"Women, Children and Other Vulnerable Groups": Gender, Strategic Frames and the Protection of Civilians as a Transnational Issue

  • Citation: Carpenter, Charli R. “‘Women, Children and Other Vulnerable Groups’: gender, strategic frames and the protection of civilians as a transnational issue." International Studies Quarterly 49.2 (2005)
    • Topics:
    • Human Rights
    • Keywords:
    • women’s rights
    • essentialism
    • gender roles
    • armed conflict
    • international cooperation
    • genocide
    • adults
    • refugees

This article offers an explanation for the use of gender essentialisms in transnational efforts to advocate for the protection of war-affected civilians. I question why human rights advocates would rely upon such essentialisms, since they arguably undermine the moral logic of the civilian immunity norm on which their normative claims are based. This can be understood, I argue, as part of a strategic framing process in which pre-existing cultural ideas, filtered through an environment characterized by various political constraints, impact the rhetorical strategies available to advocates. In-depth interviews with civilian protection advocates reveal that many believe that warring parties, the global media, transnational constituencies and partners in the international women’s network will all be more receptive to their message if it is couched in terms of protecting “women and children” specifically. Network actors believe that while this may undermine the protection of adult male civilians and while it may reproduce harmful gender stereotypes, these problems are outweighed by the gains in access to needy populations and the benefits of getting “civilians” on the international agenda. I conclude by considering the extent to which this cost/benefit analysis is being contested and reconsidered by some actors within the civilian protection network.

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