in mass atrocity response


Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) are now being employed as a standard part of mass atrocity response, evidence collection, and research by non-governmental organizations, governments, and the private sector. Deployment of these tools and techniques occur for a variety of stated reasons, most notably the ostensible goal of “protecting” vulnerable populations. In a new article published with Genocide Studies and Prevention: An International Journal , we  argue that there is little evidence of the existence of what can be referred to as a causal “Protective or Preventative Effect” (PPE) from the use of ICTs in mass atrocity producing environments.

Historically, the international community’s response, or lack thereof, to mass atrocities, has been shaped by the absence of timely and accurate information. Over the past two decades, the use of ICTs has metamorphosed from a series of prototype use cases of these tools and techniques to a now commonplace component of the human rights and humanitarian sector’s response to mass atrocity and human security crisis scenarios. Accompanying this mainstreaming is a set of generalized and, to date, largely unvalidated claims that ICT changes the nature and effectiveness of mass atrocity response.

The specific applications of new technologies and platforms are diverse and constantly evolving, but can be generally divided into two broad categories of prevention/response and justice/accountability: 1) Uses that seek to create unique situational awareness for population protective purposes and informing response activities, and 2) use cases aimed at detecting and/or documenting evidence of alleged crimes for judicial and/or advocacy purposes.  Additionally, the adoption of these technologies appears to be spurred, in large part, by two major factors: 1) Their comparatively low cost in comparison to other, analog interventions and 2) their ability to be remotely deployed in highly lethal, non-permissive environments that preclude traditional, ground-based approaches.

Thus, ICTs are now effectively treated as indispensable “force multipliers” that may either supplement or, in some cases, supplant mass atrocity responses that rely on humans physically making contact with other humans in the places where mass atrocity events are occurring.

We argue that the adoption of an ever more technology-reliant and increasingly “remote” posture has encoded within it an implicit aspiration to literally predict, prevent and deter these crimes as a direct causal result of deploying these modalities. We propose that this increasingly publicly expressed vision that technology itself can fundamentally alter the calculus of whether and how mass atrocities occur demonstrates that civil society actors have done more than simply adopt tools and techniques: They have adopted a theory of change –which we here label PPE—based on technological utopianism as well, a theory that posits technological change is inevitable, problem-free and progressive.

The core of this theory consist in the encoding of assumptions and aspirations into ICTs having an inherently “ambient protective effect” (APE) – i.e. casually transforming the threat matrix of a particular atrocity producing environment in a way that improves the human security status of targeted populations. The APE is based on the assumption that increased volumes of unique otherwise unobtainable data over large scale geographic areas and/or non-permissive environments may cause one, some, or all of the following four outcomes to occur:

  1. Deterrent APE: Perpetrators are less likely to act because of threat of have action documented.
  2. Public Outcry APE: Citizens in nations that have capability to interdict become more activated to push for interventions/protective actions because of immediacy/undeniability/uniqueness of ICT derived/transmitted evidence.
  3. Actionable intelligence APE: Governments are given new intelligence that they otherwise not have due to focus of NGOs on poorly monitored/lower politically valued locations that causes them to act.
  4. Early warning APE: Targeted communities have early warning that enables them to make better, quicker, more informed decisions that are potentially lifesaving.

More research is needed into each of these four points and how they relate to the more general problem with the PPE, which is that it impacts the awareness and acknowledgment of the possible direct and indirect negative effects of ICT. A growing body of scholarship indicates that the attempt to project a PPE through technology may be, in some cases, both exposing affected civilian populations to new, rapidly evolving risks to their human security and negatively mutating the behavior of alleged mass atrocity perpetrators. Technology can have unpredictable or unpredicted knock-on effects: For example, crowd-sourced data is neutral in the sense that it can also be used to foment violence, for example by creating a riot, instead of preventing it.

The human security community broadly speaking—particularly mass atrocity responders, such as humanitarians, human rights advocates and peace builders—must come to terms with the fact that there is a difference between knowing about alleged atrocities and doing something about them; monitoring a mass atrocity crime is different and distinct from preventing it or protecting against its effects. There is a need for members of this broad and diverse community to begin to take seriously the fact that ICT use can cause real harm to civilians.

Kristin Bergtora Sandvik  (S.J.D Harvard Law School 2008) is a Research Professor in Humanitarian Studies, PRIO and a Professor of Sociology of Law, Department of Criminology and Sociology of Law, University of Oslo

Nathaniel A. Raymond is director of the Signal Program on Human Security and Technology at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative (HHI)

ICC Appeals Chamber issues “unprecedented” decision on war crimes of rape and sexual slavery

The ICC Appeals Chamber, in a unanimous decision it described as “unprecedented”, has confirmed that the rape and sexual slavery of children by members the same armed group can be charged as war crimes under the Rome Statute.

