Is the use of military force to protect human rights ever justified? A marxist feminist response

My dad (who is chair of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a christian pacifist group) has been asked to speak on the above issue in a debate at the Oxford Union (joining such previous high fliers as the Dalai Lama, Malcolm X, and Kermit the Frog). Out of interest, I’m looking into the impact of military intervention on women’s rights – so often used as a justification for invasions in recent UK military history.

I think whilst the question implies a hypothetical scenario where no other alternative is possible, the reality is as follows:

  • Intervention to protect human rights is used as a fig-leaf to mask other interests. The hypothetical scenario implies human rights and human rights alone are the reason for the use of force, but usually they are wrapped up in other more complex international political issues and interests.
  • The research does not suggest that military intervention actually improves women’s rights: a thorough literary review by Peksen (2011) concludes: “military interventions in general have no major statistically significant impact on women’s social rights”.
  • As groups such as Women for Women International highlight, women’s vulnerablity to abuse increases during times of war, which can see rape and other forms of abuse routinely used as a military strategy. Foreign military imposition, whilst having the stated intention of stopping this kind of abuse, can actually increase it, either by funding of ethically questionable militia, or by breeding a climate of internal conflict and hostility by removing an existing power by force. 

I think the main issue missed by the use of international military intervention is that human rights in realtion to equality need to be understood and supported in a holistic, long term context. They are only sustainable in the long term through support of the ideology of equality within a culture. There are plenty of underfunded organisations with expertise in growing women’s autonomy on a local level (for example, Gender Across Borders), through giving funding, training and resources to local initiatives. If the money which went into international military interventions (which in themselves reinforce an ideology of hierarchy rather than equality because of the way international organisations such as the UN security council are dominated by the interests of powerful nations) was diverted into these organisations they could have a huge impact in changing the way people THINK about human rights issues, rather than controlling what they DO, which is only ever a temporary change. However, they won’t, because global emancipation, including global female emancipation, is not in the interests of international capitalism.


Gender Across Borders

Foreign Military Intervention and Women’s Rights (abstract)

No Women, No Peace

Pray the devil back to hell: a film about Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace

Women for Women International


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s