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Analysis II
Last Updated: 03/09/2009
Security and Economic Development: Masculinized Goals for Post-Conflict Reconstruction
Adel Sasvari

The end of an armed conflict is the starting moment of a new period that creates space for transforming institutions, structures and relationships within society. In such historical moments the actors of peace negotiations and peace building processes have the window of chance and responsibility to create a new society based on gender equality. However, in what Cynthia Enloe calls“the morning after”, when the guns are silent, the persistent militarization and promotion of masculinity continue in postwar societies, in both the public and private sphere. This paper will attempt to track such political processes and identify the tools and factors contributing to militarization and masculinization in post conflict societies. Moreover, this paper will highlight reasons for failing to consolidate women’s gains deriving from their war-time experience and to promote gender equality in peace building processes.


Applying my freshly developed ’feminist curiosity’, the aim of this paper is to understand how post-conflict societies become militarized and systematically fail to ensure gender equality. My investigation cannot start elsewhere, but with the two principal goals of any post-conflict society: security and economic development.

These goals -- security and peace, and economic and social development -- constitute the mainstream of post-conflict reconstruction policies. Such prioritization is reflected in the United Nations multidimensional peacekeeping model; in particular, in the mandate of peacekeeping missions incorporated by Security Council Resolutions.

The United Nations Mission in Sudan was created by Security Council Resolution 1590 on 24 March 2005 which sets as its main goals the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the coordination "all the activities of the UN system in Sudan, to mobilize resources and support from the international community for both immediate assistance and the long-term economic development of Sudan.”[1]

Security Council resolution S/RES/1542 (2004) of 30 April 2004 establishing the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) sets out similar goals for the mission:  ”ensur[ing] a secure and stable environment within which the constitutional and political process in Haiti can take place”. Further, it emphasises the need of ”contribut[ion] to the promotion of the social and economic development of Haiti, in particular for the long-term, in order to achieve and sustain stability and combat poverty” by different international organisations.[2]

Security and economic development go hand in hand as main goals of post conflict reconstruction policies of the main international organisations involved in peacekeeping and peace building.

At this point I am asking myself: what is wrong with security and economic development? Women and men both need security and economic development. However, behind both the notion of security, meaning militarised national security, and the notion of economic development, meaning advanced capitalism, I already suspect a persona non grata: the ”Men of Reason.”[3]

M&M’s: Men-Masculinity-Military-Militarism-Militarized Masculinity

The following step in my investigation is to understand the relation between the many “m”s: men, masculinity, military, militarism and militarized masculinity. Why are militaries essential for states? Why, how and by whom is militarization of masculinity and femininity is promoted?

Professional armies have become a key pillar of the modern state since the creation of absolute monarchies for the maintaining of centralized power.[4] As a consequence of the role played by the military in most modern states, military prowess has progressively become the essential standard for manliness in most societies. However, such progess is not automatic: it requires a series of political maneuvers, decisions and policies.

Militarization is a step-by-step socio-political process that involves cultural, as well as, ideological, institutional, and economic transformations. People can become militarized in their thinking, daily practices, vision of their future, and expectations from others. Militarization requires both womens and mens participation and acceptance, but it always gives privilege to masculinity. [5] The level of militarization and demilitarization is not influenced by lunar orbits, but by a political process that requires plenty of decisions.[6]

Cynthia Cockburns finding about identity processes concerning capitalism is also applicable to militarization of masculinities: those who are in power use such processes according to their interests[7] in order to stabilize certain identities and not others.[8] Ethicist and nationalist movements also target, shape, eternalize and make essential identities that are the base tool of their power and social control: identities for men and women attached to their "nature".[9]

Women’s interest in chocolates?

The participating political actors’ main priority in post-conflict societies is re-establishing security; in particular, national security. Such security is defined according to the masculine norm of reference and principally aimed at ending violence between the combating armed forces composed mainly of men. Further, the national security of post-conflict societies becomes militarized in most cases as a consequence of the composition of the new political elite made of ex-combatants and military personnel under the surveillance of military international forces. The national security of the new born society encompasses governmental military priorities, foreign policy strategies and alliances. Therefore, national security, one of the main priorities of post conflict political systems, becomes militarized and patriarchal, neglecting womens existence and interest. 

