Engendering Peace? The militarized implementation of the women, peace and security agenda

by Isabelle Geuskens, Executive Director of Women Peacemakers Program

Almost 15 years after the first resolution to address women, peace and security, the agenda’s implementation is increasingly subverted by the militarised security paradigm. Implementing UNSCR 1325 has been interpreted as being about fitting women into the current peace and security paradigm and system; rather than about assessing and redefining peace and security through a gender lens. As a result, the opportunity to create a new recipe for peace and security, based on taking women’s perspectives into account, is being lost.

North Darfur Committee on Women session on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in Dar El Salaam,  Darfur Source: UNAMID (Flickr)

North Darfur Committee on Women session on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security in Dar El Salaam, Darfur, 2011 Source: UNAMID (Flickr)

Next year we will be celebrating the 15th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, the first resolution of seven addressing Women, Peace & Security. In 2000, UNSCR provided the world with a groundbreaking message – providing an important recognition of the crucial role that women have to play in processes of conflict prevention, resolution and peacebuilding, as well as the specific impact of war on women’s and girls’ lives.

The years following its adoption have borne witness to an increase in the amount of interest in the Resolution, as well as in the number of activities dedicated to “1325”, both at civil society and governmental level. However, almost 15 years into actual implementation of UNSCR 1325, we are still facing many challenges. Women’s participation in peace negotiations and peace agreements has remained low. Though some progress has been made in the adoption of UNSCR 1325 National Action Plans (NAPs) and in terms of legal and judicial reforms in some countries; implementation of these policies is often not enforced. Conflict related sexual violence as a deliberate weapon of war still occurs on a large scale and with impunity

Peace and security from a holistic gender perspective

Analyzing and addressing these challenges requires us to go back to the bigger picture. Over the years, the women’s peace movement has observed a growing, and worrying, trend. To a large extent, implementing UNSCR 1325 seems to be interpreted as being about fitting women into the current peace and security paradigm and system; rather than about assessing and redefining peace and security through a gender lens. In other words, “Just Add Women and Stir” has become the maxim as the way to move forward, instead of coming up with a new recipe for peace and security altogether, based on taking women’s perspectives into account.

Such a new recipe would not only impact the lives of women, it would also provide important alternatives for men. The dominant peace and security paradigm is heavily militarized, normalizing the use of armed force and violence as a means to address conflict. This process of militarization incorporates specific gender dynamics, among others pushing men to engage in armed and violent action to solve conflict. Redefining this peace & security paradigm from a holistic gender perspective not only brings in women’s perspectives of what makes up real human security, it also addresses the normalization of violence in patriarchal society and prioritizes conflict prevention as well as nonviolent conflict resolution.

Militarization of Women, Peace & Security

Member of a female engagement team, Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Source: US Department of Defense

Member of a US Marine Female Engagement Team, Ghazni province, Afghanistan. Source: US Department of Defense

UNSCR 1325 is increasingly being used as a tool to support women’s recruitment into militarized institutions and environments. Though some actors in the women’s movement view the increase of women’s participation in the armed forces as a sign of women’s empowerment and emancipation, others see it as a sign of the increased militarization of society. It is not the question whether women are capable of taking up arms and engaging in military action; for many of us, the discussion is about whether the militarization of women’s lives is beneficial for women and society in general.

Often, the call to increase women’s participation in militarized institutions is backed up by essentialist arguments. One of the arguments given is that “adding women” will somehow challenge its hyper-masculine culture and contribute to both a more humane and a more women-friendly environment. The assumption at work here is that women are naturally less violent than men, and hence might have a soothing effect on the inside and the outside. However, using violence against the enemy is part and parcel of every militarist system. Some of the women combatants WPP has spoken to over the years – whether active within state armies or guerrilla movements – indicated that in order to be taken seriously as a woman fighter, they often presented an even tougher front towards the enemy. They made it clear: a woman in the armed forces is, first and foremost, a fighter. Within any military system – state or non-state – unity is key, and many women in armed forces most certainly do not want to be viewed as special category, because they are working hard to be taken seriously in their role of fighters.

