Gender, Peace and Security

Simi Mehta, Sakshi Sharda, Sunidhi Agarwal, Anshula Mehta, Ishika Chaudhary, Chhavi Kapoor

Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a distinguished lecture on Gender, Peace, and Security on June 30, 2021, by Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath, Padma Shri Awardee; Director, Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP); Principal Emerita, Lady Shri Ram College for Women (LSR), University of Delhi; Chairperson of the Board, Centre for Policy Research (CPR), New Delhi.

The Discussants were Dr. Rina Kashyap, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi, and Dr. Soumita Basu, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi.

Engendering Security 

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath focused her lecture on engendering security and on foregrounding opportunities and challenges for peacebuilding in the South Asian region through a gendered lens. She also highlighted the quest for an alternative vocabulary, especially for women who ‘hold up half the sky’ and whose voices need to be heard in the meta-narrative of national security. Her lecture also drew on current national discourse which places women’s peace and security as a high priority for the global governance system. 

The year 2020 was a watershed year that will long be remembered as a year where the world was engulfed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But it has also significantly marked 25 years of the Beijing Platform for Action, 5 years of the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the New Global Compact, 20 years of the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. Together these provide the confluence for the global normative compass of this millennium that scripts or re-script gender peace and security. It is an agenda to envision a global vision and establish a link between development, environment, peace, security, gender, and democracy.

In October 2000 the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325 which was a Landmark Resolution to support and increase women’s participation in the decision-making roles pertaining to the prevention and resolution of conflict and reconstruction. It also maintained a broad array of protection for women and girls in armed conflict.

There were 10 other resolutions that together cover a whole gamut of concerns and make women’s peace and security a global agenda. Women’s inclusion will improve the chances of attaining viable and sustainable peace. There has to be zero tolerance for all forms of gender violence. Together they refer to the global codification of principles that underlie dignity, rights, and bodily integrity for women. 

Resolution 1325 began a series of conversations that enables us to interrogate the ethnocentric, anthropocentric, and androcentric notions of security. It is significant as it is a bottom-up resolution. It emerged from the experience of women’s activism at the grass-root level as a result of lobbyism of NGOs and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). This resolution was Initiated by the global south when Namibia was chairing the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Anwarul Chowdhury from Bangladesh was also the prime mover of Resoltuion 1325. This, Resolution 1325 originated out of the aspiration of the global south to recognize women’s role in conflict transformation and its differential impact on women in conflict.

It was a major paradigm shift in the understanding of security and an expansive notion of building peace. Subsequently, Resolution 1325 was followed by the exhortation of the Beijing platform which contained an entire chapter on peace and security, war’s impact on women, sexual violence seen in the civil war in South Africa, Bosnia, and Rwanda. Thus, It is a process of democracy, representation, and participation. 

As we tick the boxes on the various guidelines of the UN, it should be clear that it doesn’t get sanitized into box sticking efforts

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

Two ends of the spectrum of Resolution 1325 are represented in Resolution 2467 that was adopted in 2019, and it has a survivor-centric approach to conflict-related sexual violence. Resolution 2558 adopted in 2020 affirms the link between development, peace, human rights, and security which are together mutually enforceable. So, 1325+ is continuous work. “Peacebuilding is a verb and not a noun, it depends on everyday resistances and daily mutinies of women.”

Conceptualization has evolved as perceptions changed. Here Dr. Gopinath mentioned Joe Belacoat, who started her career as an air engine mechanic and later became an air engineer during the second world war. Later she quit her job to become a pacifist. Her biography, “Living and learning in peace and war” is incredible. She mentioned in her biography that the word Women, peace, and power, don’t speak to each other as the word women sounded very innocuous, sickish, and pinkish whereas the word power has a scarlet and crimson shield. Later she realized that the problem lay with the spectacles of the world. She changed her lens which subsequently enriched her understanding.

The lady in White like Florence nightingale is seen as ethereal, luminous, surreal surrounded by white doves. Women’s peacebuilding efforts are situated in a theoretical framework that sees violence as a resource business and peace as power. Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath said that we should look through a lens that engenders security!

The traditional view of women as peacemakers who are holy passive needs interrogation. Women in black is an international network of women who resist war, it started in Israel. A Stable situation is not a peaceful situation and women know it very well. Peace with Justice is the call of the day. 