A militarized national security remains only an abstract idea without men who internalize its core beliefs, that armed conflict is the ultimate tool of resolution of tensions, that conflict is imbedded into human nature, that having enemies is a natural state, that hierarchical relations are effective, that a state without army is naive and lacks legitimacy, that in armed conflict those who are feminine need protection, and that men who refuse to participate in armed conflict jeopardize their manliness.[10]

Women are also necessary elements to militarise masculinity and security. Masculinity can never exist without its compatible and complementing femininity that ensures it validation, legitimacy and acceptance. The militarised masculinity requires a militarised femininity: women proud of their fighting brothers and partners, who applaud when they return, and can be turn into military wives and ”patriotic mothers.”[11]

The militarization of masculinity has a profound impact on women since such masculinity requires a certain type of complementing femininity. Cynthia Enloe writes, “militarized masculinity is a model of masculinity that is especially likely to be imagined as a requiring a feminine complement that excludes women from full and assertive participation in postwar public life.”[12]

A militarized masculinity and national security a priori disqualify women from the field of security issues since national security is considered as the ultimate domain of rationality where there is no space for emotions, sentimentality and softness attributed to femininity.[13] Consequently, women “by definition” are excluded from security related decision-making which is the most important and absolute priority of any peacekeeping process, peace negotiation and peace building.

Economic development for whom?

Economic development is the second pillar of post-conflict reconstruction. The main economic model promoted by all major development aid donor organization; such as the European Commission, World Bank and International Monetary Fund, is the advanced capitalist system.

However, capitalism, like national security, is based on the continuous and intensive rationalization of society. Advanced capitalism is increasingly subordinated to technical rationalization that goes far beyond the business sector and targets culture as a whole focusing on efficiency rather than ultimate goals.[14] Privileging ratio and therefore masculinity puts women in a structural handicapped position on the capitalist labour market. Rationalization as a fundamental trend of modernity and its connection with the social connection of gender promoting of masculinity results in the horizontal and vertical segregation of the labour market.

Post-conflict societies also often decide to take the path of rapid modernization and heavy industrialization that requires mass and cheap labour. As Cynthia Enloe demonstrates, women’s labour is not ‘naturally’ cheap, but made cheap by political elites thorough the combination of the national identity machine targeting women and the military regime that breaks down women’s labour organizations.[15]

Carole Pateman writes, “as capitalism and its specific form of sexual as well as class division of labour developed, however, wives were pushed into a few low-status areas of employment or kept out of economic life altogether, relegated to their ‘natural,’ dependent, place in the private, familial sphere.”[16]

Women are discriminated in the economic sector or pushed directly back to the private realm by capitalist economic systems which are the main model of economic development and major priority in post-conflict reconstruction. Voilà, women face a post-conflict society tailored to men: both the political arena and the economic sector are shaped according to the masculine norm of reference.

Post-conflict: women back to the kitchen / ‘patriotic mothers’

Wondering about the ’genius’ patriarchal design of post-conflict societies, I ask myself how it is possible. In order to be able to send women back to their kitchens and shape their minds into ‘patriotic mothers’ again and again plenty of political, economical, social and cultural decisions are necessary. I attempt to track the necessary steps and list the contributing factors to such process. The attempt is exhausting but it is not exhaustive.

Denial of women's contribution to fights

Women are stereotyped as victims and their contributions to fighting are ignored in societies emerging from armed conflicts. The denial of womens active engagement in combat contributes to the systematic exclusion of women from post-conflict decision-making opportunities and reconstruction. In cases during history where women were given the chance to fight they fought with success.[17] Women participate in significant numbers in conflicts as combatants, as well as, cooks, sexual slaves, spies, and messengers.[18] However, after the war their participation is covered by a deep institutional amnesia of the state. Women become ?victims? in the postwar rhetoric preventing them from being taken into consideration as ?active agents of change for peace?[19]

Reverse of womens gains during conflict

Women are not only losers of armed conflicts. Wars also bring change into traditional gendered roles causing an ironic emancipation and empowerment of women. In the absence of the male breadwinner, women assume new roles and responsibilities since they are forced to live on their own. In such situations women enter previously male dominated occupations and start to take decisions within the households and the local communities.[20] Sheila Meintes, Anu Pillay and Meredeth Turshen point out such experience transforms womens self-perception in terms of their imagination about themselves, in relation to men, their family and wider community. However, womens demonstrated ability to manage survival and community level political agency are considered accidental and devaluated in post-conflict political reconstruction as politics become more structured and hierarchical. Several factors lead to such reverse of womens gains in the political arena, such as the understanding of peace as a return to the status quo ex-ante, disintegration of womens network because of the geographical distance created by their return to home, as well as, some women themselves consider such transformation negative; moreover, women who suffered sexual abuse during the conflict lose the respect their communities which lead their a priori political exclusion (an in certain cases to their death).[21]

