Trends and Limits Regarding Research on Gender and International Relations


Research on gender and international relations has become more positivist since 2000.[1] That is, scholars in the field have become more likely to test hypotheses using rigorous procedures and empirical data rather than using their research to explore gendered international relations phenomena from a less standardized, more partial point of view. Still, the growing prevalence of positivism in gender-related IR research has received criticism. For example, J. Ann Tickner (2005) argues that while feminist IR scholars have not limited their work to a singular positivist or non-positivist research method; rather, they are united by a fundamental goal—questioning “androcentric or masculine biases in the way that knowledge has traditionally been constructed in all disciplines.”[2] While she does not outright reject all quantitative or positivist approaches to gender and IR, she posits that attempting to make generalizations using large data sets and conventional social science methods risks overlooking hidden gendered hierarchies and “the everyday lived experiences of women.”[3] Likewise, despite his support for positivist approaches to gender and IR, Reiter (2015) adds that nonpositivist research allows for the development of new theories and questions that can be tested and explored by positivist scholars.

This debate within the field merits scholarship. Politicians, the international community, and popular media outlets often oversimplify and essentialize women’s experiences, especially

those related to war and conflict. [4] Consequently, addressing this tension within the field and developing appropriate methodologies for studying topics such as female terrorists, the unique impact of intra- and interstate violence on women and girls, the diffusion of international norms such as gender mainstreaming, and the use of sexual and gender-based violence as weapons of war are all the more important. As such, this blog post will consider emerging trends and obstacles in recent research on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), Women, Peace and Security (2000), as well as the gendered consequences of post-conflict reconstruction and peacekeeping.

The Lack of Data on Gender, Post-Conflict Resolution, and Peacekeeping

One common complaint of those who focus on gender and peacekeeping is the lack of data related to their field. This data has both academic and practical uses: Not only does it allow researchers to test hypotheses and make generalizations using positivist methods, but it also improves peacekeeping strategies. By increasing the ratio of female to male peacekeepers in certain conflict-affected areas, peace may become more viable: Women are often seen as less threatening and are able to communicate with and search women for weapons in regions where conservative gender norms dominate.[5]

The general absence of data concerning the gender balance of peace talks and peacekeeping operations could arise from two causes. The first could simply be that UNSCR 1325 was not signed until 2000, and the pro-positivism wave in gender and IR theory did not arise until around the same time. As a result, international organizations and scholars have been collecting data on the topic for a relatively short period of time.

A second—and perhaps more likely—explanation for the absence of data on the subject is the masculine-oriented norms that drive post-conflict peace negotiations and the international community’s response to conflict. For instance, in her qualitative study of 10 Secretary-General Reports on peacekeeping operations in various war-torn countries, Puechguirbal (2010) finds that the UN provides little gender-disaggregated data on peacekeeping operations.[6] While some reports offered gender breakdowns of the ex-combatant population and new recruits to national police forces, these useful statistics were not provided for other categories of data, such as the number of internally displaced persons (IDP) and those receiving humanitarian assistance.[7]

Thus, Puechguirbal contests, the “strong masculine norm of reference” that has historically dominated peacekeeping operations continues to drive the absence of gender-disaggregated data.[8] Between 2000 and the publication of her article in 2010, the UN has adopted numerous resolutions addressing the importance of understanding the relationship between gender and conflict, two of which specifically call for increased data collection. The first, UNSCR 1325, “[notes] the need to consolidate data on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls (emphasis in original).”[9] The second, UNSCR 1889 (2009) “[requests] the Secretary-General to ensure that relevant United Nations bodies, in cooperation with Member States and civil society, collect data on, analyze and systematically assess particular needs of women and girls in post-conflict situations” and “[requests] the Secretary-General… to deliver… data on women’s participation in United Nations missions.”[10] Yet, Puechguirbal argues, decision-makers continue to deliberately disobey these calls for the collection of gender-disaggregated data in order to preserve the status quo. In other words, by refusing to evaluate the distinct effects of conflict or traditional structures and institutions on women, policymakers are able to avoid accountability for how their policies negatively impact their countries’ female populations.

