Written by: María Melina Vinueza Vásquez
Edited by: WooHyun Han


Influential figures  like Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, and Golda Meir have inspired women to run for higher offices and participate in the public debate. Their presence reinforced the fight of the first women’s civil rights movement that introduced women to the public sphere as decision-makers in the 20th century. Beyond the political spectrum, the field of international relations was particularly impacted by this societal change. Diplomacy – institutional practice related to the field – was induced to welcome women given their successful networking capacities as “diplomatic wives” (Caprioli & Boyer, 2001).

Their claim to be recognized and equally paid for their services like their husbands (Caprioli & Boyer, 2001) paved the way for the next generation of women leaders to take on the international arena. Unfortunately, societal constructions on gender still burdened women access to power positions within the 21st century. Taking into account the difficult situation the world is facing in security issues–due to the two ongoing armed conflicts in Eastern Europe and the Middle East– women’s status in politics is not likely to change. With war funding reducing women project investments, women participation in peace negotiations also seem to be given small relevance (Wright, 2023).

The present article unveils the main factors contributing to women’s participation in peace negotiation processes to expose the disjuncture between the rhetoric and reality practiced by mainstream world players.

Women Participation: Sexist Truths and Facts

The latest UN Women report on women’s leadership and political participation states that only 15 countries have women as the head of state. The overall share of women participating in parliaments or national assemblies is below 40%, and up to January 2023, women only represented 22.8% of the cabinet members heading ministries. In its great majority, women’s presence is less than 50% of the entire positions. Women are mostly placed  in low politics portfolios related to the private sphere of domesticity and care. They are also a minority in diplomatic-led positions like foreign policy, security, and defense, where they only represent 25% and 12% of the positions (UN Women, 2023).

Paradoxically, these numbers are in contrast to the international community’s gender dimension implemented in the foreign, security, and defense government offices. The UN’s 1325 Security Council Resolution (2000) presented the world’s first Women, Peace and Security Agenda (WPS) that encouraged nations to incentivise women’s role in preventing, resolving, and negotiating conflict processes. International organisations like the EU and NATO implemented WPS guidelines  to increase women’s participation in these areas; however, current statistics demonstrate that neither ensures women’s participation nowadays (Pajuste & Vassileva, 2022).

The EU’s and NATO’s statistics– presented by the European Institute of Gender Equality (EIGE)  in 2023– expose an under-representation of women despite the implementation and commitment towards the WPS agenda. According to EIGE (2023), Only seven of the 27 EU members have a woman as senior minister in security and defense areas. Similarly, two out of three of the EU’s most important security and defense bodies –the European Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Subcommittee on Security and Defense– are chaired by men (EIGE, 2023). As for NATO, only six of the 30 permanent representatives are women and, in total, they also only make up 17% of mid-ranking officers (EIGE, 2023).

Addressing Patriarchal Attitudes in International Relations: Realism

Despite the promotion of quotas for women by international governments and IOs, UN Women (2018) figures demonstrate that women working for the security and defense portfolios–and other policy areas–are mostly members of gender commissions and advisory boards. Instead of promoting women’s participation, these positions are considered to be a remedy to steep exclusion of women from negotiation and decision-making as their impact in formal proceedings is questionable (UN Women, 2018).

Up to 2018, only 38 out of 63 post-Cold War peace processes have clear evidence of women participation, more than half done informally– through civil society activism  (UN Women, 2018). The fact women continue to choose unofficial means to influence policy outcomes reveals that IR fundamental pillars are infected by stereotyped ideals.

Scholars criticizing this phenomenon during the 1980s–as mentioned by Bonyad & Zabardastalamdari (2023)–disclosed the creation of Feminist Geopolitics–an approach mixing geopolitics and feminism studying gender stereotypes in power relations–  incited the review of the postulates of traditional IR theories. According to the mentioned authors , realism was the most criticised of them all, given its sexist structures reproduced in its asymmetrical power relations (Bonyad & Zabardastalamdari, 2023).

Authors like Lascuarín and Villafuerte (2016), agree with Bonyad & Zabardastalamdari stating that the items studied by the realist agenda are constructed from problems that primarily matter  to men. Because realism’s main agent and purpose is the state and its survival, they  believe realism uses a masculine way to experience the world (Bonyad & Zabardastalamdari, 2023). Minarova–Banjac (2018) developed a more in-depth insight to  this argument by explaining that this is visible within the realist conception of the sovereign state, divided into public and private spheres– the public belonging to men and the private to women.

Since the realist international system operates in a state of Social Darwinism– a survival mode against enemies–realist international relations revolve around security and war, areas pertaining to the state’s public sphere and, of course, to men (Lascuarín & Villafuerte, 2016). Even though realism is not the only IR theory operating within the world system, it is argued that, given today’s troubled context, diplomacy’s relative power, influence, and funding decreases in order to reestablish the old-style realist public/private divide in policy making (Stephenson,2022).

Gendered Silences and Ukraine-Russia and Israel-Palestine conflicts

Hostile attitudes towards women’s participation confirm the world’s return to patriarchal ideas in IR. In 2018, UN Women underlined the international community’s insufficient allocation of resources for women’s participation and, on the contrary, disproportional investments in military matters. The institution also signaled decisions putting women at disadvantage compared to men. Unanticipated calls for diplomatic missions, for example, place women in the uncomfortable position of arranging personal and legal affairs quickly while risking being unprepared and considered “insufficient” to perform such tasks (WOMEN, 2018).