Denial of womens activism for peace during conflict

As examples from all around the world illustrate, women organizations persistently advocate for peace (Colombia), build a foundation for and catalyze peace negotiations (Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka) and build ties between the opposing factions during conflicts (Somalia).[22]  Despite womens significant part in peacemaking, their contribution is not emphasized during the peace negotiations.

Lack of women's access to the peace negotiation tables

The rising militarization of the post-conflict society impedes women’s inclusion at the peace tables. Sanam Naraghi Andrelini provides a list of causes acting as obstacles for women’s participation in peace negotiations. The false assumption about the gender neutrality of peace talks excludes the necessity of women’s participation; however, such as ‘gender neutrality’ does not exist: where gender sensitive approach is not guaranteed the issues will be shaped by the masculine norm of reference. The marginalization of women is linked to absence from the main political positions generally involved into peace talks. Women’s grassroots organizations although their intensive peace work during conflict remain in the informal sphere. Women’s self-perception regarding their belonging to the private realm also contributes to their exclusion from the peace negotiations. The false assumption about the gender neutrality of peace talks excludes the necessity of women’s participation.[23]

Stereotyping language of international instruments

International instruments create a new category of human beings, “women-and-children”, depriving women from their agency and underlining their vulnerability and passivity during armed conflicts. Such restrictive, false and stereotyping language defines the possible future actions and undermines women’s participation in peace negotiations and peace building. Nadine Puechguirbal writes: “In international instruments, UN resolutions or documentations, women are always part of the vulnerable groups together with old people children and the handicapped; they are always dependent on a family unit or a male individual, either father, brother, or husband. [] This way of thinking perpetuates the stereotypes of women as caring and nurturing mothers, locked into the private realm, unable to cross boundaries and move to the public arena, where men are designing policies, taking decisions and running the world.”[24]

Lack of gender sensitive policies of peacekeeping forces

There is an undeniable gap between the UN theory and practice as regards gender mainstreaming.  In a nutshell, the main concerns of UN peacekeeping missions are the following: ensuring security, as well as, contribution to the transitional government, election related assistance, training of police forces, and disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR). Evaluating UN peacekeeping missions, one issue is clear: the UN is not particularly concerned about women. This is reflected by the complete lack of sex-disaggregated data in UN documents. “Security” is measured according to the masculine norm of reference neglecting women’s different experiences, election assistance is shaped to men, and DDR programmes are not inclusive, neglecting women’s and girls’ specific situation. Because of the gender insensitivity of the organization, the UN is unable to meet women’s and girl’s needs and ensure the fulfillment of their right ensured by several international instruments; in particular, by Security Council resolution 1325. The local communities, especially women and girls, experience sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) committed by peacekeepers deriving also from the patriarchal nature of the organization. SEA remains mainly unpunished because of the lack of an effective accountability system and the non-adequate measures taken by the UN; moreover, the compensation of the victims remains completely unresolved in practical terms.

Violence against women

Violence against women is multidimensional in postwar societies. Women who were victims of sexual gender based violence during the conflict, in many communities, face the exclusion from their communities or might be killed by relatives in the name of the honour of the family or male relative. Women’s suicide rates are also elevated. Domestic violence intensifies in post conflict societies for different reasons: the returning of men who re-claim their masculinity over the empowered women, the frustration deriving from men’s inability to fulfill their traditional breadwinner role and the inability to shift from military to civil life.[25]

Traditional socio-political structures

The backlash to the pre-conflict status quo also depends on who is in power at the local level. Religious traditions, chieftainship, and traditional judicial systems influence post-conflict developments: in Mozambique, for example, Chieftans decide about the resources, as well as, about the community member’s rights to access them.[26]

Erosion of women’s networks

Women remaining on their own in many cases develop social networks among themselves. Refugee camps offer some possibilities for refugee women to organize themselves. Women combating together also develop close relationships with their comrades. However, such social networks and the collective strength of women disintegrate when women turn back to their homes due to the geographical distance.[27]

