In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Women and Conflict Studies

  • Introduction
  • Setting the Stage
  • Critical Feminism and Quantitative Methodology
  • United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda
  • Gender Equality and Conflict
  • Gender and Attitudes Toward Use of Military Force
  • Media Portrayals, Public Opinion, and Women as Combatants
  • Women (and Men) as Victims
  • Women as Agents of Conflict
  • How Conflict and Threat Affects Women’s Political, Social, and Economic Status
  • Women as Agents of Conflict Prevention, Resolution and Peacebuilding
  • Women and Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration

Political Science Women and Conflict Studies
Rebecca Best
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0315


Traditionally, women have been viewed as having little agency in wars and conflicts. Women were thought neither to cause the wars nor to fight them. When women were considered at all by scholars of war, they were conceived of primarily as victims. As women gained the franchise and ultimately began to be elected into political office in advanced democracies, some scholars began to consider the foreign policy implications of this—that is, do women’s attitudes toward war and defense policy differ from those of men and do these views produce different outcomes at the ballot box? Furthermore, do women behave differently with regard to security issues once in national office? Does their presence change the way their male colleagues vote on these issues? In recent decades, scholarship emerging first from critical feminist theory and later from positivist political scientists has begun to look more explicitly for women’s roles, experiences, and influences on and in conflict. This work has led to the recognition that, even when victimized in war, women have agency, and to the parallel conclusion that men’s agency is not as complete as scholars, practitioners, and the public have often assumed. This bibliography provides an overview of the development of women and conflict literature as well as several prominent themes and questions within the literature. It is of necessity incomplete and interested scholars are encouraged to review related articles in Oxford Bibliographies in International Relations, such as “Feminist Security Studies” by Kristen P. Williams, and “Women and Peacemaking/Peacekeeping” by Sabrina Karim and Kyle Beardsley.

Setting the Stage

Early work on the study of conflict, like some contemporary work, largely overlooked the effects of women and gender on conflict as well as the gendered effects of conflict. However, in the 1980s, the work of critical feminists—Elshtain 1987, Enloe 1989, and Tickner 1988—shed light on these topics and laid out questions that would motivate both critical work, focusing on acknowledging and critiquing existing power structures and the ways that these structures limit scientific inquiry by shaping perceptions of reality, and positivist work, concentrating on international relations in the coming decades. Early works like Elshtain 1987 challenge traditional views of peaceful women, calling to light women’s roles in supporting and enabling conflict along with views of men as aggressive, highlighting a greater variety of attitudes toward roles in war for both genders. In so doing, Elshtain notes how these gendered expectations color our perceptions of both women and men who engage in violence—or fail to do so. Tickner 1988 challenges realist conceptions of international politics as incomplete in their failure to include women. Tickner argues that this failure results in a flawed understanding of how humans should be expected to behave in the state of nature and a systematic devaluing of cooperation and cooperative norms. Enloe 1989 identifies women’s often overlooked contributions to international politics, diplomacy, and developing and developed economies, arguing that much of international political and economic life depends on the unacknowledged and unpaid labor of women. These and other critical feminist works call on researchers to find the women where they are often assumed to be absent and to question the ways in which gender is mobilized in the service of seemingly unrelated political movements. In the following decade, the critical feminist literature on conflict burgeoned rapidly, as seen in works such as Peterson 1992, Tickner 1992, Cooke and Woollacott 1993, and Lorentzen and Turpin 1998. During this period, positivist IR scholarly works, such as Mason 1992 and Goldstein 2001, began to take up the challenge of finding the women in conflict and evaluating the relationship between women and conflict empirically (see also Caprioli 2000 under Gender Equality and Conflict), and some quantitative monographs from other subfields, such as Conover and Sapiro 1993, also began to study these links.

  • Conover, Pamela Johnston, and Virginia Sapiro. “Gender, Feminist Consciousness, and War.” American Journal of Political Science 37.4 (1993): 1079–1099.

    DOI: 10.2307/2111544

    The authors draw on survey research to conclude that the gender gap in militarism in the United States is small, likely exists only with regard to concrete cases, and is likely attributable to gendered socialization. They find no support for mothering or feminism as the cause of the divide. Partisanship is a strong predictor of attitudes toward war only among men.

  • Cooke, Miriam, and Angela Woollacott, eds. Gendering War Talk. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

    The essays in this multidisciplinary edited volume evaluate how war reinforces gender norms and how gender norms shape perceptions and definitions of war as well as how we talk about war and who has authority to talk about war.

  • Elshtain, Jean Bethke. Women and War. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

    Challenges the dichotomy of women as “beautiful souls” and men as “just warriors” and evaluates how the myth of this dichotomy is self-reinforcing.

  • Enloe, Cynthia. Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989.

    Enloe’s exploration of women’s hidden presence in international politics suggests many possible avenues for research. She captures the ways in which earlier conclusions about international political phenomena, including diplomacy and colonialism, are flawed due to a failure to observe the effects of gender (and its interactions with race, class, and nationality) and women.

  • Goldstein, Joshua. War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    A thorough examination of why women have historically been less engaged in war fighting. Goldstein identifies twenty possible explanations across multiple fields from biology, sociology, and political science, ultimately concluding, “The gendering of war . . . results from the combination of culturally constructed gender roles with real but modest biological differences” (p. 6).

  • Lorentzen, Lois Ann, and Jennifer Turpin, eds. The Women & War Reader. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

    This edited volume contains a large selection of critical essays on gender and war. The essays move beyond a simple gender dichotomy and recognize the variety of gendered experiences, effects, and causes of war. Includes essays by Betty Reardon, Cynthia Enloe, and Sara Ruddick.

  • Mason, T. David. “Women’s Participation in Central American Revolutions: A Theoretical Perspective.” Comparative Political Studies 25.1 (1992): 63–89.

    DOI: 10.1177/0010414092025001003

    Mason develops the argument that women in Nicaragua and El Salvador negotiated their entrance into revolutionary groups after the state threatened violent repression in response to their grassroots movements for economic and political reform.

  • Peterson, V. Spike, ed. Gendered States: Feminist (Re)Visions of International Relations Theory. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1992.

    The essays in this edited volume evaluate the role of gender in constructing the international state system and ideas about power politics and war as well as how this gendering influences international relations (IR) theory. The authors uncover the ways that IR theory is gendered (e.g., privileging of elite male experience) and challenge the hegemony of masculinity in IR theory.

  • Tickner, Judith Ann. “Hans Morgenthau’s Principles of Political Realism: A Feminist Reformulation.” Millennium 17.3 (1988): 429–440.

    DOI: 10.1177/03058298880170030801

    Tickner argues that one reason for women’s failure to rise to the top in foreign policy circles is that the traditional ways in which men think about foreign policy are divorced from the experiences of women, who have had to rely on power through persuasion rather than physical force, and therefore conceive of power differently.

  • Tickner, Judith Ann. Gender in International Relations: Feminist Perspectives on Global Security. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.

    Critiques the focus on military security to the exclusion of other conceptualizations of national security as well as the reliance of realism, liberalism, and Marxism on masculine ideals.

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