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Another Undelivered Promise of International Liberal Order: Gender Equality

Human rights are one and indivisible. However, patriarchy violates this fundamental norm about human rights. One of the biggest promises of the international liberal order was to promote human rights in general and eliminate cultural, social, economic, and political foundations that created inequalities for women and the LGBTQI+ community in particular. However, the gross violations of the women’s and LGBTQI+ community’s rights show that the international liberal order could not deliver its promise of gender equality. Eliminating physical, political, economic, social, and emotional gender-based violence is still one of the Sustainable Development Goals.[1] The actors of the international liberal order, such as the United Nations and the European Union, aim at the diffusion of the norm of gender equality as they see it as the foundation of democracy and the liberal order. The international liberal institutions are striving to mainstream gender equality and promote women’s participation in the workforce, politics, and social life. However, the UN Women’s statistics show that one in every three women is being subjected to violence.[2] Moreover, there is no gender equality in any country in terms of economic, social, and political participation.[3]

In this sense, it is possible to talk about the dual failure of the international liberal order. As the UN Women’s data shows that international liberal order has failed women and the LGBTQI+ community within the liberal zone, both domestically and internationally. The leading liberal actors could not be successful as norm setters and create a gender-equal system where women and the LGBTQI+ community are not discriminated and become subjected to violence. The liberal states could not fully ‘lead by example’. They could not use gender equality as an “anchor” to promote women’s and LGBTIQ+ community’s rights during negotiations with the authoritarian regimes. On the contrary, while conducting their relations with the authoritarian regimes, major liberal powers prioritized ‘hardcore’ security issues and defined peace, stability, and the order without the voices, concerns, and insecurities of women and the LGBTIQ+ community. This is very similar to the women’s and LGBTQI+ community’s experiences in the domestic realm as public authorities advise women to go back to their homes and keep the peace of the family, and LGBTQI+ members of society to be silent and invisible for the sake of peace, stability, and the order of the community. Failures of democracies in consolidating the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community domestically and in promoting these rights in authoritarian regimes show how thorny is the terrain of women’s and LGBTQI+ community’s struggle for them to achieve fully recognized and practiced rights at national and international levels. 

It is important to notice the significance of the interconnectedness between the rights of women and the LGBTQI+ community in the liberal zone and the authoritarian regimes for the ‘security’ of the international liberal order itself. Authoritarian regimes that want to differentiate themselves from the liberal actors, values and order use misogynist and homophobic discourses and build their national identity as ‘traditional’, ‘normal’, and ‘heterosexual’ societies. The increase in the hostile attitude towards the actors of gender equality in authoritarian regimes is not a coincidence. Authoritarian regimes constitute the liberal actors as ‘Others’ while reproducing their national identities with the use of populist, discriminatory, homophobic, and sexist language and practices. Russia is a very typical example of how authoritarian states used the ‘sexual others’ in relation to their ‘national others’ in national identity construction. Starting from 2000, the Putin administration used the discourse preserving “the sexual sovereignty”[4] against the pressures from the liberal world, especially from the U.S. and the European Union. Putin mocked the U.S. embassy with the LGBTQI+ flag by saying that “it reveals something about the people that worked there”[5]. Moreover, he defined the European Union as “Gayropa.”[6]

Russia perceived the promotion of fundamental human rights norms based on a logic of full and equal humanity as a challenge to its ‘real Europeanness’ and traditional values. Russia’s insistence on the term ‘traditional values’ in the United Nations Human Rights Council meetings show the stark differences in defining the scope and the meaning of human rights on gender equality, including the sexual orientation, between the liberal actors and Russia.[7] Wilkinson defines Russia’s search for non-intervention for its anti-gender and anti-LGBTQI+ position as “moral sovereignty”. That is “the right to decide and actively enforce the right to decide and actively enforce society’s moral norms, or traditional values, and that this right takes precedence over international norms and obligations”.[8] The search for moral sovereignty as opposed to accepting universal human rights showed Russia’s discontent with the dominance of the norms of the liberal international order and the imposition of the alien culture on the traditional sovereign states.[9]By challenging universal human rights based on the anti-gender and anti-LGBTQI+ ideology, Russia displayed its demands for exceptionalism and iterated its difference from the international liberal order, its norms, and its actors. This exceptionalism is quite similar to the exceptionalism that Russia exerted while invading Ukraine in its “near abroad”.[10] Recently, Aleksey Yerhov, Russia’s Ambassador to Turkey, said that thanks to the West’s sanctions, Russia will be able to construct itself without the ‘decadent’ entertainment tools such as Eurovision or the imposition of the decadent gender quality norms.[11] In short, Russia’s anti-gender equality politics has been a part of its geopolitics based on its identity construction as opposed to the international liberal order.[12] Unfortunately, Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention has a very similar pattern, and Turkey’s identity construction under the AKP rule have hurt gender-equality, and women’s and LGBTQI+ community’s rights and freedoms.[13]