It is also often argued that women’s inclusion will benefit the military mission, as their presence provides access to previously untapped sources of intelligence: women in the community. However, referring to local women in such a manner can be dangerous, as in many situations of conflict, anyone (and in particular women’s groups, whose women’s rights activism might already challenge existing traditional notions around gender) seen interacting closely with (foreign) armed forces is at risk of being labelled a traitor or enemy agent.

A major concern for us is that the above lines of argumentation completely instrumentalize women’s lives and experiences. The arguments also fail to challenge the – patriarchal – status quo by any means: conflict continues to be framed and solved by armed intervention, hence promoting the use of violence to overcome and dominate the enemy “other”.

Missing an opportunity for change

With the 15th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 around the corner, there are some big questions to be asked. Is the world becoming a safer place if UNSCR 1325 implementation merely focuses on integrating the female half of the population in upholding and promoting militarization? If the focus is narrowed to embedding women firmly within existing systems, are we not missing out on an opportunity for real change? Should UNSCR 1325 not also be about stretching the current peace and security paradigms, about addressing the gendered way that humanity frames and addresses conflict itself, and about investing in disarmament, conflict prevention, human security and alternative conflict resolution mechanisms? As UNSCR 1325 is about gender and peacebuilding, should we not also explore and address men’s gendered experiences of violence and war? Is it not time to  lay bare the connections between war and hyper-masculinity, and thereby show the importance of investing in alternative masculinities to address violent conflict at its roots?

Many women peace activists – some of whom laid the ground work for UNSCR 1325 via the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and their continued mobilizing during the late 90s – have presented us with powerful feminist perspectives on peace and security that challenge current patriarchal paradigms. Their peace work is inextricably linked to calls for disarmament; investment in nonviolent conflict resolution and the prevention of policies of aggression; the need to divert excessive military expenditures to social development, and the promotion of women’s leadership in order to advance a culture of peace.

Now is the time for their claims to be taken serious: violent intervention is not bringing about the desired impact. In their publication “Gender, Conflict and Peace” (2013), Dyan Mazurana and Keith Proctor state: “Contrary to popular belief, the academic literature increasingly argues that a strategy of non-violence is more effective than violence in achieving policy goals. According to data analyzed by Stephan and Chenoweth, between 1900 to 2006 non-violent campaigns were successful in achieving their policy goals 53 percent of the time, whereas violent campaigns only had a success rate of 26 percent.

Nonviolence provides an important alternative to our current thinking about peace and security. Often also referred to as “people power” or “civil courage”, it recognizes that conflict is a fact of life, and can even provide an important opportunity for positive change. The challenge lies in how to frame and address conflict. Instead of the current “Power Over” security model – which is rooted in the use and legitimacy of armed violence to overcome and eliminate the opponent – nonviolence operates on the principle of “Power With”: empowering the people with the idea that peace and security ultimately has to come from the people, which implies that injustice can be successfully addressed when people organize themselves into a nonviolent collective.

For decades now, women peace activists have presented us with feminist analysis and viable alternatives to secure peace for all, challenging the current patriarchal security and peace paradigm. Despite their efforts, their claims and peace work tend to still be largely overlooked– even after 15 years of USNCR 1325. If we truly want to engender peace, we need to broaden and diversify UNSCR 1325 implementation. For only by going back to the bigger picture and applying a holistic gender analysis to peace and security, can we become successful in securing peace and security for all.

Isabelle Geuskens serves as Executive Director of  Women’s Peacemakers Program, a Dutch NGO that works for the nonviolent resolution of conflict, and the inclusion of women’s voice and leadership in nonviolent conflict resolution processes. From 2002-12, she acted as program Manager of WPP at the International Fellowship of Reconciliation (IFOR). Under her leadership, WPP started pioneering a program on engaging men for gender sensitive peacebuilding. Prior to taking up this position, Isabelle was active in peacebuilding initiatives in Belfast and in Srebrenica, where she worked for the Working Group Netherlands-Srebrenica. Isabelle holds a Master of Arts from the University of Maastricht.

Featured Image: Female soldier at a shooting range during IDF training, southern Israel  Source: Wikipedia

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