International Gender Equality Norms and their Fragmented Protection in Conflict

Catherine O'Rourke

Abstract


Normative and legal developments in the protection of gender equality in conflict have proliferated in recent decades across diverse regimes of public international law. Nevertheless, the ultimate impact of such international norms on domestic conflict-affected settings is unclear. This article sets out to elucidate how international gender equality norms, underpinned by proliferating soft and hard legal sources, and implemented by separate institutions with widely varying powers of monitoring and enforcement, bring traction to women’s and girls’ rights in conflict-affected settings. While much discussion of fragmentation focuses on conflict between norms – and how to resolve such conflict within the non-hierarchical structure of international law – this article examines gender equality norms as they are operationalized by the institutions of international law charged with their monitoring and enforcement. International Relations literature suggests that, while international institutions are formally empowered through the consent and consensus of participating states, they in fact operate with considerable autonomy, due to their ‘expertise’ and consequent pedagogic function as ‘teachers’ of norms to states. The article investigates this thesis through the case study of the prohibition of sexual violence against girl soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, focusing on institutional activities under international humanitarian law, international criminal law and the United Nations Security Council. The case study reveals that the institutions of international law not only monitor and enforce relevant gender equality norms, but they in fact give substance to often-vague international norms through their operational activities in conflict-affected settings, though not necessarily in a consistent or coherent manner. The article concludes that studying international institutions in their operational activities in conflict settings is essential to understanding the impact of international gender equality norms on women’s and girls’ experiences of conflict.

Keywords


public international law; international humanitarian law; international criminal law; United Nations Security Council; Democratic Republic of the Congo; gender equality; International Committee of the Red Cross

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