Gender and Peacebuilding

Book Review

Reviewer: Tabe George Eyong

Publisher: Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016 ISBN: 978-0-7456-8251-8
Author's page: Claire Duncanson

Gender and Peacebuilding

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Gender that refers to a person’s characteristics of either being female or male typically with considerations to social and cultural differences instead of biological ones has remained a much-contested topic in our societies for a very long time. Conversely, the topic of peacebuilding remains a contested topic in security studies and conflict resolution and it is often debated by scholars and policymakers as to who should be involved in peacebuilding operations and who not. Associating these two topics together even makes matters worse than better.

Doctor Claire Duncanson has been a senior lecturer in International Relations at the University of Edinburgh since 2009. Her area of professional expertise lies in International Security, International Relations Theories, and Gender Politics with a particular focus on gender, feminism, and masculinities to military interventions, peacebuilding, and nuclear proliferation. Her experience in the field and her publications (co-author: Duncanson, C and R Woodward (2016) "Regendering the Military; theorizing women’s military participation" Security Dialogue, 47:1, 3-21; Duncanson, C (2015) "Hegemonic Masculinity and the Possibility of Change in Gender Relations." Men and Masculinities  18:2, 231-248; Duncanson, C (2013) Forces for Good? Military Masculinities and Peacebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq, Palgrave Macmillan) are a testimony to her experience in this field.

Dr. Duncanson’s book called Gender and Peacebuilding is focused on the implementation of Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) as well as the quest to find out if peacebuilding operations in conflict-affected areas around the world have been similar to peace envisioned by feminists. The aim according to the author is to ‘map a literature that sets feminist positions on the WPS agenda to allow people to grasp the multifaceted relevance of gender to peacebuilding’ (p. 3). Each part of the book ends with questions for discussion, suggested further readings and rich web resources for further research operations.

The book is divided into five chapters. The first chapter titled ‘Peacebuilding: From Gender Blindness to Gender Dilemmas’, argues the importance of gender in peace operations that surfaced as a result of the UN World Conference in Beijing in 1995. The chapter mainly looks at the historical development of gender issues in peace operations. Peace operations were entirely gender-blind in the past.  To shed light on what actually mandated women involvement into peacebuilding operations, the author introduces UN Security Council Resolution 1325.  According to the author, this resolution was adopted ‘for an understanding of gender to be maintained into peace operations’ (p.3). Unfortunately, the resolution was not adopted for understanding whatsoever. It was strictly adopted on  31 October 2000 as an international law that called upon all parties involved in armed conflicts to do everything in their capacity to protect women and girls from gendered-based violence (sexual violence, torture, etc) and that they should involve women in all implementation mechanisms of peace agreements and peacebuilding operations.1 

 Another disturbing issue with the book is the way the author articulates key definitions. In my opening address above, I clearly tabled what gender is. The author does not define gender, instead, she says, ‘we can usefully think of gender in two ways- in terms of individual identity, gender as being socially constructed and gender as a practice, a process, rather than a fixed identity’ (p.7). Thinking over something does not equal a definition and that alone shows how unsure the author is. Similarly, the author does not have any clear vision of what peacebuilding actually is. She uses three different definitions for peacebuilding and in all, she applies tautology-3x ‘it can be defined as’ (p.4)  and conditionals which make the whole thing complicated to grasp.

The second chapter, bearing the name ‘Feminist Critiques of Neoliberal Peacebuilding’ deals with how feminists envision peace, borrowing Munro’s idea which states that gender equality can only result if gender and peacebuilding are linked together. According to the author, this equality should go far beyond that portrayed by liberal feminists - equal treatment.  Rather, it should be more about the ‘eradication of gendered hierarchies and oppression’ (p. 47). She acknowledges women’s long historical connection to pacifism as a result of their suffering in conflicts. Based on the author’s assessment, ‘gender equality is necessary for peace since it would involve people creating their own peace and security’.2

