Expert talk: militarised masculinity - analysis and report

  1. Introduction
  2. Militarised masculinity in germany
  3. Impact of militarised masculinity on post-war societies carried forward to the next generation, with a focus on sexualised violence
  4. Vulnerabilities, Insecurities and Hidden Sexualities
  5. Engagement of men for gender justice
  6. Conclusion

What does “militarised masculinity” mean? How does it affect armed conflicts and post-conflict situations? How can this problem be addressed?
These were the core issues of an expert talk held in Berlin this May. Experts, activists and decision-makers from a variety of regions and continents gathered at the invitation of the Gunda Werner Institute in order to analyse the dynamics of violence during and after wars and armed conflicts and in order to test the suitability of the approaches applied in practice to reduce and prevent this type of violence.

Reason and background to this meeting of experts: the national and international debate on the causes and catalysts of violent conflicts manifests a serious blind spot: the significant influence of concrete gender relations, and the gender identities and role perceptions in the respective societies associated with these, continue to be understated in conflict research, while security policy also ignores what destructive impact changes in gender relations and the accompanying identity crises can have. Images of masculinity and manliness, of women's lives and femininity play a major role in wars and armed conflicts. When preparing for armed hostilities, the institution of the military generally draws on the prototype of socially-accepted hegemonic masculinity in every society, which equates to that found in militias and mercenary troops. At the other end of the scale is the image of women and children – in need of protection. This dichotomy of male combatant and vulnerable female in need of protection (perpetrator and victim) not only falls extremely short but also glorifies and distorts the true circumstances in that men (including as perpetrators) also become the victims and women the perpetrators. Yet, the complex gender-specific factors are systematically misjudged and clouded in conflict processes – with devastating effects.

The focus of this expert talk was placed on the origin and impact of the identity concepts of militarised masculinity, which continue to affect both individuals and the entire post-conflict society during the post-conflict phases so long as the militarisation and traumatisation of a society keep being disregarded and go unaddressed in the aftermath of armed conflicts. Among other things, they are also reflected in the massive forms of gender-based violence – usually enacted by men on women – which mould the social structure. Domestic violence, rape and institutionalised homophobia have a seminal effect not only during but also following armed conflicts. These are founded on concepts of masculinity that hark back to such values as strength, national fraternalism and war-driven courage. In their essence, they are heavily weighted towards legitimising violence. They also prevent peace-building approaches and reconciliation scenarios from being able to take lasting effect.

How can the military propensity to commit violence, how can male dominance and claim to hegemony be reduced? What work approach needs to be applied to effectively counteract the linkage between militarised masculinity and gender-based violence? How can the corresponding social actors be reached? How can the people acting out militarised values in their gender-based identity be approached in order to attain sustainable, non-violent solutions?

Militarised masculinity in germany 
The Gunda Werner Institute had invited four keynote speakers to make an initial presentation on the topic during which they reported on their specific work experience. Projects in Liberia, Uganda and South Africa were used as regional examples.

Publicist Ute Scheub kicked off the event by outlining the history of German militarisation as seen from a gender perspective. She recounted how the institution of the military constructed militarised masculinity and she also covered a variety of stages ranging from Germany's colonial past to the excessive rise in masculinity in fascism and the present-day restructuring of the military into a voluntary army.

Scheub delivered a vivid portrayal of how the military acts as a “symbolic recycling plant”, which “repeatedly recycles the norms of militarised masculinity and male dominance”, including belittling and sexualising all things female as well as trivialising the traumatisation of men during military operations. The taboo within the taboo, i.e. the existence of sexualised acts of violence committed against boys and men in wartime, was another subject touched on by Scheub, who, in doing so, cast a wider net to encompass the complexity of the issue of sexualised wartime violence, even though women were the primary sufferers in this instance.

Scheub also brought up personal, biographical experiences with militarised and traumatised masculinity against the backdrop of the NS era and impressively established a link between personal experiences, self-reflection and scientific debate. She consciously localised her own standpoint in the debate surrounding militarised masculinity. The question of “Where does militarised masculinity touch my life?” fit in well with the central finding of the expert talk that drawing on one’s own experiences with discrimination is an essential and vital component of the work towards defeating militarised masculinity and its destructive impact.

By venturing into the topic of “speaking about the other one/thing” and linking personal aspects with the global interdependencies of the problem of militarised masculinity, Ute Scheub laid the foundation stone for a differentiated debate centring on (self-)reflection.

Impact of militarised masculinity on post-war societies carried forward to the next generation, with a focus on sexualised violence
The initiator and chairwoman of medica mondiale, gynaecologist Monika Hauser, presented the “impact of militarised masculinity on post-war societies and the next generation”, which focused on sexualised violence in general, and specifically against the backdrop of eighteen years of work experience in women's projects and with traumatised women in war and crisis zones. Here, medica mondiale links psycho-social work with gynaecological and legal support and helps women to help themselves. In addition to its trauma work, medica mondiale specifically promotes the empowerment of women, for example in terms of sexual self-determination.