The decision came in the case against Bosco Ntaganda, alleged former deputy chief of the staff of the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo (FPLC).

The FPLC, one of the armed groups involved in the 2002-2003 conflict in Ituri, Democratic Republic of Congo, was also the focus of the ICC’s first trial, against convicted war criminal Thomas Lubanga Dyilo.

In that case, the (then) ICC Prosecutor was widely criticised for not bringing charges for the reported sexual abuse of children who had been unlawfully recruited by the FPLC – children that the ICC Office of the Prosecutor, and the ICC judges, refer to as “child soldiers”.

The prosecution later brought evidence of this sexual abuse in Lubanga’s trial. But because the prosecution had not referred to this evidence when it applied for confirmation of the charges, the majority of the Trial Chamber refused to determine Lubanga’s criminal responsibility for these crimes.

The Ntaganda case presented a chance to get a different result. Continue reading

Write on! Please submit a proposal to the ASIL Research Forum Oct 26-28, 2017

Seventh Annual ASIL Research Forum will be held October 26-28, 2017, St. Louis, Missouri

The American Society of International Law calls for submissions of scholarly paper proposals for the ASIL Research Forum to be held during the ASIL Midyear Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri at Washington University School of Law.

 The Research Forum, a Society initiative introduced in 2011, aims to provide a setting for the presentation and focused discussion of works-in-progress. All ASIL members are invited to attend the Forum, whether presenting a paper or not. 

Papers may be on any topic related to international and transnational law and should be unpublished (for purposes of the call, publication to an electronic database such as SSRN is not considered publication). Interdisciplinary projects, empirical studies, and jointly authored papers are very welcome.

 Proposals should be submitted online at www.asil.org/researchforum by June 26, 2017. Interested paper-givers should submit an abstract (no more than 500 words in length) summarizing the scholarly paper to be presented at the Forum. Abstracts will be considered via a blind review process. Papers that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered. Notifications of acceptance will go out by the end of July.

 Papers accepted for presentation will be assembled into panels. The organizers welcome volunteers to serve as discussants who will comment on the papers. All authors of accepted papers will be required to submit a draft paper four weeks before the Research Forum (September 29, 2017). Accepted authors must commit to being present on both Friday, October 27 and Saturday, October 28, 2017. Draft papers will be posted in advance of the Forum on an asil.org website accessible only by attendees of the Forum.

Time to change the picture: UN must urgently address lack of women in human rights bodies


Photo: Evan Vucci/VP

President Trump provoked outrage and ridicule in January when he signed the anti-abortion “global gag rule” surrounded by a group of stern-looking white men. “As long as you live you’ll never see a photograph of 7 women signing legislation about what men can do with their reproductive organs”, Guardian editor Martin Belam commented on Twitter. Sentiment that was echoed far and wide across the media and internet. Yet, men making decisions that affect women in an overwhelmingly male setting is still very much the rule across the board, including at international organisations, courts, and tribunals.

“men making decisions that affect women in an overwhelmingly male setting is still very much the rule across the board, including at international organisations, courts, and tribunals”

Despite making up nearly half of the world’s population, women are sorely underrepresented in the international institutions that determine international human rights standards and are key forums for international relations and global cooperation. This includes the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, a group of individual human rights experts or groups of experts, who examine and report on human rights. These special procedures oversee the respect of human rights standards by States worldwide, addressing issues such as torture, freedom of expression and discrimination. Historically, only 33.4% of these positions have been held by women. This in spite of the percentage including positions such as the Working Group on the on the issue of discrimination against women, that are usually expected to be held by women only. Currently, 19 out of the 56 Special Procedures have never been led by women, including some, like the mandates on torture and on freedom of expression, that have existed for decades.

While the Human Rights Council has recognised that gender balance is a necessary consideration for the appointment of experts to these positions, no formal procedure has been implemented to guarantee it. As a result, women are less likely to become candidates, less likely to be considered as top choices, and less likely to be elected. This affects the right of women to participate and be represented equally in spaces of authority and decision making; it diminishes the legitimacy and impact of the Human Rights Council and these monitoring bodies; and it reinforces stereotypes about the kind of roles women are interested in or able to aspire to.

