From a 'missing link' to a gender-sensitive approach. Peace and security need women and the gender perspective
Input provided on July 1, 2013 at the international seminar “The Missing Gender-Link: Justice and Reconciliation Processes after War Crimes and Violations of Human Rights against Women“
(30.06. – 02.07.2013 in Berlin)
I recently attended a panel discussion on the subject of “Steps towards peace” at the Protestant Synod in Saxony. In contrast to the five men on the panel, the facilitator did not introduce me as a peace policy expert but initially went out of his way to welcome me as “the voice of women”- after which he proceeded to brush me aside. Afterwards, I had to make every effort – again unlike the five men – to be heard at all.
This small example shows:
In the so-called mainstream of peace and security policy – and not only there – gender and gender relations are usually equated with women, women’s participation and women’s promotion. Consequently, it is not something that needs to concern men. Women dealing with such issues and topics are generally not seen as experts. The need for women to be protected – just like children – is frequently and specifically emphasized. The same holds true for most UN resolutions on peace, women and security, without intending to diminish their significance and value. Without them, we would not be where we are today in our peace and security policy debate with regards to women’s participation.
However, the view of women as those to be protected, supported and promoted is a very constricted perspective. And therein also lies a trap as the very same perspective is founded on a bipolar, patriarchal gender model. The counter-model – whilst not always a subject of discussion – is the superior, dominant-aggressive man and protector.
This not only has fatal and enduring implications for women and men, but for society as a whole – and particularly so in and after armed conflicts and wars - as well as for reconciliation processes and the reconstruction of society.
For women, this constricted view means, among other things, that, on the one hand, they are heard as “affected parties”, mainly as representatives at the grassroots level and as civil society actors. On the other hand, however, their diversity and their differences are not reflected upon. As potential and real victims and people in need of protection in and after armed conflicts, they are not recognized as experts or equal political actors for their specific expertise, viewpoints and experiences. As a consequence, it is hardly surprising that they are still not adequately represented in the decisive (peace) policy institutions.
Whenever they are seen as actors they are “the good guys”, the peace ambassadors. This view already played a role when UN Resolution 1325 was passed. “The message of women as peace builders and women as victims, giving a human face to new conflicts”, writes Sanam Anderlini, one of the authors of UN Resolution 1325 and Iranian peace researcher and peace activist, “resonated with the (UN Security) Council”. – The downside: they are neither perceived nor taken seriously as combatants, supporters, perpetrators or those otherwise involved in wars and armed conflicts. And this, for instance, has implications if peace negotiations focus on the status and the social reintegration of ex-combatants: here, women and their specific needs and requirements are often ignored.
This restricted image of women is juxtaposed with the image (often also self-image) and understanding of men as dominant, superior, powerful, who provide protection to the socially vulnerable and represent their interests. Thus, the perspective of the socially powerful is turned into a general perspective, into an allegedly overall societal interest. And is it then not the logical consequence of such an attitude that the key positions in peace and security policy organisations, institutions and decision-making bodies are predominantly held by men? It seems that they do already know what is generally right and proper for peace, for disarmament, and for the world on the whole!
Everywhere we see men, more precisely, the mindsets and experiences of socially dominating men that set the structures, the guidance framework and the benchmarks, and reproduce their views.
This particularly applies to the traditional institutions of conflict, for armed forces, (para)military associations or militias. They are almost exclusively dominated by men. Women who join the armed forces – in particular in Western countries – will not significantly change that picture.
Even for men, this reduction to a hegemonial masculinity pattern constitutes a trap, because it also masks out their diversity and variety, their various interests and positions. And it also leaves little room for them to live out their sensitive features that do not correspond to such a patriarchal-hegemonial masculinity image. Men who present themselves as weak or “different” are usually excluded and punished. One of the prototypes of unmanliness is the homosexual and in particular the “fairy”, because they challenge the dual gender order and derogate the traditional image of men.
As a consequence, homophobia and the persecution of homosexuals are particularly prevalent in those countries and regions that are governed by an extremely patriarchal gender order. This also means that people who try to resist that dual gender-hierarchical order or who do not want to be assigned to it, such as transsexuals or intersexuals, either do not exist officially or are persecuted and discriminated against as well.