In conclusion, gender equality is one of the most important promises of the international liberal order. Unfortunately, no country in the international system, neither democratic nor authoritarian, has achieved gender equality. In Virginia Woolf words, “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, I want no country. As a woman, my country is the whole world.” The whole world is ours because ironically wherever we go, there is gender-based discrimination—even though its intensity changes. This means, women and the LGBTQI+ community need to take their struggles with them so that they can overthrow the patriarchy that produces wars over gender identities and toxic masculinities. Until the day gender equality is achieved, the international liberal order is fragile and incomplete. It is still a promise to be delivered all over the world and 8 March is a good day to start taking action for a gender equal world.

 

[1] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, “Sustainable Development Goals.” https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goal5, Retrieved 7 March 2022.

[2] UN Women. Retrieved on 7 March 2022. https://interactive.unwomen.org/multimedia/explainer/covid19/en/index.html?gclid=CjwKCAiA24SPBhB0EiwAjBgkhnxh4M641M9a_q4TPdwInlaas4yl475cq4RJV4rF1aEaxGkfEEZAVxoCmm4QAvD_BwE

[3] Chancel, L., T.Piketty, E. Saez and G. Zucman, World Inequality Report 2022. World Inequality Lab (2021). https://wir2022.wid.world/executive-summary/

[4] Alexander Baunov, “Sexual Sovereignty of the Motherland is Russia’s New Foreign Policy,” The Interpreter, (26 August 2013). https://www.interpretermag.com/sexual-sovereignty-of-the-motherland-is-russias-new-foreign-policy/; Accessed on 15 February 2021.

[5] “Putin Mocks U.S. Embassy for Flying Rainbow Flag,” Reuters, (2020). Retrieved on 7 March 2022 from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-rainbow-idUSKBN2442EQ

[6] B. Secker, (2020). “In pictures: The New Faces of ‘Gayropa’,” POLITICO, (2020). Retrieved on 7 March 2022 from https://www.politico.eu/interactive/in-pictures-the-new-faces-of-gayropa

[7] Cai Wilkinson, “Putting ‘Traditional Values’ Into Practice: The Rise and Contestation of Anti-Homopropaganda Laws in Russia,” Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 13, No. 3 (2014): p. 363-379. DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2014.919218

[8] Cai Wilkinson, (2014).

[9] Kevin Moss, "Russia as the Saviour of European Civilization: Gender and the Geopolitics of Traditional Values," Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing Against Equality (2017): p. 195-214.

[10] Andrei Melville and Tatiana Shakleina, Russian Foreign Policy in Transition: Concepts and Realities (New York: CEU Press, 2005).

[11]Aydın Sezer, “Russia’s Turkey Ambassador Aleksey Yerhov: Russia Won’t Step Back Due to Sanction," (in Turkish) Gazete Duvar, 4 March 2022, Retrieved on 7 March 2022 from https://www.gazeteduvar.com.tr/rusyanin-turkiye-buyukelcisi-aleksey-yerhov-yaptirimlar-rusyaya-geri-adim-attiramayacak-haber-1555318

[12] Emil Edenborg, "Russian LGBT Politics and Rights," Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Accessed on 7 March 2022. https://oxfordre.com/politics/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228637-e-1262

[13] Global Gender Gap Report 2020, World Economic Forum (2020), Retrieved on 7 March 2022. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2020.pdf

CONTRIBUTOR
Burcu Sarı Karademir
Burcu Sarı Karademir

Burcu Sarı Karademir is a Part-Time Faculty Member in the Department of International Relations at Bilkent University, Department of Political Science and International Relations and TED University in Ankara. She received her PhD degree with distinction at Department of International Relations, Bilkent University, Ankara in 2012.

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