[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member

of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

(Mill, 1859, p. 223)

John Stuart Mill’s principle of harm, as conceived  in 1859, outlines a problematic framework for the global order. Whilst it rings true in the assertion of preventing harm to others wherever possible, I am unable to comprehend how this could not be actioned in the name of ethical concern. I believe that in order to responsibly wield power, ethical reasoning must take precedence or the potential for great violations grows exponentially. In order to prescribe an ethical framework, within which to base future foreign policy, I look to the ways in which the global order is harmful to women.. Firstly, I turn to the unintelligibility and subjugation of women within the global order, asking as Cynthia Enloe did, “where are the women?” (2013). Secondly, I apply these findings to the larger phenomenon of gender hierarchy, examining the self-reproducing nature of hegemonic masculinity and how this unfolds on the world stage Finally, I turn to the global order, seeking to explain how the proliferation of actors has institutionalised the harm sustained by women.The final section of this essay will outline the necessary steps to bring about change to the global order and thus transform the experience of women across all possible stratas.

I will argue that it is the conception of gendered identity that facilitates the necessary conditions for the systematic exploitation and subjugation of women. It is also necessary to state that these findings must be situated within the wider framework of institutional cosmopolitanism, and the dangers for women that such a structure perpetuates. I believe there is scope to argue that the global order, has moved from a state-led colonisation to institutional-led colonisation, whereby overarching international institutions wield unmatched power over sovereign states. Where in centuries past, brave colonists carved up land belonging to ‘savages’, their corporate contemporaries monopolise competitor markets to the point of non-competition. According to Inman, in 2016 only 31 of the world’s top economies were sovereign states, whilst the remaining 69, were corporations. (2016). Of those 69, the top 10 generated over $280 trillion, far outstripping the bottom 180 states combined. (Inman, 2016). This global order of a cosmopolitan society, not based on a society of people, but instead on the maintenance of a society of corporations and institutions, is the crux of my exploration and the reason I believe women are exploited on increasingly violent scales.

Where Are The Women?  A Question Asked Twice.


I choose to conceptualise Cynthia Enloe’s seminal question in two ways. Firstly, where are the women? This emphasis looks to the positioning of women within the current global order, finding a large proportion in poverty, unable to convert any assets into power capability. Secondly, where are the women? This inquiry (truly more of a lament) looks at the ways in which women are obscured from the full human experience, notably gender inequality and injustice. These two conceptions are intrinsically entangled, one cannot be conceived without the other.

The positioning of women within the global framework can be attributed to one key process: identity formation. Identity is not a phenomenon borne of self-determined choice, but a form of power wielded to categorise various swathes of society. If being a woman simply meant possessing female genitalia or the means to reproduce, then identity formation would have no real power. We must here ask why identity formation is of such import when exploring violence suffered by women within the global order. Firstly, identity ‘determines what is expected of you, what you expect of yourself, what jobs will be available to you, what your health will be, whether you will be seen as enemy or friend’ (Zalewski and Enloe, 1995, p. 282). Understanding the gravitas of such a process is to recognize that it will determine the entire human experience for every single human being. Simply defining identity as a means of categorization is of no use when looking to the human cost of such binary relationships (man/woman) at local and global levels. Feminist scholars such as Cynthia Enloe and Chandra Talpade Mohanty, have called for the sites of exploration to include ‘kitchens, bedrooms and secretarial pools… pubs, brothels, squash courts and factory lunchrooms… village wells and refugee latrines’ (2001, p. 447), advocating that the harm experienced by women is not simply confined to mutually exclusive arenas. Instead, their argument holds that it is these spaces in between where violence is most keenly perpetuated, a theory that rings tragically true. Looking to events such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013 which killed 1,129 Bangladeshi seamstresses, women on this occasion were found in one of the thousands of sub-par sweatshops, intent on providing profit for behemoth corporations, at the cost of real human lives. The identity placed on these women, that of subjugation, of ‘cheap labour’ can be seen to directly impact their human experience, resulting in their death (Enloe, 2014).

These instances, of latent structural violence transforming into physical danger speaks to the social reproduction of gender inequality. Cynthia Enloe describes women’s labour as having to be ‘made cheap’ rather than intrinsically holding a less value. This process is activated through social reproduction, wherein ‘some structures because of their long life become stable elements for an infinite number of generations’ and it is this that ‘signals one trajectory for understanding… gender division of labour’ (Braudel, 1981 in Bakker, 2007, p. 50 ). In the case of women’s labour in the third world, the harm is perpetrated by global actors, enforced by sovereign states dependent on the commerce from  large scale corporations and felt keenly by

those with the least capital or political will. An outcome of institutional colonisation, the global order and its reliance on a society based on organizations, rather than people, will ensure that the cycle of harm is maintained.