Two other pertinent resolutions, Resolutions 1820 (2008) and 1888 (2009), were passed between 2000 and 2010. While they do not explicitly request any sort of data collection, they urge UN member states to recognize and address the use of sexual violence during wartime and its destabilizing effects on international peace and security. In fact, UNSCR 1820 calls for protection of women and girls from sexual violence “in and around UN managed refugee and internally displaced persons camps.”[11] However, as Puechguirbal demonstrates, UN peacekeeping reports often do not report the gender breakdown of IDPs, likely making it difficult for peacekeepers and aid workers to create and implement strategies to fulfill this goal. Together, these resolutions indicate that the international community has recognized the importance of empirical data collection in mainstreaming gender into peacekeeping. However, provisions for data collection are not followed by peacekeeping forces nor consistently included in all relevant resolutions.

The Need for Mixed Methods Approaches

Tickner (2005) argues that IR feminists prefer to study “individuals and the hierarchical social relations in which their lives are situated” in order to uncover details that would have been hidden by more traditional social science methodologies.[12] Research on gender and post-conflict resolution and peacekeeping often combines this innovative approach with other positivist and quantitative methods, applying a feminist point of view not only to the study of individuals but also to peace agreements and processes.[13]

One illustrative example of a mixed-methods approach is Ellerby’s (2013) study, “(En)gendered Security? The Complexities of Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes,” where she evaluates 48 peace processes from 1990 to 2010 on the extent to which they adhere to UNSCR 1325.[14] She finds that while the number of peace processes that include provisions related to women has increased since the early 1990s, only five displayed “high levels of (en)gendered security.”[15] After completing her broader content analysis of the entire dataset, she focuses on comparing two similar Sudanese peace processes–the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) and the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA). The first, she argues, has a low level of (en)gendered security because it lacked a “women’s agenda,” “political space” for women at negotiations, and a “gender-conscious process,” or the notion that negotiators viewed gender equality as a means to bolster their own goals.[16] In contrast, the DPA included far more provisions for women since female negotiators had observed the mistakes made during the CPA process. These women, supported by the African Union and UNIFEM, were able to both lobby male mediators and enter the negotiation processes themselves as mediators. Thus, by combining a content analysis with a comparative case study, Ellerby is able to highlight both general trends concerning the mainstreaming of gender into peacekeeping and post-conflict reconciliation as well as the causal mechanisms that explain why some peace processes are more gender-inclusive than others.

A comparable example of the utility of combining qualitative and quantitative methods appears in Anderson and Swiss’ (2014) article, “Peace Accords and the Adoption of Electoral Quotas for Women in the Developing World, 1990-2006.” While their methodology is largely quantitative, they include a discussion of two case studies—Burundi’s and Guatemala’s peace processes—to demonstrate how the mobilization of women’s groups during peace processes can leave lasting impacts on post-conflict governments. In the Burundian example, the authors note that although female negotiators at the formal peace talks called for a 30% gender electoral quota, only a 20% quota was included in the final peace agreement.[17] However, due to continued lobbying by women’s groups, 30% of ministerial positions and seats in the National Assembly were reserved for women in the 2004 interim constitution.

The Guatemalan example demonstrates a similar trend, as women participated in both formal and informal peace negotiations between 1990 and 1996 and pushed for gender equality provisions in the peace accords. Consequently, not only were “extensive provisions” included in the final peace agreements, but several parties later voluntarily adopted gender quotas as a result of activism by women’s groups.[18] As in Ellerby’s (2013) article, Anderson and Swiss’ inclusion of qualitative case studies allows for greater focus on women’s individual experiences within in patriarchal structures—in the Burundi case, women were initially barred from peace talks and had to protest for negotiating positions, and in the Guatemalan case, only two women were allowed into formal peace talks. At the same time, the qualitative aspects of the methodology bolster the quantitative portions of the article by illustrating the causal link between the level of activism by women’s groups and the likelihood that a post-conflict government will adopt a gender quota.


