A decade ago, on the occasion of “International Day for Women” which we commemorated earlier this month, Rene Wadlow, President and Representative to the United Nations, Geneva of the Association of World Citizens, made a suggestion we believe our conflict-ridden society may benefit from. She suggested a larger role for women as peacemakers, even as they are facing the brunt of inter-personal violence.
Influenced by Eastern thought – encapsulated by the Chinese terms “yin and yang”, men and women are thought to have complementary psychological characteristics. “Feminine” characteristics or values include intuitive, nurturing, caring, sensitive, relational traits, while “masculine” characteristics are rational, dominant, assertive, analytical and hierarchical.
While as individuals, men and women alike can achieve a state of wholeness, of balance between the yin and yang, in practice “masculine” refers to men and “feminine” to women. Thus, some feminists identify the male psyche as the prime cause of the subordination of women around the world. Men are seen as having nearly a genetic coding that leads them to “seize” power, to institutionalise that power through patriarchal societal structures, and to buttress the power with masculine values and culture.
One of the best-known symbols of a woman as peacemaker is Lysistrata, immortalised by Aristophanes, who mobilised women on both sides of the Athenian-Spartan War for a sexual strike in order to force men to end hostilities and avert mutual annihilation. Since Lysistrata, women, individually and in groups, have played a critical role in the struggle for justice and peace in all societies. However, when real negotiations begin, women are often relegated to the sidelines.
However, a gender perspective on peace, disarmament, and conflict resolution entails a conscious and open process of examining how women and men participate in and are affected by conflict differently. It requires ensuring that the perspectives, experiences, and needs of both women and men are addressed and met in peace-building activities. Today, conflicts reach everywhere. How do these conflicts affect people in the society — women and men, girls and boys, the elderly and the young, the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural?
Three elements can be the “gender” contribution to conflict transformation efforts. The first is in the domain of analysis, the contribution of the knowledge of gender relations as indicators of power. Uncovering gender differences in a given society will lead to an understanding of power relations in general in that society, and to the illumination of contradictions and injustices inherent in those relations.
The second contribution is to make us more fully aware of the role of women in specific conflict situations. Women should not only be seen as victims of war: they are often significantly involved in taking initiatives to promote peace. Some writers have stressed that there is an essential link between women, motherhood, and non-violence, arguing that those engaged in mothering work have distinct motives for rejecting war that run in tandem with their ability to resolve conflicts non-violently.
Others reject this position of a gender bias toward peace and stress rather that the same continuum of non-violence to violence is found among women as among men. In practice, it is never all women or all men who are involved in peace-making efforts. Sometimes, it is only a few, especially at the start of peace-making efforts. The basic question is how best to use the talents, energies, and networks of both women and men for efforts at conflict resolution.
The third contribution of a gender approach with its emphasis on the social construction of roles is to draw our attention to a detailed analysis of the socialisation process in a given society. Transforming gender relations requires an understanding of the socialisation process of boys and girls, and of the constraints and motivations that create gender relations. Thus, there is a need to look at patterns of socialisation, potential incitements to violence in childhood training patterns, and socially approved ways of dealing with violence. And this would also relate to anti-women violence.
Let’s get women on the front lines.