“In regards to Syria, Obama’s a p***y.”

This was a comment I heard at the culmination of a discussion regarding Putin’s interests in Syria and why he is getting involved in a bombing campaign.  If this had been said in the presence of friends or classmates, it might have been regarded as a witty, albeit coarse, reference to Obama’s failure to take stronger military action in Syria.  However, this was not said over a beer with friends.  This was said in a professional academic environment, in a classroom, by a highly respected professor.

What compounded the jarring impact of the use of the word ‘p***y’ was that I was the only female in the class.

The incident made clear an issue that needs to be addressed.  Gender mainstreaming and gender sensitive training must be integrated into graduate level education of international affairs.

Coming from a highly respected professor in the study of international relations, many would dismiss the comment as “a slip up”.  But is it really just a trivial faux pas that should be shrugged off?  I believe it is an indicator of a larger problem that needs to be addressed through a more thorough integration of gender awareness in the academic sphere of international relations – both as a subject of study and as an aspect of the pedagogic environment.

In the past 15 years, attention to the promotion of gender equality has intensified at the United Nations, which has been pursuing this since its founding, but with uneven emphasis.  As arguably the most prominent agent for change in global affairs, the United Nations’ progress should be transferring to the policy makers and researchers.

In October 2000, two landmark resolutions were signed in the United Nations.  The first was the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) that set forth the path for the next 15 years on where states needed to focus their development efforts.  The MDGs included Goal Three that was to “promote gender equality and empower women”.  The second resolution that was the first of its kind was UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security in which it “urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts.”

Gender mainstreaming and gender sensitive training must be integrated into graduate level education of international affairs

More recently, in September 2015, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals outlined the continuing path in development until 2030.  The SDGs include gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls as Goal Five as well as adding gender sensitive targets in other goals.

There may be numerous ways to incorporate gender to any teaching on global affairs but I will focus on one method that can be assimilated most effectively.  International relations courses should include a class dedicated to how women and gender are affected and/or play a role in global developments.

For example, an Energy and the Environment class can talk about how women are more likely to be affected by environmental disasters in certain regions due to traditional clothing and social norms related to learning how to cope with emergencies.  In a Security class, the professor can point out how women are more negatively affected in conflict and post-conflict zones and how the gendered view of women as ‘peaceful and passive’ has caused security leaders to overlook women as agents of violence and terrorist attacks.  A course on Peacebuilding can focus on the fact that having women actively involved in peace talks decreases the rate of falling back into conflict.  A Development course can analyze the many studies that show that women’s economic development and empowerment helps lift families out of poverty, often more sustainably than when men are given economic advantages.  A course on International Economics can look at the effect of women’s labor migration patterns to compensate for the shrinking time for unpaid care work, work which men still will not do, by women in industrialized economies. Lastly, an International Law class can investigate gender-based human rights abuses and the failures of international justice abuses to address them adequately.

Gender sensitivity will be an asset for the next generation of policy makers and researchers in global affairs.  Efforts to combat violent extremism, for instance, will not get far if they make unfounded assumptions about gender roles.  Efforts to reduce poverty will miss valuable sources of innovation and leadership if they ignore women’s economic and community roles. Today, when thinking about “integrating gender sensitivity”, most think of integrating it into the professional world; WHO, USAID, UNHCR and other international organizations oblige staff to undergo some form of gender training.  But what about in education?  Surely advanced degrees ought to incorporate gender analysis to course content.  Beyond this, as the remark with which I started this article demonstrates, academics themselves could use some gender training.

Photo attributed to: Pfc. Luis Ramirez


Joanna Lockspeiser has been an  international educator for 6 years.  She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree from NYU in Global Affairs with a focus on Gender.


Written by Joanna Lockspeiser