Rosa Parks asserted her right to human dignity, refusing to get off the bus which was segregated in 1955 in Alabama. She was glued to her dignity, lit the fuse for social venom, and today the slogan goes that Rosa sat so that Martin could walk; Martin walked so that Obama could run.

Contemporary instances of Shahen Bagh, women activism in farmer protests and similarly in other parts of the country and all over the world. The question emerges whose peace are they disturbing and what peace are we talking about. Urvashi Butalia wrote an evocative article in which she said that Democracy is saved by our women, she mentioned the resistances of Disha Ravi, Nodeep Kaur, and Natasha Narwal. Thus, Women’s peace can be in the resistance, therefore the question is are these women doing peace, or are they changing the discourse on security? 

Changing discourse of security is influenced by human security and critical security studies and it interrogates the agenda of realism, It questions the definition of politics centered on state and sovereignty. Arguing largely from an emancipatory perspective. Foregrounding the imperative of security conceived as Freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Mahbubul Haque’s evocative articulation of human security in Human Development Report (1994) said that women security is a child who did not die and disease didn’t spread, salience ethnic tension that didn’t explode, a dissidence who was not silences and human spirit not crushed.

Feminists argue that the state’s behavior of seeking security is legitimate by its association with certain types of hegemonic masculinity and in the strategic language of foreign policy and defense discourse. Cynthia Enloe’s work is relevant here. Evolving contours of security that are integral from a feminist perspective:

  • The question of realism as the notion of security as a zero-sum game
  • Populist nationalism
  • Private vs Public sphere distinction
  • Critique of war
  • Gendered citizenship
  • Respecting differences in a democratic state
  • Connection b/w patriarchy, militarism, intolerance, and violence

Sara Ruddick said that the rational calculus, and self-interested language of realism, and power group lie in the philosophy of connectedness. Feminist voice as Counter hegemonic politics exist where the notions of power inverted. Language like Collateral damage equates to real human beings. The international and domestic spheres are connected. Livelihood, food security, the quality of living are important. Non-traditional security expands beyond traditional barriers.

Westphalia to Globalization

Women are refugees, widows, and workers in the conflict arena. Wars are fought beyond battlegrounds in homes, villages, and cities. The “Stateless” term is common now as the state grapples with another word “Permanent Liabilities”, second class citizens found everywhere and are in minority. Everywhere ubiquity of camps is known. The tragedy of Rohingyas. Camps are a metaphor for the state of exception where the rule of law is totally absent. Women become the second among the second. Territory trumps humanity!

There is endemic violence of displacement between borders The sifference between Law, Niti, and Nyaya needs to be kept in mind.

The paradox of Normalcy in Conflict Areas

Elections in Indian Administered Kashmir are themselves an important question. Law and order favoring militarism in place of dialogue and in abrogation of rule of law seem to be the practice. The absence of war doesn’t necessarily mean peace. Peace and human development are linked. Women experience both domestic and community violence, there is a continuum of conflicts in peace times too. Security has to be seen through the people-centered and a gendered lens.

Taking other examples of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Koodankulam protest, Narmada Bachao Andolan which were women spearheaded movements. Women have been present in the public but they have been invisibilized in re-imagining their role in security. Today Women are entering the peace arena through the corridors of human security and interrogating the Culture of militarism and notions of state security is prominent. 

Wangari Maathai too noted at the conference on climate change at Bali (2007) the concern that women voices are absent from policy discussions and negotiations, they are disproportionately affected by climate change as they are seed keepers and not merely peacekeepers. Chipko movement India (1970) raised the largest feminist consciousness. All these examples are key observations that point to the need for Interrogating agency and power structures from a gendered lens.

Bodies of Women

Across the globe, Women’s bodies are a mark of community honor. Women are systematically mobilized by sectarian groups. One does not have to see far to locate examples in the aftermath of Partition of India in 1947, recovery of abducted women was to restore women back to their homes. A travesty of women’s agency written into the scripts of nationalism which built its vocabulary in honor of women’s bodies.

Bangladeshi women in 1971, faced with the dichotomy where they were valorized for ghettoization. Identity politics has gradually become even more volatile. What are nationhood and national identity for women? The pervasiveness of difficult questions with no answers, the stateless, the nationless can be seen in the Rohingya camps today.

