To what extent do feminist perspectives contribute to our understanding of Contemporary Security Challenges? The Case of Human Trafficking

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2017

15 Pages, Grade: 78




1. Definition of a Contemporary Security challenge

2. Case selection Human Trafficking

3. Traditional security approaches to human trafficking

4. Feminist perspective on human trafficking

5. Discussion




Feminist perspectives to security studies are relatively new to International Relations (IR). They were part of the new thinking about security that emerged in the post-Cold War period, challenging the traditional approaches to security (Collins, 2013, p. 4). Different feminist perspectives have been developed, with their commonality being a gendered analysis of security issues. The core of feminist approaches to security is that gender is seen as a social construction which leads to a gender hierarchy (Sjoberg, 2010, p. 4).

This paper uses a feminist lens to investigate to what extent feminist perspectives contribute to the understanding of contemporary security challenges. The concentration of this paper lies on human trafficking as a security challenge. While it is acknowledged that other security challenges exist, this paper aims to provide a thorough analysis of a particular case to address the research question. Human trafficking is of great relevance, as it is a transnational crime which affects every country in the world whether as country of origin, transit or destination for victims (UN Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014, p. 7).

This paper compares the traditional approach of realism with the feminist perspectives with reference to human trafficking, focusing on the respective security referent, security threat and policy focus. Instead of taking on a specific lens of each tradition, the commonalities of realism and feminism are taken as a basis to analyse human trafficking to ensure comparability. This paper argues that feminist approaches to security contribute to a great extent to the understanding of human trafficking as feminist perspectives shift the focus of traditional security theories from state security to human security. Moreover, feminists put attention to the social construction of a gendered hierarchy which marginalises victims of trafficking, and in turn hinders the state to set an adequate policy focus to combat human trafficking.

This paper is structured as follows: the first chapter looks at the concept of ‘Contemporary Security Challenge’, outlining six criteria which define what constitutes a Contemporary Security Challenge. The second chapter explains the case selection of human trafficking by applying the established criteria to this particular case. The third chapter outlines the viewpoints of the traditional security approaches on human trafficking, focusing mostly on the realist perspective, while the fourth chapter analyses human trafficking using a feminist perspective. In the fifth chapter, a discussion reviews the results of the analysis.

1. Definition of a Contemporary Security challenge

To be able to understand if feminist perspectives contribute to our understanding of Contemporary Security Challenges, the term ‘Contemporary security challenge’ needs to be examined. While the Oxford Dictionary defines ‘contemporary’ as ‘belonging to or occurring in the present’ (Oxford Living Dictionaries, 2017), the term ‘security challenge’ is often being used in security studies, however it has hardly been defined. It is at times used interchangeably with the term ‘threat’ which is more thoroughly defined in Security Studies (Brauch, 2011, p. 66). A minor difference between a threat and a challenge is that a challenge might be handled in the future; here it is of crucial importance that the referent object is identified as this has implications whether or not a challenge is coped with successfully (p. 76). Furthermore, Schäfer outlines that a challenge refers to a security issue that is not time-critical and non-violent (2013, p. 11). As the concept of challenge is not further developed, this paper will use the definition of a ‘security threat’ as a basis.

A widely accepted operational definition of a ‘security threat’ was provided by Singer, putting forward the equation threat= estimated capability x estimated intent (1958, p. 94). Under ‘capability’, traditionally, military capability is understood, while the term ‘intent’ implies the political intentions of the enemy (Russell, 2010, p. 375). Vandepeer criticises Singer’s model as too simplistic ‘to capture the nature and complexity of non-state threats’ (2011, p. 12). For Vandepeer, the flaw of the model is that it is used to assess threats from states but does not apply to non-state actors (p. 13). He claims that with the end of the Cold War, it is not exclusively state actors which are perceived as threats but increasingly non-state actors as well (pp. 31-32).

Caballero-Anthony agrees with Vandepeer. He terms the threats by non-state actors as non-traditional threats to security, which he describes as ‘challenges to the survival and well-being of peoples and states’ (2007, p. 1). He identifies a non-military nature and a transitional scope as common characteristics of non-traditional security threats. In turn, traditional measures such as military capabilities are inadequate in solving these issues. Moreover, Eriksson and Noreen use an explanatory model to point out why threat images appear on the political agenda. They state that the political agenda can be found in ‘public speeches, policy documents, proposed laws’ (2002, p. 3).