These acts–intentionally positioning women in high-risk situations to be showcased inferior to men in policy and foreign services institutions–are also known as “Glass Cliff” attitudes (Stephenson, 2022).  This depicted scenario  is visible throughout Israel and Palestine’s 75 year-old conflict, where there have only been four women formally involved at the forefront of peace negotiations (Aharoni, 2020). Israeli representatives like Golda Meir and Tzipi Livni, Palestinian Hanan Ashwari, and American Condoleza Rice, are the only female references within this time frame (Aharoni, 2020). In fact in 2007, Rice and Livni hosted the Annapolis Peace Summit – the last serious negotiations between Israel and Palestine – considered a failure by global public opinion, not only because no durable institutional reform was obtained but because they were “too feminine to be taken seriously” (Aharoni, 2020).

This scene remains the same in Israel for instance, where even if the number of women participating at the Parliament have constantly increased, they are still relegated to low-ranking positions and barred from peace negotiation processes in the Palestinian cause (Aharoni, 2020). Despite having formally committed to the establishment of a National Action Plan (NAP)–as required by the UN’S WPS Agenda– Israel’s government shows no signs of interests to implement it, while keeping promising the international community to do so in years up to 2024 (Aharoni, 2020).

Women in Palestine, by their part, are even more constrained than their Israelí peers given its country’s fidelity to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO)–completely based on male power, granting men influential political positions important to the country’s self-determination cause (Hillstead, 2023). This patriarchal political structure not only prevents women from figuring as signatories in future ceasefire and peace agreements but also restrains the country’s civil society from receiving foreign funds and influencing the conflict resolution process (Hillstead, 2023).

Parallel to the other two cases, Ukrainian women participation  has been delayed by the government due to the ambiguous inclusion of the WPS standards to the agenda (Pajuste & Vassileva, 2022). Beyond the great  funding shortages women civil society groups have suffered throughout the Russian invasion,  the NAPs  have focused more on the protection of gender-based and domestic violence and the inclusion of Ukrainian women in the military, rather than on the promotion of women in peace and dialogue initiatives (Pajuste & Vassileva, 2022).

Given the observed background, it is safe to say that, until now, Women’s participation in peace negotiation processes– and foreign policy in general– is still unclear in 2024. Katharine A. M. Wright–professor of Geography, Policy and Sociology in Newcastle University–also recognizes the absence of women in the newest types of diplomatic practices related to cyberspace. Wright (2023) argue that, while Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Palestine, the EU and NATO are constantly active in social media “democratising” people’s accessibility to the events,  women are cut off from all public and digital diplomacy strategies.  According to Wright, these governments  barely make any references to women, and, if included,  they are only referred to as “victims of violence” and not as agents of change; subjectively weakening their role in conflict resolution and decision making (Wright, 2023).

For this reason, UN Women (2018) also encourages a reframing of women’s inclusion on the agenda, passing from “victims of conflict” to “drivers of peace and stability” if women participation is to be ensured.


There is an evident disjuncture between the rhetoric and the reality of women participation initiatives in both national and international spheres. National governments are laxed about implementing inclusion resources like the WPS agenda because, at the international level, institutions are as unwilling as them to fully guarantee women empowerment in order to perpetuate gender inequality.

The lack of their presence at negotiation tables and their over-representation in less powerful positions showcase the hypocrisy behind women empowerment initiatives that rely only on specific areas covering gender issues. With the advent of the two recently mentioned conflicts, women equality is prone to be delayed given policy and decision-makers stubbornness to give women the space in conflict resolution they deserve.

By delaying programs, funding and perpetuating women victimization, male supremacy is constantly reaffirming, making war entirely masculine and peace an unachievable reality.


Aharoni, S. (2020). No Entry: How Israeli Women were Barred from Peacemaking. Obtenido de Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture: https://pij.org/articles/2052/no-entry-how-israeli-women-were-barred-from-peacemaking

Bonyad, T. Z. (2023). Feminist Geopolitics as a dimension of Critical Geopolitics. International Journal of Social and Humanities Sciences, 7(1), 69-92.

Caprioli.M, B. M. (2001). Gender, Violence, and International Crisis. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 503-5108.

EIGE. (2023). Gender balance in the security sector. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Hillstead, E. (2023). On Occupying: Women’s Representation in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Portland: Portland State University.

Lascuarín, M. &. (2016). The International Relations Theory under a feminist approach. Revista de Relaciones Internacionales, Estrategia y Seguridad, 11(1), 45-61.

Minarova-Banjac, M. (2018). Gender Culture in Diplomacy: A Feminist Perspective. Culture Mandala, 13(1), 20-44.

Pajuste, T. & Vassileva, J. (2022). Inclusion of Women in the Ukrainian Peace Process – Can International Law Play a Bigger Role in Ensuring Inclusion? XLII Polish Yearbook of International Law, n.d(n.d), 83-107.

Stephenson, E. (2022). The Diplomatic Glass Cliff: Women’s Representation and Diplomacy’s Decline. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 17(n.d), 553-587.

UN Women (2018). Women’s meaningful participation in peace processes. Geneva: UNWomen. https://www.unwomen.org/sites/default/files/Headquarters/Attachments/Sections/Library/Publications/2021/Proceedings-Womens-meaningful-participation-in-peace-processes-en.pdf.

UN Women (2023). Facts and figures: Women’s leadership and political participation. https://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures.

Wright, K. (2023). Gendered silences in Western responses to the Russia-Ukraine war. Place Branding and Public Diplomacy, 19 (n.d), 237-240.

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