A Path to Transformation: Asking ‘The Woman Question' in International Law

51 Pages Posted: 19 Mar 2020 Last revised: 20 Sep 2021

See all articles by Cochav Elkayam-Levy

Cochav Elkayam-Levy

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: July 12, 2021


This article proposes the "woman question," a method that reveals the implications of legal rules on women, as a potentially widely shared method in the study of international law. This question revolves around the impact of the law on women and is designed to expose those elements in the law that disadvantage women or submerge their perspectives in ways that might appear neutral. However, this central concept has been diluted over the years and has receded to the background of feminist thought. This paper brings it back to the foreground and develops the concept to make it an effective methodology for feminist scholars from a wide range of streams of feminist thought.
The article shows that the central feminist question in international law is in fact the woman question, probing: What is the impact of the law and its institutions on women? I argue that the question of gender impact is central to our understanding of the international system and can be widely shared. It allows us to look beyond abstract domestic and global concepts and to find the actual impact of rules on women within States. As I note in the article, "while this question seeks to highlight and address the continuing injustice that women experience, it also allows scholars to see beyond the gender binary in ways that take into consideration a spectrum of genders and the impact of the law on people of all genders. It proposes clarity and promises a feminist sensitivity to any analysis of international law. Above all, it solves a rather perplexing dilemma of a choice between the ramified feminist approaches."
Based on this method, I develop a unique analytical model that tackles the distinctive ways in which the international legal system perpetuates women’s inequality. The model is predicated on the evolving global idea of transformative equality asking us to reimagine the rules by which our society operates. It urges scholars to undertake a transformative reconstruction endeavor and is intended to encourage transformative processes that confront entrenched social and legal gendered structures within the international legal system. It requires a complicated intellectual effort to reimagine the future as means to move towards a gender-just global system. Hopefully, reimagining the future will be the most empowering, fulfilling, and transformative result of this work.

Keywords: feminist legal theory, international law, feminist methods, women's rights, gender equality, human rights

Suggested Citation

Elkayam-Levy, Cochav and Elkayam-Levy, Cochav, A Path to Transformation: Asking ‘The Woman Question' in International Law (July 12, 2021). Michigan Journal of International Law, Vol. 42, 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3543189

Cochav Elkayam-Levy (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
University of Pennsylvania Carey School of Law
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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