Women, Peace & Security – The Future of Peacekeeping

On December 15th, some gender expert power houses got together to discuss the future of the women, peace, and security agenda, which included: 

  • Dr. Louise Olsson from the Peace Research Institute 
  • Dr. Sarah Taylor from Inclusive Peace 
  • Dr. Linda Darkwa from the Legon Institute of International Affairs
  • Dr. Lina Abirafeh Executive Director of the Arab Institute for Women
  • Dr. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, Director Centre for Women, Peace and Security London School of Economics 
  • Dr. Toni Haastrup-University of Stirling 
  • Ms. Safaa Ayoub – Secretary General and Gender Adviser of the Community Development Association in Sudan 
  • Victoria (Mavic) Cabrera Balleza, Chief Executive Director, Global Network of Women Peacebuilders

This came after the Secretary General’s call to action and the recent Department of Peace Operations policy brief.

The following is based mostly on Lina AbiRareh’s thoughts regarding some of the major questions. 

How does the militarization and securitization of peace and security impact on the implementation of the WPS agenda – in particular women’s participation and protection in peacekeeping contexts? Do the current and changing conflict dynamics and growing focus on Countering Violent Extremism and Preventing Violent Extremism limit the attention to women’s participation and protection; and further contribute to advancing a protectionist approach which views women as vulnerable and needing physical protection?

  • This is really the “norm” for us in the Arab region: security, military, politics – all are still normatively understood as “male” activities. 
  • Further, the way that crises today are discussed/presented in rhetoric further reifies this masculine aspect: ie we need power/control/force (or MEN) to reinstate order. It’s almost like a doubling-down of traditional gender stereotypes and norms, and women/marginalized groups are moved to the side again. 
  • In Lebanon, for example, soooo many people have said “it’s not the time for gender right now” in the aftermath of the explosion/economic crisis: (1) here again, we see that women/gender is an “afterthought”, and (2) then when, exactly, is the right time to foreground gender? 
  • Historically, violent extremism has been gendered as male/masculine. This has gendered the “other” side of the coin: counterextremism is now equated with femininity/women. But, this isn’t really an “empowering” standpoint, and women are treated as a monolith. For example, all women are assumed to be non-extremist/non-combatants/ ‘victims’/powerless…this is really a useless framework for addressing complex emergency settings. We need to bring more nuance to this discussion. For example, how do the women family members of extremists fit into WPS? How do we account for women combatants? Further, we need to see women as individuals themselves. When viewed through this protectionist lens (ie women are victims of the extremist behaviors of their male family and community members), we have difficulty seeing women as stand alone agents of change in their own right.  

What are the approaches that peacekeeping could embrace to promote addressing of gendered root causes, norms and inequalities that normalize and deepen women’s protection threats and risks? How can these approaches accelerate and normalize women’s local level structures, networks and organizations as key to transforming conflict resolution and sustaining peace? How can these be resourced and recognized as key non- violent change makers, enablers and partners to peace?

  • There’s a tendency to see WPS as almost separate from the everyday work of NGOs/CSOs tackling societal norms around gender, insofar as WPS does the sort of “advanced” work of changing legal systems, while those of us on the ground are tasked with changing gender ideologies and mentalities. We have to do both at all times: WPS task forces and committees (for example, national and regional-level expert groups) need to constantly interrogate how WPS can be implemented in the everyday as a way of challenging gender norms, instead of working on the assumption that laws will have a trickle-down effect. Lebanon is a great example of this. Even though the numbers of women in the ranks of the ISF have slowly been increasing, this has not had a tangible effect on the ways that the ISF do their work. This is not to say that the ISF hasn’t necessarily been “unreceptive” to the idea of WPS and gender equality: they have actually worked to develop an internal manual/handbook on gender. However, this change “from above” – in other words, at the level of the state/government – has not had an effect on how the individuals in the ISF actually think and/or act out in accordance to gender norms. 
  • One of the most important avenues to change such societal-level gender norms is to continue including the opinions and experiences of women actually living in the impacted communities. This means including women from various classes, races, and sexualities to make sure such conversations are inclusive. The DPOs Champions’ Network and the example of Women’s Protection Networks in Sudan are both great examples of what such an inclusive WPS process could look like. In the Arab region, this needs to be at the forefront of WPS work: elite women (ie highly-educated women with political connections) are often the first – and sometimes only – women to be included in high-level UN and/or government meetings. We need to challenge this structure to make sure women’s voices from various communities are included in the process, otherwise we risk perpetuating the same social hierarchies that we are trying to challenge everyday in our work on the ground.  
  • It’s important to make sure that the language about/knowledge of WPS does not only circulate among the same group of people, ie women’s rights policy advocates in the UN or other international development organizations. We need to make sure that everyone knows about the importance of WPS. At The AiW, we are constantly including work on WPS in our gender educational curricula and courses. Next semester, for example, the LAU MEPI TL gender scholars will include a course on Peacekeeping and Conflict, and is based almost entirely on the WPS mandate. It will also be taught by one of Lebanon’s foremost experts on the WPS agenda (Karma Ekmekji). This is a huge step for us, as educating the younger generations about the options for gender equality that already exist is critical when convincing them to join the fight
  • It’s also important to extend the WPS across various sectors, and to try and include partner organizations form various sectors as well. It does no one any good to continuously partner with the same organizations on the ground, even if they have proven to be consistent/reliable partners. Yes, this is risky, but we need to continuously push the boundaries of the WPS agenda, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is to extend our partnerships beyond the realm of peace and security. For example, working with organizations in food security or health are both critical. From a distance, this might seem obvious but for those organizations on the ground, it’s not “normal” for a food security organization to consider applying to a WPS grant. This needs to change. 

The Arab Institute for Women and ESCWA are consistent partners. In 2020 alone, they hosted (along with the Jordanian National Commission on Women) a conference on Women Radicalization: Women, Peace, and Security Agenda – as documented here. They also finished out their annual 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence art competition.

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