In all societies, i.e. also in those that no longer have such an extremely patriarchal and hegemonial focus on men – such as Western democracies – homosexuality, if not prohibited, is still a major taboo issue in strongly gender-hierarchy-based structures and institutions like the military. There, the image of hegemonial masculinity is still largely unbroken. Knowing this, it is hardly surprising that, in Germany, the image of the soldier as a “citizen in uniform” has been increasingly replaced by the image of the “combatant” - ever since Germany has become more deeply involved in military intervention policies, such as in Afghanistan.
The military, according to sociologist Rolf Pohl, still propagates a notion of masculinity even today that includes violence, subordination and surrender of responsible action. “Duty, loyalty, bravery, comradeship, aggressive readiness to fight, toughness and the willingness to make sacrifices are part and parcel of the classic features of a soldierly, military masculinity concept, and, in military socialisation as it were, these need to be inscribed into the soldier’s body and soul.” This way, soldiers - both male and female - are prepared for combat and military confrontation during war. As a consequence, Pohl believes, unlike many other gender and military researchers, that the military cannot be reformed through gender training courses and gender-sensitive measures.
Sexualized violence as a weapon of war
We know – since the Serbia-Bosnia war at the latest – that gender-based violence is used as a weapon of war.
Women and girls in particular especially face the threat of sexualized violence in armed conflicts as well as in the post-war reconstruction phase. Public and political recognition of gender-based forms of violence as an element of warfare was a long time coming. Mass rape, violent deportations and enslavement of the “spoils of war” were intended to humiliate and demoralize the enemy and increase soldiers’ readiness to use violence. Thus, gender-based violence has become an integral part of military conflicts with a high symbolic value. At the time of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. approx. 20-50,000 women were raped. In recent years, the “epidemic proportions”  of the most brutal sexual violence against women and children, but also against men in the Congo, have become public. The perpetrators, however, have only rarely been prosecuted and sentenced.
Verdicts like the one against former president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, rendered by the UN Special Tribunal of Sierra Leone in 2012 have been the exception so far and are considered a success and milestone in the struggle to overturn the current practice of international criminal courts to allow sexualized violence to be exempt from punishment: in Sierra Leone, Taylor was found guilty as commander of rebel troops for “crimes against humanity” and “war crimes”, which clearly included sexualized violence, above all “rape” and “sexual slavery”.
Men as victims of militarized masculinity concepts
We now know that boys and men also fall victim to mass sexualized violence. This particularly applies to former Yugoslavia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo as well as to many other trouble spots. Conflict researcher and social scientist, Dubravka Zarkov, researched into acts of rape committed against men during the Balkan wars. She calls them the “taboo within the taboo” as this form of violence undermines traditional masculinity images. With men as victims (not only) of sexualized violence, the myth of men’s inviolability and ability to defend themselves and of women as victims (to be protected) is being destroyed.
The implications are particularly devastating as such violent acts continue to propel the spiral of violence in and between societies. Violence researchers assume that male victims of sexualized violence are especially susceptible to becoming perpetrators themselves. According to the socially dominating image of “hegemonial” masculinity – and, as a consequence, according to their self-perception – those men have failed; they have been severely humiliated - emasculated. In order to prove that they are still “real” men, they develop an excessive image of masculinity, i.e. that of “militarized masculinity”. Their readiness to settle disputes through violence, even by force of arms, is extremely high. As a consequence, they are easy prey for military formations, including militias and marauding paramilitaries but also security services.
And whenever they lack the opportunity to prove their new male identity in those settings – which is mainly in post-war phases – their readiness to use violence is mostly and often directed against their own wives. After armed conflicts, during the phase of (re)construction of democratic structures, women often experience elevated frequencies of domestic violence and rape by their own returning husbands.
It is to be hoped – not least of all due to the more recent UN Resolution 1820 passed in 2010 as well as UN Resolution 2160 passed in June of this year – that a larger number of such crimes can be prosecuted and punished more easily.
Peace policy needs gender perspectives
What do we conclude from all this?