Hauser described emphatically what traumatisation caused by war-driven violence – usually committed by men – means to the individual, but also for the generations that follow if it is not processed. In her view, analysing patriarchal images and constructions of masculinity during and after a war and clarifying the differences between “traditional” and “militarised” masculinity as well as identifying the “root causes of perpetuation and perverseness” are therefore required in order to draw conclusions for counter-strategies. In doing so, she also framed the boundaries of efficacy of a work approach that focuses on women. Women's limited capacity to act is reflected, for example, in their negotiations with their (sexual) partner. Calls for co-determination made by educated women often result in no changes being made as the man does not recognise the woman's right to co-determination. Hauser used this example to bring home how important it is not only to conduct women-focused work but also work with men in order to sustainably disable oppressive structures. For the often unconscious identity-changing processes among men, which are triggered by experiencing the suffering and exercising of wartime violence, also need to be processed systematically, according to Hauser. This has been lacking in virtually every area so far, however, criticised Hauser, which led her to ask what form and through whom the work with war-traumatised men could be performed.

To her, it is evident that partisan work on behalf of and with women, as carried out by medica mondiale, cannot be reconciled with work for men. Here, Monika Hauser believes that international organisations have a responsibility to address the problem of linkage between violence and constructions of masculinity, and to integrate trauma work with men and reflections on masculinity into their programmes as “our only chance to achieve equality for men and women”. However, this alone is not sufficient, she added, but must be tied in with peace-building measures.

Vulnerabilities, Insecurities and Hidden Sexualities 
Chris Dolan, head of the “Refugee Law Projects” in Uganda, illustrated in his presentation the entanglement of concepts of masculinity with political and religious components. Dolan cited three intertwined phenomena which impact the complex fabric of concepts of masculinity: the structure of a weak statehood, covered or sanctioned sexuality, and the vulnerability of disempowered men.

The “Refugee Law Project” targets refugees and asylum-seekers and focuses on both research and advocacy work, support for so-called LGBTTI refugees as well as training courses for men who have survived sexual violence. This work approach entails recognising male vulnerabilities in terms of sexualised and gender violence without, at the same time, wanting to propagate men as the “actual” victims. Dolan made it clear that “gender” cannot focus solely on enforcing women's rights but needs to be seen as a meshwork of social interactions, which must also concern the protection and rights of men. To illustrate this point, he used the example of Ugandan groupings resembling sex rings in which religious authorities lure in male refugees with the promise of shelter in order to expose them to sexual abuse by statesmen. Chris Dolan also broached the issue of the interdependence between violence committed against men and forms of gender-based violence against women by stating unequivocally that men violently oppressing men indirectly led to violence against women as men sought to prove their masculinity by oppressing and committing acts of violence against women. Dolan considers the disempowerment experienced by men to be an approach and starting point for psycho-social masculinity work, as a means of developing non-violent alternative action scenarios with these men. To him, this is, at the same time, a crucial reintegration component in post-conflict situations.

Engagement of men for gender justice 
A similar approach was cited by Patrick Godana, project manager for the “One Man Can” campaign of the South African non-governmental organisation, “Sonke Gender Justice Network”. Since 2006, the campaign has specifically supported men in combating gender-based violence. “One Man Can” promotes the commitment of men to gender equality and the equal treatment of women with a view to collectively enabling healthy, non-violent relations. The civil society approach is a particularly effective one as it involves working with male traditional leaders who, according to Godana, can be seen as the “gatekeeper” of social change.

In the context of South Africa’s apartheid past, Godana delivered a powerful explanation of the entanglement that exists between racist and gender-based violence as well as the transition between state-structural violence and that found in domestic surroundings. In his experience, the linkage to individual experiences with discrimination is one starting point for building a constructive and sustainable level of awareness that opposes militarised concepts of masculinity.

As to the question of counter-strategies to militarised masculinity, there was unanimity during the debate: self-reflective, psycho-social approaches involving critical identity work and reflection as one of the core components of violence prevention work in (post-)conflict regions.

The participants also concurred that effectively countering any forms of gender-based violence must imply holding an open gender dialogue and focusing on the different ways in which men and women are affected.

Numerous questions remained unanswered: given the low levels of human and financial resources in this area, how can competition for the limited funds be avoided in times where women’s work is already extremely underfunded and where there is a possibility that focus will now be placed on men and the promotion of corresponding projects? How can the potential diluting of the necessary women-specific work be averted and, at the same time, gender-sensitive, emancipatory work with men be further advanced? Is work on the basis of “men for men” and “women for women” the solution or do such allocations only serve to solidify binary gender constructions? What form could mixed-gender work take in this field?

With regard to gender-focused peace initiatives, further exploring the framework of a progressively feminist gender dialogue remains a challenge.