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The Horizon of Becoming: Culture, Gender and History after September 11

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image of Nordic Journal of International Law

Feminist analyses of international law can be seen as part of the wider effort to broaden international law beyond its current foundations and assumptions. International lawyers can usefully work with feminist, post-colonial, indigenous, critical and postmodern perspectives in contextualizing the universalist claims of international law in order to make it both more inclusive and more sophisticated. International law might be positively transformed if it were to take the critical approaches of feminist and other scholars seriously. This article is an attempt to problematize the concepts of time and history as they relate to an understanding of international law from the perspective of the feminist, the post-colonial and the indigenous. How we analyze international law in an historical context strongly determines how relevant international law is to women and other marginalized voices. Attempting to understand the history of international law is essential to understanding how it works (or does not work) and how it is changing. But our understandings of history are themselves deeply flawed as analytical tools. The voices of the silenced are usually described as not being heard because of imbalances in economic and political power. On a deeper level they also may not be heard because the very nature of historical and legal discourse in the international arena makes their voices unintelligible within the `malestream' of time and history. We expect history to give us a sense of the truth of our shared past. But because historical records are dominated by the representation of the most powerful, the `truth' of those who are excluded from power may not seem genuine. More commonly, it is ignored. What we think of as a reality that we have shared may not in fact have been shared in the same way by `others' – even when `we' ourselves are part of that `other'. International law as we now know it was created as an offshoot of the development of the modern nation-state based on secular ideals of rationality and order. Women's history often tries to recapture the detail of all those `people without history' who have worked, fought, mothered and struggled `behind the scenes' of the Great Events depicted in wars and political battles that are so central to our usual shared vision. International law prioritizes precisely this dominant vision – the use of force, sovereignty, the state, the political, the military, the economic and the diplomatic. What does September 11 mean for women, for the poor, for indigenous peoples? This article does not discount the importance of recent world events – only that we might see them through different eyes from which we might gain new insights.

Affiliations: 1: Northern Director, Akit Siraq Law School and Adfunds Professor, University of Victoria, Canada


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