Generally speaking, we need a gender-just peace policy instead of the current supposedly gender-“neutral” – I would call it gender-ignorant – peace and security policy. Agreements and treaties, strategies, measures, resolutions, UN missions and reintegration and reconstruction programmes need to systematically consider the potential dynamics of gender relations, their implications on societies, on women and men, and their diverse living conditions. This also includes seriously focusing on the close ties between domestic and military violence and taking respective measures against them from the very outset.
It is, for instance, nowhere near sufficient to demand from ex-combatants - regardless of whether in Afghanistan or other countries - that they return their weapons, especially under the supervision of foreign, arms-bearing military forces. Furthermore, it is imperative that empowerment and support programmes be introduced for local women with a view to bolstering their independence and self-confidence. Without targeted gender strategies, concepts and services, including for men, to counteract this, they might even stir up the resistance of local men against the “strangers”, in particular when they perceive such measures to be an attack on their male identity. This means that both organisations working in conflict regions and the international community must also develop strategies and services that will also win over men to gender equality.
In post-conflict regions, but also in receiving countries for war refugees, institutions and contact points for women and men need to be established where they will be given a chance to cope and come to terms with the violence and various traumas they have experienced.
And the right conditions and pre-requisites need to be established to ensure that gender-based war violence and crimes can be punished and their perpetrators, both male and female, named for what they are. Doing so requires promoting the establishment of functioning prosecution authorities.
It goes without saying that, on top of all this, we need gender-sensitive, trained personnel and sufficient funds. Under no circumstances must we allow to happen what women’s activists – justifiably – fear at times, i.e. that the promotion of gender perspectives and institutions for men happens at the expense of supporting women.
In the aftermath of armed conflicts, societies shattered by wars and such conflicts need to be afforded an honest – gender-sensitive – opportunity for long-term social reconciliation and peace.
This is a task that the entire international community needs to participate in.
care: "DR Kongo: Gewalt gegen Frauen ist 'epidemisch'," http://www.oneworld.at/start.asp?id=225634 (accessed on 10.7.2013).
Gunda-Werner-Institut (ed): Roadmap to 1325: Resolution for gender-sensitive peace and security policies, Opladen & Farmington Hills, MI 2010: Budrich Publishers.
Gunda-Werner-Institut: "UN-Sicherheitsrat verabschiedet neue Resolution zur Verfolgung sexueller Gewalt," http://www.gwi-boell.de/web/frieden-sicherheit-un-resolution-2106-verfolgung-sexueller-gewalt-5000.html (accessed on 10.7.2013).
De Keyser, Véronique: "BERICHT über die Lage der Frau in bewaffneten Konflikten und ihre Rolle beim Wiederaufbau und beim Demokratisierungsprozess in diesen Ländern nach Beilegung des Konflikts - A6-0159/2006 (2005/2215(INI))," http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+REPORT+A6-2006-0159+0+DOC+PDF+V0//DE (accessed on 11.7.2013).
Mathis, Sibylle: "Ein- und Aus- Blicke feministischer Friedensarbeit," in: Harders, Cilja und Bettina Roß (Hrsg.): Geschlechterverhältnisse in Krieg und Frieden. Perspektiven der feministischen Analyse internationaler Beziehungen, Opladen: Leske+Budrich 2002, p. 105–119.
Mischkowski, Gabriela: "... damit es niemandem in der Welt widerfährt": : Das Problem mit Vergewaltigungsprozessen;; Ansichten von Zeuginnen, AnklägerInnen und Richterinnen über die Strafverfolgung sexualisierter Gewalt während des Krieges im früheren Jugoslawien, Köln: medica mondiale e.V. 2009, http://www.medicamondiale.org/fileadmin/content/07_Infothek/Gerechtigkeit/medica_mondiale_-_Zeuginnenstudie_dt_Zusammenfassung_-_100525.pdf.
Pohl, Rolf: "Rohe Schweineleber, Hefe-Rollmöpse und nackte Männerkörper. Über die Hintergründe der Männlichkeitsriten bei den Gebirgsjägern in Mittenwald und die Scheinheiligkeit einer erregten Debatte," http://www.gwi-boell.de/downloads/Heldendaemmerung_Artikel_Rolf_Pohl_Gebirgsjaeger_Skandal_04032010.pdf (accessed on 10.7.2013).
