Women’s September 11th


The configuration of acts and actors of September 11, 2001 is not one that international law, centered on states, has been primarily structured to address. Neither was most of men’s violence against women in view when the laws of war, international humanitarian law, and international human rights guarantees were framed. The formal and substantive parallels between the two—prominently their horizontal legal architecture, large victim numbers, and masculine ideology—make both patterns of violence resemble dispersed armed conflict, but the world’s response to them has been inconsistent.

Since September 11th, the international order has been newly willing to treat nonstate actors like states as a source of violence invoking the law of armed conflict. Much of the international community has mobilized forcefully against terrorism. This same international community that turned on a dime after September 11th has, despite important initiatives, yet even to undertake a comprehensive review of international laws and institutions toward an effective strategic response to violence against women with all levels of response on the table, even as the “responsibility to protect” from gross and systematic violence is increasingly emerging internationally as an affirmative duty. The post–September 11th paradigm shift, permitting potent response to massive nonstate violence against civilians in some instances, exemplifies if not a model for emulation, a supple adaptation to a parallel challenge. It shows what they can do when they want to. If, in tension with the existing framework, the one problem can be confronted internationally, why not the other?

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