The essentialist argument that “Women as peacemakers and men as war makers” needs to be questioned. Women have been associated with violence. Black widows, suicide bombers, Nadia Yezidi are just a few examples. There is a need not only to recognize but also address rape as an instrument of war and rape as a war crime. 

Women say no to war. Women’s voices should reverberate in peace discussions.

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

Presence of women at the official peace-making discussion is empowering. Recognizing the participation of women around the peace table and what is brought to the peace table. Political power is signified in structures and institutions and to access this power women have to be part of both global and domestic political institutions.

Peacetime and war timeline is thin for women. Women’s engagement with resistance and armaments needs to be studied. Symbols and substance of protesting the war and participating in the war both have to be equated with gender. Breaching public and private spheres by bringing children diapers and bringing flowers. diapers and bringing flowers are powerful examples of gendering the public of conflict.

As a woman, my country is the whole world

Virginia Wolf

Transnational Solidarity is important and women’s role is important in both achieving and sustaining solidarity. For example in Northern Ireland, women built bridges between Catholics and protestants; Women peacekeeping force in Liberia; Reconciliation process in the 1990s of South Asia. Indo-Pak Women’s Peace Bus (2000) and Naga Mother’s Association quote that “Shed no more blood”. At present, there is a condition of ambivalent empowerment as women are too inducted into cultures of violence. 

We need to have a holistic understanding of women’s motivation and move beyond victimhood identity

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

Victimhood and agency have a complex and dynamic relation. Structural constraints and enabling space need attention. We have to move from smoke-filled rooms. As a society, we have to give voice to the voiceless and speak in the language of connectedness. Peace is a perpetual hypothesis, which invents and re-invent the song of democracy. Gender is at the center of SDGs and to move towards an equitable future. 

Peace is not a target, it’s a process and like a kaleidoscope, it sticks hopefully together

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

Transitional Justice & Reconciliation

Dr. Rina Kashyap focused her discussion around the post-conflict situation where transitional justice and reconciliation is involved. She paid attention to the conceptual issues.

According to her, The relationship between transitional justice and reconciliation is inevitable. This relationship has been transformed into a single clustered concept. Thus, it is important to analyze its elements. Transitional justice asks “who and what is in transit?” What does it mean to be in transit and what it means to an individual and society? What is justice?

The concept of justice keeps evolving

Dr. Rina Kashyap

We cannot have peace without justice. Martha Minnow and Fiona Ross’s work is relevant here who point that reconciliation is the outcome of transitional justice. We have to see these concepts in an intimate relationship. 

The concept of justice is in transit

There is inevitable collateral damage in pursuit of peace. For example- Lord Krishna’s eldest sibling was sacrificed for divinity, particularly in terms of negative peace here. Dr. Rina Kashyap further said that let’s not discount negative peace as Hobbes said way back in the 17th century that without negative peace, there can’t be any art, culture, and industry. Negative peace is the important passage of peace in post-conflict situations. 

Justice is not stillborn

Dr. Rina Kashyap

Dr. Rina Kashyap said that the idea of justice has to be re-defined and not be made a mockery in transitional justice. There has to be a focus on dynamism and the movement of justice. In 1950 when India was transiting from colonialism into independence, the constituent assembly postponed the idea of Social justice because of a resource crunch. The constituent makers thought that the concept of justice will be enriched gradually. Jawaharlal Nehru Tryst of destiny’s speech is important here. 

Justice gets compromised and reconciliation is forced as in the case of the truth of reconciliation in Africa. There is a perception that “If you don’t forgive, you are not a good Christian”. It is important to understand that we can’t force forgiving as it’s not restorative justice.

Dr. Rina Kashyap mentioned the feminist concerns as follows:

  • How to retain radical and emancipatory possibilities of agenda?
  • Prevent arguments from being caricatured as anti-men and aggressive posturing.
  • Mainstreaming of gender is not its co-option and 
  • Ensure its ubiquitous presence at all tables including foreign policy and peace tables.

The gender lens has to contextualize itself with other relevant lenses. According to a feminist lens, people are gendered and gender is a power relationship. 

Any monocratic lens is inadequate. There has to be a subscription to generosity and magnanimity. The question is “What is transitional justice seeking to reconcile?” It has been noted that Victims of mass violence want dignity and validation of their truth and rarely demand punishment for their perpetrators. So why reconciliation eludes? 