Schäfer, Rita: "Liberianischer Expräsident Taylor verurteilt. Meilenstein gegen sexualisierte Kriegsverbrechen?" - http://www.gwi-boell.de/web/gewalt-konflikt-sierra-leone-liberia-charles-taylor-rita-schaefer-4535.html (accessed on 10.7.2013).
Scheub, Ute: Heldendämmerung: die Krise der Männer und warum sie auch für Frauen gefährlich ist, München: Pantheon 2010.
Valentich, Mary: "Rape revisited: sexual violence against women in the former Yugoslavia," The Canadian journal of human sexuality 3/1 (1994), p. 53–64.
Zarkov, Dubravka und Ute Scheub: "Männer wurden Opfer sexueller Gewalt - Interview," taz Nr.7063 (2003), p. 6.
 Gunda-Werner-Institut (ed): Roadmap to 1325: Resolution for gender-sensitive peace and security policies, , p. 16.
 Pohl, Rolf: "Rohe Schweineleber, Hefe-Rollmöpse und nackte Männerkörper. Über die Hintergründe der Männlichkeitsriten bei den Gebirgsjägern in Mittenwald und die Scheinheiligkeit einer erregten Debatte," http://www.gwi-boell.de/downloads/Heldendaemmerung_Artikel_Rolf_Pohl_Gebirgsjaeger_Skandal_04032010.pdf (accessed on 10.7.2013).
 Mathis, Sibylle: "Ein- und Aus- Blicke feministischer Friedensarbeit," in: Harders, Cilja und Bettina Roß (Hrsg.): Geschlechterverhältnisse in Krieg und Frieden. Perspektiven der feministischen Analyse internationaler Beziehungen, Opladen: Leske+Budrich 2002, p. 105–119, here p. 111.
 De Keyser, Véronique: "BERICHT über die Lage der Frau in bewaffneten Konflikten und ihre Rolle beim Wiederaufbau und beim Demokratisierungsprozess in diesen Ländern nach Beilegung des Konflikts - A6-0159/2006 (2005/2215(INI))," p. 15–17, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//NONSGML+REPORT+A6-2006-0159+0+DOC+PDF+V0//DE (accessed on 11.7.2013).
 Valentich, Mary: "Rape revisited: sexual violence against women in the former Yugoslavia,", The Canadian journal of human sexuality 3/1 (1994), p. 53–64, here p. 53.
 care: "DR Kongo: Gewalt gegen Frauen ist 'epidemisch'", http://www.oneworld.at/start.asp?id=225634 (accessed on 10.7.2013).
 Mischkowski, Gabriela: "... damit es niemandem in der Welt widerfährt": : Das Problem mit Vergewaltigungsprozessen; Ansichten von Zeuginnen, AnkläerInnen und Richterinnen üer die Strafverfolgung sexualisierter Gewalt während des Krieges im früheren Jugoslawien, Köln: medica mondiale e.V. 2009, http://www.medicamondiale.org/fileadmin/content/07_Infothek/Gerechtigkeit/medica_mondiale_-_Zeuginnenstudie_dt_Zusammenfassung_-_100525.pdf.
 Schäfer, Rita: "Liberianischer Expräsident Taylor verurteilt. Meilenstein gegen sexualisierte Kriegsverbrechen? -", http://www.gwi-boell.de/web/gewalt-konflikt-sierra-leone-liberia-charles-taylor-rita-schaefer-4535.html (accessed on 10.7.2013).
 Zarkov, Dubravka und Ute Scheub: "Männer wurden Opfer sexueller Gewalt - Interview," taz Nr.7063 (26.05.2003), p. 6.
 Scheub, Ute: Heldendämmerung: die Krise der Männer und warum sie auch für Frauen gefährlich ist, München: Pantheon 2010, p. 96.
 Gunda-Werner-Institut: "UN-Sicherheitsrat verabschiedet neue Resolution zur Verfolgung sexueller Gewalt," http://www.gwi-boell.de/web/frieden-sicherheit-un-resolution-2106-verfolgung-sexueller-gewalt-5000.html (accessed on 10.7.2013).