The following blog post by Dr. Aoife O’Donoghue, Durham Law School, has been reprinted courtesy of IntLawGrrls blog (http://www.intlawgrrls.com/2012/10/the-female-academy-in-international-law.html). The blog forms part of the IntLawGrrls celebration of the 21st anniversary of Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chinkin and Shelley Wright’s ground-breaking “Feminist Approaches to International Law.” Blog contributions were invited from feminist international lawyers on the impact of the article on their work, or any theme related to the article and its continued relevance today.
Over two decades the legal academic behemoth’s resistance to feminist international legal analysis, so ably described by Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright in their seminal article has, to an extent, subsided. Arguments suggesting that since the article’s publication international legal academia evolved to become less antagonistic and prejudiced to feminist analysis, becoming a tolerant and welcoming domain, possess some traction. The active presence of this blog, the increasing number of core international generalist journals incorporating articles with and on feminist critique as well as the appointment of women to some high profile positions within the international legal order evidence the change over the past twenty years. In many ways the mobilising call of the AJIL piece not only brought the feminist critique of international law to an audience that desperately needed to pay it attention, academia, but also bolstered the ability of other academics to use feminist critique to ask questions regarding international law’s historical narrative. This success should be celebrated; nonetheless the necessity and extent of the revolution required, evidenced in the article, remains and nowhere is this more evident as within legal academia itself. In this post I wish to focus upon the role of female academics, including both those that utilise feminist critique and those who do not, within the international legal order and consider whether the articles’ championing of the role of both feminism and women within international law has brought about any changes in establishing different voices within the legal canon and what aspects of academia remain problematic.
Within the broad sphere of legal academia the importance of the female voice remains imperative, however, within international law its existence is even more critical. The presence of the female voice is particularly pertinent in international law since its claims towards universality, which have long been critiqued, coupled with the key role played by academics as potential subsidiary sources of international law makes more than bare representation a necessity. While there have been female international legal academics who have been pioneers in breaking up the hegemonic male academy, such as Prof. Suzanne Bastid of France, by and large, international law has been dominated by a succession of male superstars. Dating back to Grotius and Vitoria, carrying on through Oppenheim and Lauterpacht and continuing for much of the post-Charter era the most well-known publicists were always male, thus shoring-up the continued domination of international legal academia to a limited Euro-centric/American male jurist. Whenever the ‘the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law’ were considered, they were always male teachings. Little has changed, the same names re-occur continually, closing-off a genuine opportunity for active engagement by those within the ICJ and beyond to consider a broader spectrum of legal thought. The different voice discussed in Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright’s article, while increasingly visible as women become promoted through the ranks of legal academia remains smaller in proportion to their males colleagues, meaning those ‘highly qualified’ to be cited or indeed considered for key roles within the international legal order remain overwhelmingly male.
In the time since the publication of the article the quantity of women within international legal academia has increased, though perhaps not with the speed one might expect when the high number of female graduates from the world’s law schools are considered. Thus, simply from a numerical perspective, the possibilities of women participating at the highest levels of academia have increased nonetheless significant barriers remain. Given that it was not long since Judge Higgins in 1995 was the first female member of the ICJ and it was not until 2002 that the International Law Commission possessed any female members at all, with currently only two on the 32 person Commission being women and further considering both organisations feed off legal academia, the emphasis upon the academic community promoting and lifting barriers to women’s participation remains critical. Clearly, beyond emblematic significance, there remains a rather large representational gap, within those bodies which are fundamental to interpreting and developing international law which remains unresolved. The 1991 article not only highlighted the inadequacies and homogeneity of legal theory and doctrine, of the structure of international organisations and informal settings but in also taking the lead, strengthened the female voice in international legal academia. The article and its successors opened up a channel of diversity within legal academia and challenged the status quo and in doing so brought a new voice to the table. Nonetheless, the impetus must be maintained if the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists, including Charlesworth, Chinkin and Wright, are to be truly representational of the universality strived for within international law.
Aoife has been a lecturer at Durham Law School since 2007 specialising in public international law with a specific interest in international governance. Aoife’s current research focuses on international constitutionalisation and the legal structures which have developed within international law to regulate governance. With Máiréad Enright of Kent Law School, Aoife is a Co-Director of the Irish Feminist Judgments Project. The project builds on the Feminist Judgments Project, as well as co-convening the ‘Law and Conflict at Durham‘ (LCD) research cluster.