Gender and Militarism Consultation

Analyzing the links to Strategize for Peace

“To omit gender from any explanation of how militarization occurs, is not only to risk a flawed political analysis; it is to risk, too, a perpetually unsuccessful campaign to roll back that militarism” – Cynthia Enloe

From the 2nd to the 4th of July members of ASC attended the global consultation on gender and militarism in Cape Town, hosted by the Women’s Peacemaker Program (WPP). At the conference there were activists, journalists, academics and practitioners from across the world who came together to share analyses of the connections between gender and militarism, focusing on how feminism and gendered perspectives can inform our understanding of the military, and the importance of this understanding for non-violence efforts and the integration of gender in the peace and security agenda.

The background against which the conference took place was described by WPP as follows:

Following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) in October 2000; UNSCR 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960 and 2122 have been passed, moving issues concerning women and armed conflict onto the international peace and security agenda. Despite these resolutions, actual implementation of the WPS agenda remains a challenge.One gap that WPP has identified relates to the fact that the WPS agenda is often formulated and perceived as an agenda aimed at making women and women’s realities part of the existing peace and security framework. Though of utmost importance, “1325” should not go without analyzing the current peace and security framework through a critical gender lens as well. This involves looking at gender beyond a narrow focus on women, and includes integrating a masculinities perspective in the WPS agenda. Such a focus reveals UNSCR 1325’s transformational potential, whereby a feminist perspective on peace and security not only calls attention for the links between gender and militarism and its many manifestations in society; it also underlines the importance of human security and investing in alternative conflict resolution models.

A number of presenters shared on topics, including the history of the feminist movement in the peace and security agenda, analyses of UNSCR 1325, the opportunities and challenges of media and technology as transformative tools, and the importance of the post-2015 development agenda as an opportunity to shape future policy. 

One of the highlights was a presentation by Anand Pawar, director of SAMYAK, India, who gave an analysis of the patriarchal structures that pervade society, and juxtaposed them with feminist and non-violent alternatives. He aligned masculinity, macroeconomics and the military by their shared values and characteristics, such as power, dominance, destruction, hierarchy, etc. He pointed out that these characteristics are often in opposition to those held by the fields of feminism, peace and sustainability, which share values such as equality, human rights, forgiveness, and so on. However, because of the dominance of the former set of masculine characteristics, and their perceived superiority, non-violent peace movements are seen as inferior, and less effective, often being labeled “soft” and “feminine”. The result is that these approaches are disregarded in favour of agendas more aligned with masculine traits, such as military interventions.

Another particularly poignant presentation, which takes on special significance given the recent outbreak of violence between Israel and Gaza, was a visual presentation on the theme of militarism and every day life in Israel. Presenters from New Profile, Israel, highlighted ways in which the military has permeated the fabric of every day life for Israelis, illustrated by an exhibition of photographs, ads and other graphics. Among them was an educational counting exercise in which children had to draw a line between illustrations of military items and the corresponding number. Another image shows a wedding photograph of a joyful bride with an artillery piece in the background. Adverts depict the glamourized male soldier, and other photographs illustrate the ways in which parents raise their children to be soldiers. The full exhibition can be found online here .

Some of the major challenges identified for integrating feminist perspectives in a peace and security framework centered around the experience that feminist perspectives are less valued than military solutions, and that UNSCR 1325, although a good foundation for the involvement of women in peace and security, has had minimal impact, with participants reporting from their respective countries that it has often been more about collecting statistics than looking at transformative processes, it has drained capacities away from the ground, and has essentially failed to challenge the militarized framework. Other challenges included restrictive regulations, such as the financial FATF regulations, which can limit or slow down NGO activities, internet policing and measures that work against activists, and the danger that the trend towards internet and social media campaigns may encourage ‘slacktivism’.

However, there are also a number of opportunities and strategy suggestions that came out of the meetings. For example, a major point of agreement was that UNSCR 1325 could benefit from some extra work. An opportunity for this will be the review of the resolution performed by the UN Security Council in 2015, which will be based on a global impact study. Recommendations were made that the focus should be on impact and real change, with less process and more results, a push to emphasize the political urgency, the provision of adequate resources to enforce it, the creation of space for the voices of civil society and women’s movements to shape the resolution, and, of course, a shift away from militaristic solutions. The post-2015 development agenda, which is still under discussion and thus open to formative input, is also a key opportunity to integrate gender and non-violence perspectives. For example, Abigail Ruane (WILPF) pointed out that those countries furthest from the MDGs are the ones with most conflict, and research by Åsa Ekvall has found the best indicators of violent conflict are women’s security, family law and polygamy. A final point was that as war affects both men and women, so both men and women should be part of the solution at all levels.

You can find the full policy brief that came out of the consultation here.