WILIG luncheon: 25 years later: a discussion of 'feminist approaches to international law.'(Proceedings of the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Society of International Law: Charting New Frontiers in International Law)

Author:Powell, Catherine

This panel was convened at 1:00 p.m., on Friday, April, 2016, with an introduction by Lori Fisler Damrosch, President of the American Society of International Law. WILIG cochairs Christie Edwards, Director of International Humanitarian Law at the American Red Cross, and Tracy Roosevelt, Associate at Foley Hoag, introduced the moderator and panelists: Catherine Powell of Fordham Law School; Aisling Swaine of the George Washington University Elliott School of International Affairs. The honoree was Elizabeth Andersen, Director of the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative.


I am Lori Damrosch, the outgoing president of the American Society of International Law, and I want to welcome you to the 27th annual WILIG luncheon. Twenty-seven years ago, at our 1989 Chicago annual meeting, my mother Jean Fisler and I jointly participated in the founding lunch. It consisted of about fifteen people, several of whom have attended every lunch ever since. Let me introduce my mother, Jean, but before you all clap, I want to say that my daughter, Eva, happily joins us at this annual meeting. It is a first for her, and we believe it is the first for the Society, to have three generations--grandmother, mother, and daughter--all participating in this annual meeting.

On behalf of the Society, I also want to thank Debevoise & Plimpton for its law firm sponsor support and its support of so much that the Society does but, in particular, for sponsoring the luncheon this year, and I want to add my personal congratulations, while I have the microphone, to Elizabeth Andersen and to the outgoing WILIG co-chair, Christie Edwards. I had the pleasure of working very closely with Betsy during all eight years of her service as executive director, first, when I was editor-in-chief of the Journal, then when I was ASIL president-elect, and finally for her final three months in office as executive vice president when I was the newly installed president. In those transitional months, and more recently in her new capacity with the ABA Rule of Law Initiative, she and I collaborated on a very important project for the Society, which is our first-ever regional event in the Middle East, held in Amman, Jordan, with the cooperation of the Rule of Law Initiative and also with the cooperation of Christie Edwards's organization, the American Red Cross. Thanks to Betsy and Christie, we had two panels in Amman, Jordan, of particular interest to WILIG, which I have written about in my final presidential newsletter column. We had a program on child abduction issues and how questions of child custody in the Middle East in transnational contexts are handled and the very delicate questions of interface between states that are and are not party to the Hague Convention. And then thanks to Betsy and Christie, we also had a program on women and children in refugee situations.

While I have your attention, I just want to say that another very significant part of today's program for me is the fact that we are going to devote attention at this WILIG luncheon to the 25th anniversary of the pathbreaking article published in the American Journal in 1991 called "Feminist Approaches to International Law." I would like to say a few personal words about that article.

In April 1990, when I was in the third trimester of pregnancy with my third child--that is Eva's little brother who is now a member in his own right of the American Society of International Law--the American Journal elected me to be its newest and, as of then, youngest member. About six months after that, I received a memorandum from editor-in-chief Thomas M. Franck asking for my opinion on a manuscript that had recently been submitted for the Journal's consideration. Undoubtedly, I was under a strict injunction of confidentiality at the time, and if anyone is here in the room who would have known whatever injunction of secrecy I might have been under, I apologize if I am violating an ironclad rule. But I figure that after twenty-five years under the Freedom of Information Act, that memorandum would have been released. In the meantime, I served ten years as editor-in-chief and I could have waived any rules, and I have also served two years as president. My authority as president ended yesterday at 6:30, but I do not think anybody is going to strike me down by a thunderbolt, unless it is Tom Franck, if I just read excerpts from my response to Tom's memo of November 27, 1990, in which he invited me to submit a prompt and presumably tiebreaking report, because he said the manuscript had already been under consideration for a long time.

My memo, which I still have in my files and which I found in the basement last week under the heading, quote, "Third Reader's Comments," says.

The topic is extremely important and has not previously been dealt with in the Journal. A few years ago, I was told (I have not independently verified the fact but believe it to be true) that the Journal had never published a major article on feminism or any other issue involving women and international law. A quick glance through the last few years' output reveals the brief (five-page) comment by Theodor Meron in the January 1990 issue, to which may be added the minimal treatment of women's concerns in the book review section (e.g., the review also in January 1990 of the book by Elizabeth Defeis and Malvina Halberstam). This is shockingly inadequate for the top journal of international law in a country where feminist legal scholarship exerts a powerful influence in virtually every other area of the law. If I've missed something, please correct me. And then my memo continues,

I personally would favor a commitment by the Journal to devote an Agora section to feminism and international law. I feel no need to defend the importance of this topic to the hitherto unconverted. Don't tell me that we can publish long articles on elephants, whales, ancient history, and other obscure esoterica but not make room for special attention to a major intellectual movement that just happens to take half the human race as its center of attention. A commitment to an Agora on this topic would also respond to longstanding interests of a considerable portion of the American Society's membership in broadening the scope of all Society activities, substantively as well as demographically. The importance of enhancing attention to gender and race (intellectually, not just through token gestures) has come up regularly at the Executive Council, in grass roots initiatives, in the activities of the Women in International Law Interest Group, and in prodding from the Society's principal grantors (e.g., the Ford Foundation). If the Editor-in-Chief can undertake an Agora commitment without further resort to the Board, I recommend that he do so. Several members of the Board would surely be enthusiastic contributors, and others could be solicited as well. Fortunately, Professor Franck did accept the article for publication in the October 1991 issue of the Journal, and other Society publications followed with numerous subsequent treatments. I am very pleased to have this long history with WILIG and this long history with this article and to point out how much has changed, when we can go from where we were a quarter-century ago to having an outgoing president of the Society hand the gavel last night to an incoming president of the Society, both of them being longstanding participants in the WILIG lunch. Thank you all.


I am Christie Edwards, the outgoing co-chair for WILIG, and it has been an honor to serve all of you for the last three years.

While I still have your attention, we are doing a slightly different format this year. We will have more of a substantive discussion format rather than the traditional speaker format.

While the main course is being served, we hope that you will take this opportunity to discuss two questions at your tables. First, if you could look into your crystal ball, where do you think feminism and international law will be in twenty-five years? Secondly, where would you like feminism to be, and how do we get there in twenty-five years? If you could, please, as the main course is being served, discuss these issues amongst your tables, and during the panel format, we will have some brief remarks by our speakers and by Betsy. We will also be circulating around the tables to discuss these issues with you and get comments from you.


Good afternoon, everyone. I am Tracy Roosevelt. I am an associate at Foley Hoag and one of the co-chairs of WILIG, and we are so happy to have you here with us today. We particularly want to thank the sponsor of this lunch, Debevoise & Plimpton. Debevoise has recently launched a website called the Debevoise Women's Review, which is dedicated to spotlighting topics of interest to professional women, including the achievements, initiatives, and advocacy efforts of women and organizations around the world. The website includes Q&As with women and organizations. It also spotlights leading women in business, coverages of conferences and pertinent books and articles, and reflective pieces tying in the personal experiences of Debevoise women.

We are also particularly pleased that in its first issue, it was able to spotlight ASIL, and I was happy to see in the bottom left-hand corner of the website, a link to a piece by Ina Popova, who is co-chair of the Program Committee for this year's annual meeting, and Jennifer Lim, another member of the Program Committee, celebrating the women of the American Society of International Law.


Some of you may have noticed the handouts on each of your tables, which are applications for our Women's Mentoring Program, which is just wrapping up its third incredibly successful year. For this year alone, we have a total of forty-seven pods, with forty-eight mentors...

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