“​Feminist Perspectives Towards ‘Excessive Military Spending’” An Intimate Dialogue with Cynthia Enloe

By Senem Kaptan, WILPF Women, Peace and Security Fellow

On 17 October 2019, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the International Peace Institute (IPI) hosted a dialogue with renowed feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe along with the participation of Ray Acheson, Director of WILPF’s Reaching Critical Will Program, and Madeleine Rees, WILPF’s Secretary-General, to discuss feminist perspectives on “excessive military spending” and opportunities for reclaiming UNSCR 1325 for a feminist peace agenda. 

Following an introduction by IPI’s Sarah Taylor, Madeleine Rees asked Cynthia Enloe to elaborate on the notion of “feminist curiosity.” Drawing attention to the day’s front page of the New York Times, Enloe encouraged the audience to think about how we could understand local and global politics by thinking about the construction of masculinities and femininities, underscoring that we should never assume that there is nothing feminist to be asked. Enloe gave the example of how the gendered assignment and feminization of ministries of environment led women to hold these positions. These patriarchally disregarded roles then made possible for feminist environmental specialists around the world to create the Global Gender Office, which advocates for the centrality of gender analysis and equality to environmental issues. In line with this call to not take for granted the gendered workings of politics, Enloe also suggested that we “turn the feminist curiosity back on ourselves,” starting with the way we talk about WPS. “I would suggest that we say Women, Peace, and Security as if talking to someone who has never heard those four words before,” said Enloe, since expecting people to “talk 1325 back” might not match or effectively address the on-the-ground realities experienced by women and women’s organizations.  

The dialogue continued with Ray Acheson, who talked about how receiving a request from the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs to author an article on “excessive military spending” led to a deeper dive into feminist approaches to the topic, including analyzing the distinct gendered impacts of military expenditure. What Acheson and Rees initially thought would be a one-sentence article—“Stop spending money on the military!”—later prompted them to think about the very concept of excessive military spending itself. “What does excessive mean?” asked Acheson, “Why are we characterizing it in this way? Who decides what the parameters of excessive are?” Acheson underscored that military spending is not just about money or budget systems, but about the very notion of militarism, which produces a “self-enforcing, self-sustaining system in which weapons are produced and wars are fought.” Acheson drew attention to how patriarchal techniques, such as gaslighting and victim blaming, are used to dismiss alternative solutions to war and militarization, including a ban on nuclear weapons, as “irrational” or “emotional.” Acheson emphasized that the “system of militarism is making us insecure” and that we need to protect ourselves from the idea that we need weaponization and militarization to feel safe.

Following Acheson’s talk, Madeleine Rees asked Cynthia Enloe to elaborate on whether women’s inclusion alone is enough to achieve meaningful change and how we can strategically use women’s presence to transform structures of power. Enloe responded to the question by addressing how patriarchy sustains itself through absorbing the challenges it encounters. In terms of women’s inclusion, this means that while women are now invited to and included in the room, their presence is disregarded when meetings are over. “Patriarchy depends on having women feeling isolated and feeling as though they have no alternative but to fit in,” said Enloe, adding that “women need more than tokenistic gestures.” Rees complemented Enloe’s statements by suggesting that we rethink the way we describe barriers to women’s inclusion and advancement. “It’s not a glass ceiling,” said Rees, “because if it was, the first woman would shatter it.” Rees added that we should, instead, think about the obstacles as a membrane because only enough women’s passage through it would allow us to advance. In a similar manner, Cynthia Enloe called for increased feminist solidarity and networks to work against the isolation that patriarchal systems impose on women.     

The dialogue continued with an open question and answer session, with thought-provoking questions and comments from the audience. The conversation included a discussion on ways to strengthen women’s networks, push back against the cooptation of gender language to advance militarization, and hold governments accountable for their commitments to advance gender equality and women’s rights. Joining the conversation with remarks on how to advance a feminist peace agenda in the run up to the 20th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 in 2020, Abigail Ruane, Director of WILPF’s WPS Program, offered some highlights from the UN Secretary-General’s annual report on Women, Peace, and Security. In the last twenty years, for instance, less than 20 percent of provisions in peace agreements included women and girls, and only 50 percent of the recommendations put forth by the 2015 peace and security reviews have progressed. Ruane underscored that while working towards the implementation of the WPS Agenda, we should continually incorporate the gender perspective into our discussions; focus on structural, rather than just individual, change; and never assume that gender representation relieves institutions from responsibility to work towards the advancement of gender equality. The audience and panelists echoed Ruane’s call, with Ray Acheson adding that community building is an important, but often overlooked, part of international relations and emphasized the role of solidarity and establishing “a network of trust and camaraderie” amongst all actors across the spectrum in advancing a feminist peace agenda. 


In preparation for Women, Peace and Security Week
The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the International Peace Institute (IPI)
Invite you to attend an intimate dialogue
“​Feminist Perspectives Towards ‘Excessive Military Spending’” An Intimate Dialogue with Cynthia Enloe
Thursday, October 17th
International Peace Institute
(Church Centre of the United Nations: 777 UN Plaza, 12th floor)

Today we know that gender equality is the number one predictor of peace, and feminist movement building is the number one predictor of policies reducing violence against women. Yet in 2018, there was $1.8 trillion in military spending, and in 2016 WILPF calculated that the global feminist movement had the approximately the same budget (US$ 110 million) as one F-35 fighter plane (US$ 137 million).

Cynthia Enloe is a pioneering scholar whose work on gender and militarism has been foundational to feminist research and activism on international politics, political economy, and peace. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) is the longest standing women’s peace organization in the world and is dedicated to creating feminist peace through disarmament and women’s human rights.

Join WILPF for an intimate dialogue with Cynthia Enloe at the eve of the 19th Anniversary of UNSCR 1325 on feminist perspectives on “excessive military spending” and opportunities for reclaiming UNSCR 1325 for a feminist peace agenda.


  • Cynthia Enloe​, Research Professor in the Department of International Development, Community, and Environment at Clark University

  • Ray Acheson​, ​Director of Reaching Critical Will at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

  • Madeleine Rees​, ​Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Document PDF: 

“​Feminist Perspectives Towards ‘Excessive Military Spending’” An Intimate Dialogue with Cynthia Enloe