Qualitative research on gender, post-conflict resolution, and peacekeeping, both on its own and combined with quantitative analyses, is highly useful for understanding women’s experiences during post-conflict peace negotiations. Still, drawbacks to qualitative work exist. For instance, since qualitative methods are more difficult to replicate, it would be helpful for qualitative researchers in the feminist IR field to clearly explain their methodologies. Gumru and Fritz’s content analysis of eleven countries’ national action plans (NAPs) on gender exemplify this predicament. In their article, they identify 20 criteria for assessing and comparing NAPs adopted in response to UNSCR 1325, but do not specify how they created these criteria. Given that feminist IR theorists tend to use “methods not typical of IR,” it would be helpful for them to explain their approaches so that others in the general IR field could better understand them and perhaps even incorporate them into their own work.[19]

Ultimately, qualitative work provides starting points for positivist research and is useful in elucidating the relationship between independent and dependent variables. It also provides an alternative to data-driven, positivist work, which may be constrained by the general lack of data on the subject. Finally, it highlights women’s active roles as agents for peace, undermining gender-essentialist stereotypes of women as victims and mothers.



[1] Dan Reiter. “The Positivist Study of Gender and International Relations,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 7 (2015): 1301-1326. doi: 10.1177/0022002714560351

[2] J. Ann Tickner, “What is Your Research Program? Some Feminist Answers to IR’s Methodological Questions,” International Studies Quarterly 49 (2004), 3.

[3] Ibid., 18.

[4] Laura J. Shepherd, Gender, violence and security: Discourse as practice (London: Zed Books Ltd., 2008); In my blog entitled, “Women, Peace, Security, and a Research Question” (August, 3, 2016), I discussed a CNN report arguing that ISIS was enticing women to join its ranks with images of kittens, Nutella, and emojis on social media sites.

[5] Sahana Dharmapuri, “Just Add Women and Stir?” Parameters (Spring 2011): 56-70.

[6] She studies reports from UN missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Timor-Leste, Darfur, Sudan, Nepal, Chad, Côte D’Ivoire, and Kosovo.

[7] Nadine Puerchguirbal, “Discourses on Gender, Patriarchy and Resolution 1325: A Textual Analysis of UN Documents,” International Peacekeeping 17, no. 2 (2010), 173.

[8] Ibid., 174.

[9] UNSCR 1325, 2.

[10] UNSCR 1889, 3, 5.


[11] UNSCR 1820, 4.

[12] Tickner, “What is Your Research Program?” 7.

[13] Christine Bell and Catherine O’Rourke, “Peace Agreements or Pieces of Paper? The Impact of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Peace Processes and Their Agreements,” International and Comparative Law Quarterly no. 59(2010): 941-980; Kara Ellerby, “(En)gendered Security? The Complexities of Women’s Inclusion in Peace Processes,” International Interactions no. 39(2013): 435–460; Lori Perkovich, “Empowering Women or Hollow Words? Gender References in Peace Agreements,” Journal of Political Inquiry at New York University, Spring 2015:111-123; Miriam J. Anderson and Liam Swiss, “Peace Accords and the Adoption of Electoral Quotas for Women in the Developing World, 1990–2006,” Politics & Gender 10(2014): 33-61; R. Charli Carpenter, “‘Women, Children and Other Vulnerable Groups’”: Gender, Strategic Frames and the Protection of Civilians as a Transnational Issue,” International Studies Quarterly 49, no. 2(2005): 295-334.

[14] For an explanation of the criteria Ellerby (2013) uses to assess her dataset, see page 443 of her article.

[15] Ellerby, “(En)gendered Security?” 436.

[16] Ibid., 453

[17] Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement Agreement for Burundi 2000, Protocol II, Chapter II, Article 20.8

[18] Anderon and Swiss, “Peace Accords and the Adoption of Electoral Quotas,” 56.

[19] Tickner, “What is Your Research Program?” 7

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