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Women At The Peace-Making Table: The Role Of Women In Global Security

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The Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) at the Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, organised 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; and 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.

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Engendering Security

Dr Meenakshi Gopinath focused her lecture on engendering security and 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 that 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, five years of the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), and the New Global Compact, and 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.

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Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, Padma Shri Awardee; and Director, Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP).

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 Resolution 1325. The resolution originated out of the aspiration of the Global South to recognise 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, and 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, which was adopted in 2019 and 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, all of which are 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.” — Dr Meenakshi Gopinath

Conceptualisation has evolved as perceptions changed. Here Dr Gopinath mentioned Jo Vellacott, 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 mentions in it how 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 realised that the problem lay with the spectacles of the world. She changed her lens, which subsequently enriched her understanding.

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The ‘Lady in White Like Florence Nightingale’ is seen as ethereal, luminous and 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 and 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 that was segregated in 1955 in Alabama. She was glued to her dignity, lit the fuse for social venom, and today, the slogan goes: “Rosa sat so that Martin could walk; Martin walked so that Obama could run.”

There are multiple contemporary instances of Shaheen Bagh, women activism in the farmer’s protests and similarly, women in protest 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 resistance, and therefore, the question is whether these women are raising their voices for peace or changing the discourse on security.

Changing discourse of security is influenced by human security and critical security studies, and interrogates the agenda of realism. It questions the definition of politics that is centred on state and sovereignty, arguing largely from an emancipatory perspective and 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) mentioned that women security is a child who did not die, the disease that didn’t spread, salience ethnic tension that didn’t explode, a dissidence who was not silenced, and a human spirit who wasn’t crushed.

Feminists argue that the state’s behaviour of seeking security is legitimate by its association with certain types of hegemonic masculinity and in the strategic language of foreign policy and defence 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 between patriarchy, militarism, intolerance and violence

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

Westphalia To Globalisation

Women are refugees, widows and workers in conflict arena, and 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 are found everywhere and are in minority. The ubiquity of camps is known everywhere. Camps are a metaphor for the state of exception where the rule of law is absent. Women become the second among the second and territory trumps humanity.

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There is endemic violence of displacement between borders, The difference between law, niti (policy) and nyaya (justice) needs to be kept in mind.

The Paradox Of Normalcy In Conflict Areas

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Elections in the Indian-administered Kashmir are themselves an important question. Law and order favouring militarism in the place of dialogue and in abrogation of the 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 a people-centric and gender-sensitive lens.

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Dr Gopinath took other examples of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the Kudankulam protest, Narmada Bachao Andolan that were women-spearheaded movements. Women have been present in the public, but they have been invisibilised 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’s voices are absent from policy discussions and negotiations. Women are disproportionately affected by climate change as they are seed keepers and not merely peacekeepers. The 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 honour. Women are systematically mobilised by sectarian groups. One does not have to see far to locate examples in the aftermath of the Partition of India in 1947. The recovery of abducted women was to restore women back to their homes. A travesty of women’s agency was written into the scripts of nationalism that built its vocabulary in honour of women’s bodies.

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

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The essentialist argument of women as peace-makers 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 to not only recognise, but also address rape as an instrument of war and war crime.

Women say no to war. Women’s voices should reverberate in peace discussions. — Dr Meenakshi Gopinath

The presence of women at the official peace-making discussion is empowering. Their participation has been recognised around the peace table and for what they are bringing to the 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 flowers are powerful examples of gendering the public of conflict.

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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. Other such instances have been the women peacekeeping force in Liberia, the reconciliation process in the 1990s of South Asia. Indo-Pak Women’s Peace Bus (2000) and Naga Mother’s Association quoted: “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

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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 that invents and re-invent the song of democracy and gender is at the centre 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 And Reconciliation

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

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Dr Rina Kashyap, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi.

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

“Justice is not stillborn.” — Dr Rina Kashyap

Dr 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’s A Tryst with destiny 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 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 contextualise 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 survivors of mass violence want dignity and validation of their truth, and rarely demand punishment for their perpetrators. So why does reconciliation elude?

“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

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Dr Soumita Basu, Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, New Delhi.

Dr Soumita Basu focused on the international sphere in her discussion. She talked about women’s peace, situating it 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 the international is not benign, it has echoes of bygone colonialists. Economic and cultural globalisation has local manifestations that are reflected in the cutback in public services and natural resources.

There is a National Action Plan and Peace Women website. Resolution 1325 captures international imagination to a great extent. The question is: what does this piece of paper entail?. Dr Basu mentioned the specific entailments as follows:

The conversation then reeled into limitations:

  • Resources are scarce.
  • Postcolonial critique is an excuse to intervene in the name of emancipation and empowerment.
  • Just catering to symptoms and not underneath causes

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

Concluding Operational Questions

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Dr Gopinath dialectical relationship between restorative and retributive justice. She affirmed that asking women to forgive is not justice. Toxic masculinities today are affecting both men and women. She asked an overarching question of what a gender-sensitive foreign policy would look like. She inquired whether the word transitional justice is in itself a rumour and what the appropriate phrase should be for the trajectory of prevention, reconciliation and management.

Dr 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 segmented the idea of justice due to resource crunch. Dr Kashyap 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 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 following 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. Contextualising feminist policy is important.

“The feminist lens should not be exclusionary in any sense.” — Dr Meenakshi Gopinath

Dr Kashyap pointed to the book Sex and World Peace. The researchers of this book collected empirical data that 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

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

Dr Basu said that the UN Security Council resolution has reference to women. Women are particularly affected 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 Gopinath concluded the discussion by saying that the vocabulary on international security will change post Covid-19. The artificial divide between 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 that 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, making the feminist question on the pandemic important for future discussions.

YouTube Video for Gender, Peace and Security

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

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