Throughout the book, the author’s main goal is for the inclusiveness and equality of women in peacebuilding operations. It is apparent that the author remains out of touch with reality or is simply unwilling to admit reality. Who are the women the author is advocating for? Rich powerful and influential women living in the West? Does her inclusiveness involve women living in the suburbs, villages and remote places on our planet-Africa, India, Middle East, etc?  Are poor and uneducated women involved in her peacebuilding inclusiveness and equality? Are African and Muslim women involved? None of these futures are in her categorization, which is a huge problem. The third chapter is titled ‘Feminist Critiques of Neoliberal Peacebuilding’. Here a theoretical contribution is clearly visible. It involves neoliberal approaches in post-conflict reconstruction efforts. The author argues that neoliberal efforts which are mainly advocated by donors ‘have failed to promote inclusiveness and sustainable growth’ and rather ‘encouraged liberalization policies that implied a blank slate’ in which to design a new economy.3

The fourth chapter, titled ‘Protection, Participation, and Prevention in Practice’ looks at the WPS in trying to grasp how the WPS have overcome the challenges previously addressed above – that is, the absence of women in peacebuilding, etc. Participation in peace operations is crucial to women since this gives them a voice and a total inclusiveness. Nevertheless, women have not been considered despite the adoption of the UN SC Resolution 1325. In 31 major peace operations survey performed between 1992 -  2010, women accounted for only 9 percent of parties involved in negotiations out of 17 cases.4 The last chapter, ‘Gendering Alternatives to Neoliberal Peacebuilding’ looks at the gains and challenges of implementing the WPS agenda. One of such challenges is ‘poverty and inequalities in post-conflicts [which] exist because of orthodox neoliberal macroeconomic framework’ (p. 129). Women are pushing WPS reforms to focus more on the ‘empowerment of women’ (p. 133), which would enable women to have equality in land reforms, freedom of mobility and equality with men in post-conflict missions.5

Provided gender equality and female inclusiveness in peacebuilding operations were to materialize, it would involve and be dominated by a handful of Western women– a déjà vu.  The author's claim that, ‘feminist peace involves women and other marginalized groups’ is a myth. There is a huge divide between women. For instance, there is rampant genital mutilation of little girls in some African ethnicities. Women and small children's throats are being cut in the Kivu Region in the DR Congo conflict. Currently, in Nigeria, Fulani Herdsmen – Muslims, are burning down and cutting off Christians’ heads, stabbing Christian pregnant women and cutting off children heads to later display them as trophies. According to Busari of CNN, in Nigeria: Scores killed, homes burned. ‘Eighty-six persons all together have been killed, six people injured, fifty houses burnt,’ said police spokesman Terna Tyopev.6 The official number killed is beyond this.

The Nigerian government of president Buhari (himself a Muslim) is massively corrupt and cannot be trusted. Asked about the ongoing killings for years now, Mr. Buhari said, ‘It's an injustice to blame me for herdsmen killings’.7 All these have been happening without women mobilizing to fight against these atrocities simply because of racism, discrimination, and hatred among women. Women in New York, London or Paris would never go to the street to press their governments to force the UN to take action and punish an African dictator, legalizing the killing and burning down of women in their homes as the Cameroon government is currently doing (Reuters 2018). These are all realities the author fails to realize.

It is senseless attempting to save a child from a crocodile’s mouth in a river knowing fully well you have no chance. Preventing the child from getting close to the river banks should be the ultimate goal. Equally, peacebuilding should not be the goal, rather preventing conflicts, solidarity amongst women around the world in preventing atrocities other women (mostly in developing countries) are facing should be the goal. Overall, the book lacks critical thinking. Inappropriate definitions, a lack of thorough classification of women to be involved in peacebuilding operations and a generalization of facts reduce the book’s strength. Despite this, the book would serve as an excellent tool for gender/security study students and universities but not for experts dealing with peacebuilding.

2019 - Volume 13 Issue 2