Human beings are not abstract beings as we are situated in structures of class, caste, and gender. These structures need to be questioned

Dr. Rina Kashyap

International Sphere

Dr. Soumita Basu focused on the International sphere in her discussion. She talked about Women’s peace truths situating in the context of Africa. Women peacekeeper’s exclusion from peacekeeping needs attention. For the same transnational solidarity is crucial. 

When you see women as women, you also start seeing men as men

Cynthia Enloe

Universal declaration of human rights provides a normative standard for gender-based rights. It is important to note that International is not benign, it has echoes of bygone colonialists. Economic and cultural globalization has local manifestation which is reflected in a cutback in public services and natural resources.

There is a National Action plan and peace women website. Resolution 1325 Captured international imagination to a great extent. The question is “What does this piece of paper entail?”. Dr. Soumita Basu mentioned the specific entailments as follows:

  • Gender budgeting
  • Sexual violence office resolution 1888
  • More women peacekeepers
  • Leading to more sustainable peace
  • Radhika Goswami report

The conversation then reeled into limitations-

  • Resources are scarce
  • Postcolonial critique- an excuse to intervene in names of emancipation and empowerment
  • Just catering to symptoms and not underneath causes

Dr. Basu concluded by affirming that Women Peace and Security (WPS) resolution needs fair engagement of India.

Concluding Operational Questions

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath dialectical relationship between restorative and retributive justice. Dr. Gopinath affirmed that asking women to forgive is not justice. Toxic masculinities today are affecting both men and women.

Dr. Gopinath asked an overarching question of what a gender-sensitive foreign policy will look like? and whether the word transitional justice is in itself a rumor and what should be the appropriate phrase for the trajectory of prevention, reconciliation, and management?

Dr. Rina Kahyap asserted that Peace is a process and not an event. She agreed that the word transitional justice is not a proper adjective. These two words may not sit very well but it’s talking about societies in transition. Gandhi’s vision of modern India has segmented the idea of justice due to resource crunch. Dr. Rina said that we have to address the structures of violence. The agenda of transitional justice is important and not its nomenclature. 

The important question is “What are we transiting to?” 

Dr. Rina Kashyap

Dr. Soumita Basu stated that feminist foreign policy is associated with Sweden, representation of women, and given resources. Some countries don’t want to use the word feminist foreign policy. It is important to consider the folowing points when we are talking about feminist foreign policy: 

  1. Big arms exporters and feminist policy is a paradox 
  2. Foreign policy needs to reflect in domestic policy. Contextualizing feminist policy is important. 

The feminist lens should not be exclusionary in any sense

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

Dr. Rina Kashyap pointed to a book named “Sex and World Peace”.The researchers of this book collected empirical state. The data shows that the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well it treats its women. Thus, a strong case to argue for feminist foreign policy.

It is not a man vs woman story. The question is how peacemaking can be equitable and people centric- Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath

To the question of the policy on Atmanirbhar Bharat as this decade is named the age of action and non-traditional measures of security which is at the forefront. Dr. Rina Kashyap answered the question by pointing out the vast literature on “Responsibility to protect during COVID” and International conferences on the same. How women leaders have responded to the crisis is an important point. Dr, Rina said that the Feminist question is that they will not look at vaccines as a panacea but they will ask how pandemic became possible, does this disease became a pandemic, what is this globalization packed with, and whose carbon footprint are we talking about?

Dr. Soumita Basu said that the UN Security Council resolution has reference to women. Women are affected in particular during a crisis. The July resolution of 2020 has a paragraph on civil society that includes women whereas the February resolution of 2021 has only one line about women. Recognition of women’s works during the pandemic is important. 

Dr. Meenakshi Gopinath concluded the discussion by saying that the vocabulary on international security will change post-COVID-19 pandemic. The artificial divide b/w traditional and non-traditional security will wither away, as it was imagined in the cold war and is not relevant in the 21st century. Dr. Gopinath said that we can have approaches to non-traditional and traditional security which meet the current challenges that humanity faces.

According to International Labour Organization (ILO), women lost more jobs than men during the pandemic. Very few measures for unpaid care work have been taken all over the world. Feminist question on the pandemic is important for future discussions.

YouTube Video for Gender, Peace and Security



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