Taking into account these conceptualisations, six simplified criteria have been derived which constitute a simplified definition of a Contemporary Security Challenge.

Figure 1: Criteria of a Contemporary Security Challenge

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2. Case selection Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking is arguably the world’s fastest growing global crime (UN Refugee Agency, 2010). Human trafficking is not organised by states but by transnational criminal networks (U.S. Department of State, 2016, p. 51). The UN defines Human Trafficking in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Publish Trafficking in Persons in Article 3 (a) as

‘the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability […], for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs’ (UN General Assembly, 2000).

As human trafficking remains hidden due to its illegal nature, it is difficult to gather exact numbers. Estimations by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) are that 70% of the victims of trafficking are women and girls, while 30% are men and boys (UNODC, 2014, p. 5). Human Trafficking affects every country, whether as country of origin, transit or destination for victims (p. 7). The number of globally trafficked persons is estimated to range from 600,000 to 800,000 every year by the U.S. Department of State, while the UNESCO sets the numbers between 500,000 and 2,4 million (U.S. Department of State, 2004, p. 6; UNESCO Bangkok, 2017).

The UNODC named organised crime under which Human trafficking falls as a ‘Security Threat’ (UNODC, 2010, ii-iii). The Obama administration termed human trafficking ‘a national security issue’ in 2012 (Soo Suh, 2012). Furthermore, the European Commission addresses human trafficking in the EU Internal Security Strategy in Action, which implies that the EU views human trafficking as a security issue (Council of the European Union, 2010). Scholars such as Mills call human trafficking a new kind of ‘modern-day slavery’ (2011, p. 3).

When applying the concept Contemporary Security Challenge to human trafficking, it becomes clear that all criteria that were formulated above are fulfilled: human trafficking is not organised by states but by transnational criminal networks, hence, one can say that criterion a) applies. Criterion b) is fulfilled as the well-being of the people is challenged, as victims of human trafficking are exploited in many ways that violate human rights, while the security of the state is threatened in so far as illegal transnational transportation takes place without the state bureaucracy being aware of it, arguably endangering state security. Furthermore, human trafficking is a prevailing challenge with high numbers of people being trafficked every year. It is additionally a challenge that is non time-critical as it can be seen as a form of modern slavery. Thence, criterion c) applies. Human trafficking is not of military nature, further it is transnational in scope as it does not have borders, with every country in the world serving as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims; therefore criteria d) and e) are fulfilled. Criterion f) applies as well as human trafficking is on the political agenda as high-ranking politicians such as Obama have defined human trafficking as a security issue while policy documents by the UN and EU name human trafficking ‘a security threat’. Hence, one can state that human trafficking identifies as a Contemporary Security Challenge.

3. Traditional security approaches to human trafficking

Securities studies are an emerging field in IR. To analyse how traditional approaches to security view human trafficking, three aspects are investigated, using Lobasz’ framework as it provides a clear-cut view on the differences between the approaches regarding human trafficking (Lobasz, 2010, p. 215). Those three aspects are the security referent, the security threat and the consequential policy focus.

Realism is widely seen as the dominant security paradigm in IR (Glaser, 2013, p. 14). Important scholars include Morgenthau and Carr (classical realism), Bull (English School) and Waltz (neo-realism). As becomes clear, realism is not a single theory, but a broad family which incorporates different theories and arguments. For the sake of coherence, this paper looks at the common basic features of realism: the international system is seen as anarchic, hence power and military capabilities are perceived as central to be able to protect the state; states are seen as unitary and rational actors, playing the key role in the international system; opposing states are perceived as ‘black-boxes’, and the international system is characterised by competition and war (pp. 14-27). Due to its dominance in IR, this paper focuses on realism as a traditional approach to security.


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To what extent do feminist perspectives contribute to our understanding of Contemporary Security Challenges? The Case of Human Trafficking
University of Kent
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Security Studies, Human Trafficking, Feminist perespective, Security Challenges, International Relations, Securitisation
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Inga von der Stein (Author), 2017, To what extent do feminist perspectives contribute to our understanding of Contemporary Security Challenges? The Case of Human Trafficking, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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