Too Many Cooks.


“Governments are acting on a stage which is much more crowded,

because of all these new actors who could play.

And some of these new actors are good, and some of them are bad.”

(Nye, 2011, Chatham House)

Next, I wish to draw attention to the overs-aturation of the world stage and the harmful consequences this has on women within local and global orders.  Joseph Nye aptly described this phenomenon through his outlining of the two major shifts occurring in this, the 21st century. Firstly, Nye looks to the power transition, an inter-state process, from the West to the East. Secondly, and most pertinent for this essay, Nye looks to the shift of power from either the West or the East, but always to non-state actors (2011). These non-state actors, often taking the form of global institutions or transnational corporations advocate a system of institutional cosmopolitanism, a process I believe to be wildly detrimental to ethical action. Thomas Pogge outlined the major limitation of an institutionally led global order, the issue of human rights. Within such order, human rights become contingent in application as institutions are able to determine where such violations and therein non-violations have occurred in relation to their self-determined code of conduct. Therefore human rights become null and void as they shift from being an innate quality of all human beings universally and become contingent to institutional bias. The activation of human rights therefore rests solely on the whims of these institutions rather than being a universal possession within the state of nature. The danger is this: if innate human rights are subject to ‘activation’ based upon institutional determination, then true human rights cease to exist. Violations cannot be called such without some observance of natural law. Without natural law, there is no true groundwork for moral action and therefore no ethical imperative for states to address social inequality, economic manipulations or immoral monopolies of power.

I believe that a global order  dependent on institutional schemes undermines any ethical action. Pogge’s example of the scholar who so believed that:

“An institutional scheme can be held responsible for only those deprivations it establishes, that is (at least implicitly), calls for. Thus, we cannot count against the current global regime the fact that it tends to engender a high incidence of war, torture, and starvation because nothing in the existing (written or unwritten) international ground rules calls for such deprivations-they actually forbid both torture and the waging of aggressive war. The prevalence of such deprivations therefore indicates no flaw in our global order and, a fortiori, no global duties on our part (though we do of course have some local duties to see to it that our government does not bring about torture, starvation, or an unjust war). 

(Pogge, 1992, p. 54)

However, as the global order is comprised of interlocking institutions this view would entail that there could be no moral action as it was never the intention of the institution to engender deprivation. Human deprivation, whether perpetrated by institutional action or not, requires ethical intervention, regardless of the reasoning for its occurrence As outlined in the final section, on an ethical way forward, I believe this is best done through the move from institutional cosmopolitanism dependent on schemes to an interactional conception, whereby states are bound to certain ethical ground rules and codes of conduct (Pogge, 1992, p. 50). These codes of conduct would ensure that state sovereignty remains intact, however the idea of the ends justifying the means would cease to have credence. Instead, the methods used to bring about gender equality and quell global injustice would be of sound ethical grounds, and thus intrinsically justify the ends.


The Ethical Way Forward


“So long as there is a plurality of self-contained cultures,

the responsibility for such violations does not extend beyond their boundaries.”


(Thomas Pogge, 1992, p. 51)


I advocate for a truly cosmopolitan global framework, characterized by institutional reform and ethical realignment. A society of states, rather than a global order, would more engender the change necessary to ensure the activation of human rights, striving to ensure a utilitarian system of governance. This would be underpinned by the reformation or of these institutional practices, in an attempt to undo the ‘gender injustice currently sustained by global transnational institutions’ (Shaw, 2010, p. 45). A society of states only dependent on their own sovereignty would create a global scenario rife with human rights violations, as there would be no overarching institutional body to constrain what is considered ethically viable. It is within these institutions of states coming together collectively that change could occur. Taking the Kantian position to create a ‘potential community of mankind’, I seek to overcome cultural relativism in the hopes of more tying neighbour to neighbour. In this respect, my foreign policy would focus on power transparency and the development of a global community. For example, Western consumers must be made aware of the human cost of their cheap clothing. Through the formation of a global community, power structures become more indebted to their participants as the locus for change, rather than following the whims of a society of corporations. From a utilitarian perspective, the pursuit of the the most happiness for the most people would include those without the capital or political will to take part in the global economy, outside of the exploitation of their labour potential. By way of conclusion, I believe it to be of great import that the global order remains as interconnected as possible. Whilst the arguments for sole state sovereignty are persuasive, the potential for harm and human rights violations increase as transparency decreases. The institutional approach, whilst highly flawed in its current state of reliance on schemes, has the potential to outline behavioural codes of conduct for member states. I believe that it is through this method of interconnected governance that the harm sustained by women, throughout the global order, can be in some part, remedied.





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