In this light, the nominations for appointments during the upcoming Human Rights Council session, starting on 6 June – which includes important positions such as the rapporteurship on the human rights of migrants, and the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism – are of great concern. Out of 21 shortlisted candidates, only 8 are women and none have been ranked as the top pick.

“while a shortlist of candidates from one single region would likely cause great controversy, the near-absence of women in the upcoming Human Rights Council nominations is at risk of going quietly unnoticed”

With this practice, the Human Rights Council – the main human rights body of the UN, which has the equal rights of men and women enshrined in its Charter and treaties – is acting against its own principles. The same UN rule that addresses gender balance prescribes that due consideration is given to equitable geographical representation in the special procedures, and this principle is generally respected. Yet, while a shortlist of candidates from one single region would likely cause great controversy, the near-absence of women in the upcoming Human Rights Council nominations is at risk of going quietly unnoticed. This is the equivalent of no one having noticed that a male US President was signing away women’s reproductive rights surrounded by only men. This needs to change: not only is gender parity an equally important issue as balance in regional representation between the UN member states, it is one that the Human Rights Council is long overdue correcting.

Several organizations and initiatives, including the GQUAL campaign, are currently working to fix these imbalances. They have asked that the Consultative Group of the Human Rights Council adopt gender parity guidelines to guarantee that equal numbers of women and men are shortlisted for these positions. However, these Guidelines, which are yet to be adopted, would still not offer a sustainable and binding solution. What the Human Rights Council should do to achieve this is adopt a Resolution that sets clear markers for achieving better gender balance in its appointments, instructs the Consultative Group and the President of the Council to take gender parity into account when selecting candidates, and calls on Member States to develop practices and procedures that promote gender parity. The  Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should support this. It can take further action to advertise open positions, especially targeting women candidates. The OHCHR should also make use of the powers it already has to postpone elections and extend deadlines if the pool of candidates does not contain a sufficient number of women. It needs to set baselines for representative numbers and enforce them.

“Women are disproportionately affected by human rights issues, ranging from refugee rights to climate change. They must have a voice at all levels of discussion that will lead to decisions that impact them directly.”

Failing to do so, will put the UN Human Rights Council’s overall decision-making legitimacy and capacity at risk. It also places the Council fundamentally out of touch with the current times. Women are disproportionately affected by human rights issues, ranging from refugee rights to climate change. They must have a voice at all levels of discussion that will lead to decisions that impact them directly. If we are serious about changing the picture of men making crucial decisions that affect women, we need to ensure women get an equal number of seats at the table.

This post was co-authored by Nani Jansen Reventlow and Maria Noel Leoni. Nani is an Associate Tenant at Doughty Street Chambers and a 2016-2017 Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. She is also a strategic advisor for the GQUAL Campaign, an international platform which seeks to promote parity in international tribunals and monitoring bodies. Maria is a Senior Lawyer for the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and GQUAL Campaign Coordinator.

Why Wonder Woman matters

WW courage

What, you may wonder, is a blog about a super hero film doing on IntLawGrrls? Well beyond my own personal excitement about the newly released Wonder Woman film, I think there’s an important symbolism that anyone committed to the Women, Peace and Security agenda of UN SC Resolution 1325 will appreciate. And a narrative that anyone committed to raising the profile of women’s voices in international law and international security will value. The film did a superb job of presenting the 75 year old comic book character the way she was intended by her creator William Moulton Marston, as a champion for peace, truth and equality at a time of conflict. He invented her during the Second World War, based on his belief that we need heroes in times of instability and conflict, and the retelling in the DC movie released just this weekend not only stays true to her origins, but reminds us that we all have capacity for war and for love within us.

In the height of the Second World War, Marvel Comics had just created a new character to raise the spirit of a fighting nation, Captain Marvel. He was dressed in the American flag and was a super soldier, and his comics were an immediate hit. Desperate to compete, DC Comics approached Marston, a psychologist who had been writing about why we need heroes in times of war;

Wonder Woman Sensation Comics Issue no. 1

as symbols to galvanise our beliefs. They asked him to create a character that would sell as well as Captain America, and he answered that what they needed was a female superhero. Marston was a staunch feminist, and believed that if women were in positions of leadership there would be more diplomacy and less war. Though many of us today would question this essentialism, there is no doubt that having more women at the decision-making table makes a difference to pre- and post-conflict negotiations, and that women are disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Marston wove the story of Wonder Woman around his classical education, drawing from Greek mythology stories of the Amazon warriors, who in his origin story were entrusted by the gods to protect Pandora’s Box and keep peace in the world. When “the world of men” finds itself caught up in a world war, Wonder Woman is sent as their champion to teach men the ways of peace and justice. She is incredibly strong, but she fights only to defend, never to attack, and she carries the Lasso of Truth, which forces anyone she ensnares to tell the truth. Marston is credited with also having invented the lie detector, so Wonder Woman was a multi-layered creation of his commitments. He even created an alter-ego for her as a military intelligence officer, granting her a status higher than the inevitable title of “secretary”.

