IHL and WPS: constructing victims or creating agents?

By means of UNSCR 1325 introducing the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the UN acknowledged the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women. While this agenda has been celebrated as a feminist victory, contributing to the mainstreaming of gender in peace and security processes and discourses, it has been accused of rhetorical declarations, undermined by charges of essentialism, either naive or purposeful. The aim of this paper is to look at the essentialization of the category women, seen as “victims to protect” rather than “agents of change”, arguing that this conceptualization originates directly from the construction of the category women in international humanitarian law, and international law more broadly. Recognizing the necessity to move away from an anachronistic concept of women’s honour to a more empowering understanding of women’s rights, this paper critically analyses the international humanitarian law architecture in its relationship to the WPS Agenda.