Global Resources

Feminist perspectives on the law on the use of force

Author: G. Heathcote
Publisher: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
Publication Date: Jan 2014

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter concerning the prohibition on the use of force by nation states fails to incorporate the diversity of feminist approaches to conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Instead it predicates itself narrowly on discussion about when and how force is justified. That is the argument put forth in this publication, which analyses Article 2(4) and other structural, organisational, and normative structures from a variety of feminist perspectives. It also puts forward insights and recommendations on how such perspectives could be incorporated into and benefit international law.


The author, Gina Heathcote, points to the lack of female representation at all levels of the United Nations and other international bodies and governments, which she links to the gendering of international legal categories. Heathcote then explains how this can contribute to the harm and discrimination women experience globally. Next, she notes critically that the Security Council’s women, peace, and security resolutions support and legitimise the use of force, and recommends a focus on the prohibition of force instead. Heathcote discusses in detail the role of women as participants in decision-making structures, including the Security Council, before turning to the topic of feminist peace activism.


Heathcote suggests that rather than acting as a prohibition on force, Article 2(4) is instead viewed as a trigger mechanism used to justify force. Acknowledging and incorporating feminist discourse and agency within Article 2(4) would necessarily shine a light on this dynamic, and force us to speak and seek peace, and not just war. Such an approach would highlight the contradictory nature of invoking women's plights to justify violence, only to worsen their suffering through said violence and it's long-lasting negative consequences.