Reflections on ‘The Gendered Imaginaries of Crisis in International Law’ Agora @ the 2016 ESIL Annual Conference, Riga, Latvia

With many thanks to Emily Jones, currently a PhD researcher at SOAS, University of London, who authored this reflection and, along with IntLawgrrls Gina Heathcote, Loveday Hodson, and Bérénice Schramm, as well as Troy Lavers, organized the Gendered Imaginaries of Crisis Agora on behalf of the Feminism and International Law Interest Group of the European Society of International Law.

esil-2016On Friday 9th September, the Feminism and International Law Interest Group of the European Society of International Law (ESIL) held an agora entitled ‘The Gendered Imaginaries of Crisis in International Law.’ The agora session was initially inspired by Hilary Charlesworth’s provocative statement that ‘international lawyers revel in a good crisis. A crisis provides a focus for the development of the discipline and it also allows international lawyers the sense that their work is of immediate, intense relevance.’ In this vein, the agora aimed to disrupt mainstream interpretations and perspectives on crisis as well as remind attendees of the various ways in which gender is implicated in the narratives of crisis. (Agora participants pictured above, from left to right, Bérénice Schramm (chair), Marion Blondel, Dianne Otto, and Jaya Ramji-Nogales; Zeynep Kivilcim is pictured in the Skype screen at the top.)

The agora was bilingual (in both French and English). This bilingualism not only helped to disrupt the increasing dominance of the English language at ESIL but also allowed for a wider array of feminist perspectives to be considered.

The panel began with an intervention by IntLawGrrl Bérénice K. Schramm, the Agora Chair. Bérénice began with a reminder of the many ways in which crisis is utilised globally, not only by international lawyers to revel in but also as a moment for change and resistance, thus disrupting mainstream international legal views of crisis. She also highlighted the many elements of crisis which go unseen, including the sounds and images of crisis, showing pictures of women in Rojava engaging in radical democratic work and drawing on the work of German art collective Maiden Monsters to highlight both the existence of counter images to crises and sounds of crisis and the corollary fact that neoliberalism, from a feminist perspective, is, itself, a crisis.

Bérénice, in her introduction, also read an important statement regarding Turkey. One of the panellists, Zeynep Kivilcim, sadly, was unable to attend the agora in person and was forced to intervene via Skype. This was due to the current political situation in her country and the crack down by the government on academics and academic freedom. As a signatory to the ‘Academics for Peace’ petition‘Academics for Peace’ petition, Zeynep risks being interrogated daily. Bérénice reminded the agora participants of the terrible ongoing situation in Turkey and the need to remember the ways in which crises affect academic work and freedom.

The first paper presented was by Dianne Otto and was entitled ‘Feminist Aspirations and Crisis Law: Navigating Uncomfortable Convergences and New Opportunities.’ Dianne noted the normalisation of crisis in international discourse and the ways in which this spreading atmosphere of crisis has allowed for the expansion of emergency laws and rule by experts and technocrats who often favour neoliberal ends. Her paper went on to highlight the ways in which ‘gender panics’ are also caught up in international discourses on crisis, noting, for example, how the trafficking movement and the panic over preventing sex trafficking has been used, not only to deny women agency and the right to make their own sexual and economic decisions, but also to ignore the wider, structural issues which surround trafficking, including poverty and exploitative labour conditions (noting how the focus on trafficking also works to ignore other migrants). Continue reading