The formula

Clearly, there is no democracy and peace, according to my definition, which leaves behind and discriminates against the female half of the population.  The militarization of and neglect of women in post-conflict societies is neither natural nor accidental.  Such a process is the consequence of the dominant post-conflict reconstruction model: militarized national security and advanced capitalism. In itself, this paradigm promotes a certain type of masculinity that requires a complementing femininity, which is locked into the private realm and assumes secondary position in any sector of public life. In order to send the women back to the kitchen they are victimized, their active role and advancements virtually annihilated and systematically denied, and finally beaten up or killed: they have to learn their place!

Militarism is not an automatic process beyond our control, however, and neither is demilitarization. Demilitarization is directly related to the essence of masculinity and femininity. Until masculinity is addressed and disarmed in post-conflict societies at the very beginning of the reconstruction process, there will not be an “aftermath for women”.


[1] http://www.unmis.org/english/mandate.htm

[2] http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N04/332/98/PDF/N0433298.pdf?OpenElement

[3]Connell, Masculinities, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995), 164.

[4]Connell, Masculinities, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995),189.

[5] Cynthia Enloe, Maneuvres, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000), 4.

[6] Enloe, Demilitarisation-or more of the same? Feminist questions to ask in the postwar moment, 23.

[7] Cynthia Cockburn, The Space Between Us, (London: Zed Books Ltd, 1998), 213.

[8] Kum-Kum Bhavnani, Donna Haraway, Shifting the subject: a conversation between Kum-Kum Bhavnani, and Donna Haraway on 12 April 1993, Santa Cruz, California, in Cockburn, The Space Between Us, 213.

[9] Cockburn, 213.

[10] Enloe, Demilitarisation-or more of the same? Feminist questions to ask in the postwar moment, 23.

[11]Enloe, Demilitarisation-or more of the same? Feminist questions to ask in the postwar moment, 23.

[12] Enloe, Demilitarisation-or more of the same? Feminist questions to ask in the postwar moment, 22.

[13] Cynthia Enloe, Globalization and Militarism, (New York: Rowman &Littlefield Publishers Inc., 2007),40.

[14] Connell, 164.

[15] Enloe, Globalization and Militarism, 39.

[16] Carol Pateman, The Disorder of Women, (California: Stanford University Press, 1989), 123, cited in Nadine Puechguirbal, ?Women and Children: Deconstructing a Pardigm? Seton Hall Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Volume V, Number 1, (2004): 9.

[17] Gerard J. Degroot, A few good women: Gender Stereotypes and Military Peacekeeping in Women and International Peacekeeping, ed. L. Olsson and T. Tryggestad, 27 (London: Frank Cass, 2001).

[18] International Action Network on Small Arms, www.iansa.org/women/documents/women_armed_conflict.pdf

[19] Puechguirbal, Women and Children: Deconstructing a Pardigm, 6.

[20] Puechguirbal, Women and Children: Deconstructing a Pardigm, 5.

[21] Sheila Meintes, Anu Pillay and Meredeth Turshen, There is No Aftermath for Women, in The aftermath: Women in Post Conflict TransformationS. Meintes, A. Pillay and M. Turshen, 7 (London: Zed Books Ltd., 2001).

[22] United Nations Development Fund for Women, Securing the Peace, Guiding the International Community towards Women’s Effective Participation throughout Peace Processes, 2, http://www.unifem.org.au/pdfs/securing_the_peace_guiding_the_international_community_towards_women's_effective_participation_throughout_peace_proceses.pdf

[23] Sanam Naraghi Adrelini, Women Building Peace, (London: Lynne reinner Publishers, Ins., 2007), 58.

[24] Puechguirbal, Women and Children: Deconstructing a Pardigm, 5.

[25] Meintes, Pillay and Turshen, There is No Aftermath for Women, 11.

[26] Meintes, Pillay and Turshen, There is No Aftermath for Women, 15.

[27] Meintes, Pillay and Turshen, There is No Aftermath for Women, 10.


Adel Sasvari holds degree in Law from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, Hungary, an MA in European Studies, from European College of Parma, Italy, and another one from the University for Peace. She is currently a project official in the office of the senior gender advisor to the IUCN.
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