In the film, director Patty Jenkins (who may just have broken the Hollywood glass ceiling for female directors with the sweeping box office success of Wonder Woman’s opening weekend) presents the origin story true to Marston’s values, with one small difference that it is set during the First World War, the War to End All Wars. This allowed for interesting commentary about women being completely politically disempowered at the time, still fighting for the vote, and being hustled out of any room where political negotiations were taking place. Placed in a period of history when we knew women were politically disenfranchised, it’s easier to understand, but it’s a mirror of the way women are still absent and underrepresented at the most powerful tables in the world today. The impact of the mass weaponry of the First World War was also the perfectly devastating background for depicting  how civilians are targeted and affected by war. Women and children are highlighted as the innocent victims, and an entire village is decimated by a deadly gas. One is reminded painfully of Syria today. As she begins to understand how power relations play out, Wonder Woman becomes the voice of the civilians, and fights for what she believes in: the possibility of peace. She is the representation of women in leadership positions, and the importance of women’s participation in decision-making.

The complexity of her character is beautifully portrayed. She is shocked at the corruptibility of humans, at our capacity to destroy each other, but she learns that it is not a simple question good versus bad people. Instead she sees that we are all just as capable of warring (as we know from non-state armed groups, from civilian participation in conflict, and from horrific war crimes and crimes of torture perpetrated by highly trained members of the military) as we are of love. She comes to the conclusion that she cannot save the world, but she can continue to bring love, peace, justice and equality to everything she does. That is her mission as Wonder Woman.

Although I was a fan of the 1970s series with Lynda Carter, which was fun and campy, it was a hyper-sexualised representation, and a long way off the character Marston intended her to be. WW Lynda Carter

In the film she is played by Gal Gadot, an Israeli woman who has trained in the armed forces and understands the warrior mentality just as well as she understands the feminine mother energy of the character she plays. (Stunningly, Gadot was 5 months pregnant during final shooting of the film, and they used digital effects to edit out her rounded belly. I have to admit I was moved to even greater excitement to learn that Wonder Woman was carrying life while fighting the god of war!) WW Gal Gadot

The film also does a great job of referencing the classical education which informed her creation, and the feminist role she was created to play. Gadot’s Wonder Woman speaks hundreds of languages, ancient and modern, and when confronting the German General Ludendorff, she cites Thucydides – in such a way that reminds us of today’s competing powers.  She refuses to have men of high rank tell her what to do, even her love interest Steve Trevor, and when she questions the assumptions about obedience in marriage, she cites Sappho, reversing the wartime assumption that women’s bodies are for men’s pleasure: rather, men are necessary for reproduction, but when it comes to pleasure, unnecessary. (Let’s not debate the truth of that statement! The point was her challenge to the mainstream assumption.) Marston himself was polyamorous, living with two women, who stayed together as partners after his death. He believed marriage was a patriarchal institution which subordinated women and treated them as property. His comic book character defied men’s superiority but still sought partnership between the sexes, which is a subtlety maintained in her film portrayal.

Wonder Woman is unafraid to use force when that is necessary, but she believes in the possibility of all of us being released from “the grip of Ares, god of war“. In the comics she used to go to great efforts to turn Nazi characters – particularly, but not only, the women – back towards good, and would release them rather than kill them if she saw a possibility of remorse. Marston reminded us that women also play the role of perpetrator in many conflicts, and one of his female villains, Dr Poison, has a key role in the film, inventing the chemical weapons used against civilians. Yet even when Wonder Woman has the chance to kill her, she sees the humanity of Isabel Moru behind the mask of Dr Poison, and decides to let her go, rather than be corrupted herself by the desire to destroy. At the same time, Wonder Woman is not naive: there are times when force is called for, as long as it is proportionate and there is a distinction between lawful and unlawful targets.

Which is why Marston was so committed to us understanding the importance of super heroes. It’s not that we should look to these non-existent fantasy figures who have indestructible (and highly sexualised) bodies as models, it’s that we need something to believe in when the world becomes politically unstable, unpredictable and violent. And given his commitment to women’s political participation, and his understanding of the complexity of human nature regardless of gender, anno 2017, Wonder Woman is a hero for our times.