Feminist Judging in Action: Reflecting on the Feminist Judgments in International Law Project

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Feminist Judging in Action: Reflecting on the Feminist Judgments in International Law Project Loveday Hodson and Troy Lavers (Eds): Feminist Judgments in International Law, Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-50991-445-6 Dianne Otto1 

© Springer Nature B.V. 2020

Abstract This review essay discusses some of the effects of the feminist methodologies utilised in Feminist Judgments in International Law (Hodson and Lavers (eds), Hart Publishing, Oxford, 2019), in which ‘feminist judges’ rewrote fifteen well-known international law cases. A glimpse is provided into aspects of the feminist judgments that were transformative, before turning to the contributors’ ‘Reflections’, which highlight some of the obstructions encountered and compromises made in the processes of judging. The collection makes a useful and compelling contribution to concretising feminist methods, in all their diversity, in international law, while teaching us a great deal about the limitations of the justice delivered by the legal form of judging. Keywords  Feminist legal methods · Public international law · Human rights law · International criminal law

Introduction Feminists working in and with the law, whether domestic or international, are always confronted with the conundrum of how to engage critically with the law’s gendered and imperial languages and practices, while also seeking to use law to advance the rights of women, redistributive economics and world peace in the present. Feminist encounters with law are therefore always fraught with danger for feminist ideas, which are vulnerable to co-option into the service of imperial and masculinist agendas, which we have seen happen many times, such as when the US-led invasion of * Dianne Otto [email protected] 1

Melbourne Law School, The University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010, Australia



D. Otto

Afghanistan was defended as a measure to support women’s rights, and the World Bank’s promotion of women’s equality and LGBTIQ inclusion because of their instrumental value in boosting free market economic productivity. However, the reverse is also true—that law’s claims to objectivity, neutrality and universality, and its privileging of only certain lives that matter, are endangered by feminism, and this collection of feminist “prefigurations” (Charlesworth 2019, 479) of international judgments does exactly that, although it is not without some cost to feminist visions of a transformed world order. Legal decision-making, in the form of judgments, presents particular challenges for feminist reform. Legal method tightly circumscribes what evidence can be considered—in the name of objectivity—and is committed to applying the law strictly as it stands at the time of the events in issue. Reinterpreting or developing this law in the process of judging is constrained, with most judges fearful of the tarnish of ‘judicial activism’, which is understood as diverging from the letter of the law—forsaking neutrality—and applying the judge’s own personal or political opinion. By

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