1. The Indian Council of World Affairs in collaboration with the South Asian University, New Delhi, organised a two day Webinar on ‘Women and Power: Gender within International Relations and Diplomacy’. The Conference had a total of 22 speakers from India and abroad. The speakers constituted a multi-disciplinary group of academics, policy makers, diplomats, and experts.
2. Major themes discussed over five sessions and one panel discussion of the Webinar included:
3. The Webinar began with introductory remarks by Director General, ICWA, Dr. TCA Raghavan. He highlighted that the idea of gender and diplomacy within IR needs to be given serious thought as part of ICWA’s mandate. This has come about as an inevitable result of discussions taking place in India today about women and development, women and politics and the space available to women in India today. The objective of the webinar is to discuss how ideas of gender shape and are shaped by International relations and how does gender figure in diplomatic agenda with regard to Indian foreign policy. The idea of gender equality lies at the heart of feminist foreign policies, captured by increased representation of women in leadership positions and by a foreign policy that is gender sensitive and contributes to alleviating gender equality. A gender sensitive utilization of developmental partnership or aid budgets is only one example of a feminist foreign policy in operation. His remarks were followed by introductory remarks by Prof. Sanjay Chaturvedi, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of International Relations South Asian University. Talking about the continuities in the long history of global transformation, he said that gender remains one such continuity within the broadly patriarchal societies, structures and economy. The themes and subthemes of the conference are of great importance to Department of International Relations, SAU both in terms of teaching and research and serve very well the overall mission of the University that is knowledge without borders.
4. In the opening statement, Amb. Lakshmi Puri, Former Assistant Secretary General, UN and Deputy Executive Director, UN Women, the United Nations @75’s major achievement is as the fountainhead of gender equality norms and gender debates in international relations. It can be credited with taking the “personal is political” feminist dictum to its logical conclusion. It has been most influential in the incorporation of global norms on Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) and women’s human rights in national policies but also in diplomacy and foreign policy of member states. Since its creation in 2010, UNWomen has become the fulcrum of the new international feminist order. It has sought to advance the creation of UNWomen centred gender equality global governance and institutional architecture - a locus of Shakti. It is more integrated, strengthened, multi-sectoral and equipped to promote GEWE in a focused and comprehensive way than any other in history. It is an axis for empowerment of and dialogue among women affairs’ ministries and a catalyst for engendering all key institutions everywhere- public and private including foreign ministries. She outlined a 6-gunas of excellence – Shakti, Bala, Veeryam, Aishwarya, Sarvagyaana, Tejas – approach to advancing gender equality agenda in the Indian foreign Policy and in the conduct of IR in and with the UN.
5. The first session of the Webinar was titled “Gender Debates, IR and Diplomacy” and was chaired by Amb. Lakshmi Puri. The session included three speakers - Dr. Nabila Sadiq, Assistant Professor, Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi; Dr. Seema Narain, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Deshbandhu College, University of Delhi; and Dr. Soumita Basu, Assistant Professor, Department of IR, South Asian University. The session discussed various feminist theories and their impact on the understanding of theories of international relations. It highlighted that feminists have been instrumental in bringing gender into International Relations. A proliferation of social, economic, developmental and identity issues in the post-cold war lead feminist scholarship to raise the question, “where are the women?” It also looked at the aspect of feminist reading of UNSC as a multilateral body and the ratio of male and female representatives. Even when there has been high ratio of women as representatives, such as six women as permanent representatives in 2014, the question remains whether deliberations have happened differently as a result of critical mass of women in the Council.
6. The second session on ‘Gender and International Human Rights Discourses’ was chaired by Saumya Uma, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat. Two speakers in the session included Prof. Asha Hans, Former Professor, Political Science and Women's Studies, Utkal University, Bhubaneshwar; and Dr. Oishik Sircar, Associate Professor, Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat Associate Member, Institute for International Law and the Humanities, Melbourne Law School, Australia. The session discussed facets of gender and human rights discourse in India; why it is much more institution centric than people centric; and the challenges faced by the Women human rights discourse in India also the various challenges in implementation of the human rights standards at ground level.
7. The third session on ‘Gender, Development and International Relations’ was chaired by Ms. Subhalakshmi Nandi, Senior Program Officer, Gender Equality, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Speakers included Devyani Khobragade, Ambassador of India to Cambodia; Dr. Sona Mitra, Principal Economist, Initiative for What Works to Advance Women and Girls in the Economy (IWWAGE); Prof. Sabiha Hussain, Director, Sarojini Naidu Centre for Women’s Studies, Jamia Milia Islamia. Her paper was read by Dr. Deepika Saraswat, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs; and Prof. Vibhuti N. Patel, Professor (Retd), Advanced Centre for Women's Studies, School of Development Studies, TISS, Mumbai Campus. The session highlighted various aspects of gender and development which has a particular history of International Relations in the Beijing Declaration of 1995, where it was accepted to see Gender as a mainstream issue, may that be in aid, trade or in international security. The last 50 years of feminist activism has challenged the 5000 years of patriarchal order by striking at the root of exploitation and oppression, subjugation and degradation of women by deconstructing covert and overt forms of violence and discrimination against women in personal and public lives, questioned pillars of male domination within family, kinship networks, organised religion, media and state.
8. The fourth session on ‘Gender, Security and International Relations’ was chaired by Ms Aruna Bahuguna, Former Director, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy. The speakers included Dr. Swati Parashar, Director, Gothenburg Centre for Globalisation and Development, Associate Professor, Peace and Development, School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan, Founder and Managing Trustee, The Prajnya Trust, Chennai; Dr. Shweta Singh, Senior Assistant Professor, Department of IR, South Asian University; and Dr. Shalini Chawla, Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Air Power Studies, New Delhi. The discussion focussed on the UNSC Resolution 1325 which is the most researched and argued resolution. There is a lot of global enthusiasm about it. There have been a number of other attempts by the UN to address the gender issue in IR. The session discussed how Gender equality and Gender justice are different; and how the Global South needs to assert itself in the global WPS agenda.
9. The fifth session on ‘Gender, Culture and Soft Power’ was chaired by Prof. Rekha Pande, Former Head, Centre for Women’s Studies, Former Head, Department of History, University of Hyderabad. The speakers included Prof. Pushpesh Kumar, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad; Mr. Ajit Kulshreshtha, Additional Director General (Retd), Central Reserve Police; Former Inspector General, Rapid Action Force (RAF); and Aparna Rayaprol, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad. The session discussed how culture is a distinctive material, spiritual, intellectual, emotional feature that characterises a social group. It is also a product of how people interact. It can be oppressive but can also liberate. It can empower and also dis-empower. Education equips us to adapt, for culture can survive through resilience and due to its adaptive nature. The tradition of feminism - shakti - is intrinsic to Indian values and ideals.
10. The final session was ‘Panel Discussion on Traditional Roles and Glass Ceilings’. Itwas chaired by Nirupama Menon Rao, Former Foreign Secretary of India. The panelists included Dr. Gyanesh Kudaisya, Associate Professor, South Asian Studies Programme, National University of Singapore; Ms Nirupama Subramanian, Editor, Indian Express; Ms Ruhee Neog, Director, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, New Delhi; and Dr. Rajeswari Rajagopalan, Distinguished Fellow & Head of the Nuclear and Space Policy Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. The panelists reiterated the importance of women’s contribution in various fields like practice of international relations, media, diplomacy and research. It highlighted that at organisation level, privilege and access become more relevant which is quite exclusionary and elite. Due to which, there is high possibility of intellectual disenfranchisement for women.