Dr. Sumin Lee is an ACES Assistant Professor in the Department of International Affairs and an ACES (Accountability, Climate, Equity, and Scholarship) Faculty Fellow with the Bush School of Government and Public Service. Dr. Lee’s research interests include gender and armed conflicts, conflict-related sexual violence, and gender justice process using various empirical methods such as geospatial analysis, text analysis, and panel data analysis.
My name is Sumin Lee. I’m a new faculty member here at the Department of International Affairs. I’m an ACES Assistant Professor and this is my first year.
Tell us about research projects you currently have underway.
My research mainly focuses on gender and conflicts and can be categorized into two projects. The first is accountability for wartime sexual violence. I’m interested in how international and domestic mechanisms can work to punish the perpetrators who committed wartime sexual violence. The second strand of research focuses on the long consequences of violence and on how it affects women’s lives after conflicts. Existing studies tend to focus more on violence, so I try to examine how wartime sexual violence has longer consequences on women’s lives, women’s attitudes, and women’s behaviors in the post-conflict period.
Within the Women, Peace, and Security concentration, I am currently writing a book based on my doctoral dissertation. It is about domestic accountability for wartime sexual violence. In this book project, I’ve been exploring why some states punish perpetrators for wartime sexual violence while others do not.
So far, I have found that the states that adopt accountability measures during and after conflicts restore their legitimacy and reputation in the face of domestic and international audiences. With the help of my amazing graduate research assistant in the Bush School, I’ve been collecting an original data set on domestic accountability for wartime sexual violence. I have found so far that governments strategically adopt accountability measures using two mechanisms, the first legislative and the second judicial. My research also implies that it is important that not we only look at the adoption of these measures, but also look at the long-run implementation.
My dissertation focused on civil wars in Africa because most of the reports of sexual violence have been from Africa. Surprisingly, African states have been very active in terms of adopting accountability measures for wartime sexual violence.
How could your research impact society?
My research focuses on this strategic motivation behind these accountability measures for wartime sexual violence. My research warrants against being overly optimistic about what we hear and being more skeptical, be more cautious. But at the same time, because my research finds that these states are concerned about reputation and legitimacy, it’s important that we take it interest in it. When we keep our eyes on it, states will be concerned about how they look at the face of the international community and therefore take these measures.
And existing studies have found that even if these are de jure or formal measures, these will in the long run change norms of the society or even open an opportunity for domestic advocates to push governments for better measures.
With March being Women’s History Month, what impact does your research have on women globally? What does the future for women look like?
My research isn’t telling a very optimistic story, but at the same time, all my research finds many new measures and initiatives being taken at the international and domestic levels. These growing efforts to collect a better data set that measure women’s lives after conflicts, and how women are treated after conflicts, and these increasing number of studies in these women and peace security field, in general, are helping us academics and policymakers to come up with better solutions for how to improve our women’s lives in conflict-affected societies. I am not hopeless.
What do you like most about working at the Bush School?
I’ve been teaching a special topic on one-piece security and specifically on Women in Armed Conflicts. This has been a major, you know, very most exciting thing I’ve been doing this semester. It’s very exciting.
What the course does is we walk through the whole dynamic of armed conflict starting with its onset until post-conflict justice and examine how lives look in the post-conflict society. Throughout the class we trace the whole process asking the question where are women? We try to see how women are involved in every stage of armed conflict. We try to apply feminist international relations theory and understanding of armed conflicts that we have learned in most of the traditional IR classes.
I’ve really enjoyed it when my students bring their own case analyses every week, either from their background or personal interest. They bring in cases that they are interested in, and they apply theoretical readings. I think that’s the best part of the Bush School. I have my students who are mostly taking Women, Peace, and Security as their concentration, and they’re already so committed to the topic. They are excited to learn about it, they’re eager to find out solutions to the issue, and I’m more motivated when I’m with them.
What research or teaching accomplishment are you most proud of?
One of the things I’m most proud of is that my research has been recognized both from the conflict section and gender and politics section, bridging conflict studies and gender and politics. My research examines conflicts, but I take a gendered perspective by looking at how women have access to justice during conflicts.
My book project was awarded by the United States Institute of Peace for a peace fellowship, recognizing important studies that will contribute to preventing violence and improving peace. At the same time, my research was also awarded by the Empirical Gender Studies Network which recognizes gender studies that adopt empirical methods and data sets.
I feel like my research is doing a good job bridging two areas that should be much closer together to better understand conflicts and women’s lives in general. As we scholars in the Gender and Armed Conflict studies tend to say, peace is not peace until women are free from violence.