In spite of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in domestic and international conflicts women of all ages continue to be disproportionately brutalized, by the military but also by paramilitary forces and rebel groups. This systematic pattern of rape, torture, slavery and other sexual and gender crimes against women during wars and in so-called times of peace is directly related to the construction of masculinity. While some women participate in war or are active...read more
In spite of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, in domestic and international conflicts women of all ages continue to be disproportionately brutalized, by the military but also by paramilitary forces and rebel groups. This systematic pattern of rape, torture, slavery and other sexual and gender crimes against women during wars and in so-called times of peace is directly related to the construction of masculinity. While some women participate in war or are active members of the military and even exercise violence against women, war is a patriarchal construction that reinforces the capitalist neoliberal system.
Women, girls and boys comprise the majority of civilian deaths and of displaced, abused and impoverished people during war (Byrne 55). For them, wars entail violations of liberty, dignity and autonomy, in addition to separation, displacement, the loss of family members and of their means of survival. Too often women are widowed or become single mothers with fewer means of economic support.
Women's movements have been fighting against patriarchal power and values common in thoughts and actions in both the public and private spheres. The use of these powers and the values implicit in them has resulted in the globalization of militarization, the undermining of democracies and the use of war as the dominant method of resolving conflicts between nations, within countries, between groups and within relationships.
Public wars as well as those I call "private" (two or more people), are based on this same logic; the values, ideas and attitudes behind private violence mirror those in armed conflict. That is, in the same way men exercise violence against women in the home to maintain their gender privileges, states exercise military violence to ensure their hegemonic place in the world, and corporations exercise economic violence to maintain and accumulate their economic and political powers.
Specifically, the creation of a masculine identity is based on competitiveness, power, control and repression of emotion. Masculinity constructed as control fosters, naturalizes and tolerates diverse forms of violence. After all, war is linked to a collective image of hegemonic masculinity, a masculinity that depends on the exercise of power and control.
Patriarchal ideology supports gender, class, race, ethnicity, age, hierarchies. These unequal structures and the resultant violence in all of its forms are applauded and legitimized by patriarchal institutions and expressions.
Furthermore, the masculine values of bravery, courage and patriotism are exalted and are symbolically rewarded to demonstrate that good citizens give their lives to resolve conflicts through violence. In fact, this violence is so valued, that most governments assign a larger part of their budgets to "defense and security" than to health, education, housing, human development or peace.
Violence against women is directly related to power differences that exist between men and women and are directly related to the violence that men exercise against other. In fact, violence between men is a mechanism used from childhood to establish a hierarchical order. Normalizing violence then renders men's power over women or over other men invisible, or more precisely, this normalization hides power. These same normalized inequities are evident in analyses of women in the legal and police systems, in their communities, at work, in armed conflicts, and in women's private and most intimate sphere.
Violence is now legally condemned, and this achievement has given many invisible abuses legitimacy and standing as human rights violations. However, a culture of peace and human rights requires the creation of social and legal mechanisms that condemn and do not tolerate violence, demands creative forms of resistance and of resolving domestic and international conflicts, and ultimately requires that we ask ourselves if our daily acts, thoughts and emotions support the culture of fear and masculine powers or the culture of peace and human rights.
A Culture of Peace for Development
The three pillars of the International Women's Year (1975) and the Decade for Women (1976-1985) were peace, equality and development. In keeping with the same, the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 32/142 in 1977, which urged states to proclaim one day a year as the United Nations day for women's rights and international peace.
Likewise, the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) opened the door for future debates and resolutions on women's participation in the resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, reconciliation, reconstruction and maintaining peace at all levels. The Beijing Platform for Action focused specifically on the issue of women and armed conflicts (paragraphs 131 to 149).
Peace and development as ideals go hand in hand. This has been understood at least in the rhetoric of the United Nations and of some governments. A culture of peace innately implies a road towards sustainable human development and vice versa. And when I speak of development I do not mean countries in the North imposing on the South, or development as greater production of material goods. Instead the development that I speak of is synonymous with a dynamic process that has as its basic tenet the development of all levels of human beings and their potential. This development understands that there can be no peace with poverty, and that there can be no economic, political, social and cultural development at the cost of the marginalization and exclusion of women.
The development model imposed by the North has increased unequal power relationships between genders, races, ethnicities, classes, etc., and has particularly impoverished women because it answers to the interests of small international economic elite.
How then can we create a culture of peace under a development model which exacerbates inequalities, and especially how can we do it in societies that are in a permanent state of armed conflict?
A culture of peace for sustainable human development requires the creation of egalitarian societies with inclusive and pluralistic democratic institutions and processes, respectful of the indivisibility, universality and integrity of human rights and of the diversity of human beings. It implies the construction of a real citizenry securing the exercise of all rights, a non-capitalistic model of development which puts human beings and other living creatures at the center, and a feminist welfare state open to the full participation of civil society and accountable to it.
Defining sustainable human development, and thereby supporting a culture of peace, continues to be debatable given that equitable development in and of itself is a challenge for the majority of countries in the world. The rhetoric of placing women and men in the center of development is merely rhetorical if governments are subject to policies and guidelines imposed on them by international financial institutions.
Meanwhile, women constitute more than 70% of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty in the South and the North, and children constitute 80% of refugees (19 million) and two thirds of the world's 900 million illiterates (Montero, 6).
Women in Peace Processes
Peace is not inherent to the end of armed conflict. It is a process that requires time, space, truth, transparency, reparation and reconstruction. It is a process that must address the structural inequalities of power that caused the conflict.
Each conflict has different effects on women and men, gender relations, the balance of powers and gender ideologies. This effect depends on the nature of the relationships existing prior to conflict, and largely on the cultural, political and economic conditions in the country, and on the origins and nature of the conflict (Bridge 22).
Whether the interests, voices and needs of all women and marginalized men (due to their race, ethnicity, age, class, disability, political or religious belief, sexual orientation, or other condition) are reflected or not in states' policies and actions in post-conflict negotiations depends on the above-mentioned conditions, relationships, balances and ideologies.
All too often women are later added to official peace processes, given that the lack of women's political participation is not conceived as a violation of human rights in and of itself. Instead women are added to peace processes peripherally or to meet 'gender perspectives'.
The increased centralization of power during war also influences women's exclusion from decision-making processes. However, "whether during a conflict or the absence of one, political institutions often exclude women. They are under-represented in national and international organizations during times of conflict as well as after conflict" (UNDP 10). This in spite of governments' international commitments to increase women's representation at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms.
In spite of women's exclusion from these processes or of their inclusion via traditional feminine roles, the international women's movement has been able to utilize a human rights framework to conceptualize the right to peace as a right based on equality and on development.
In Liberia, after 14 peace accords, the Liberian Women's Initiative was successful in mobilizing national support for disarmament before the elections. In North Ireland and South Africa, women's coalitions introduced values of inclusiveness and public participation in the political dialogue. In Burundi, a coalition of Hutu and Tutsi women struggled together to ensure their place at the negotiation table (Anderlini 13).
Women's organizing has been crucial to these processes. Women's efforts have increased the visibility of specific violations suffered by women in times of conflict and the general exclusion of women from negotiation tables. They have also demanded participation; increased the organizational level of women; created international networks of women working for peace; redefined many of the roles women and men had before the conflict; and supported the experience of sustainable local and communal economies during conflicts.
Incorporating feminist perspectives in all peace-making and conflict transformation processes is urgent. It includes recognizing the specific role that women can and must play in conflict resolution as agents of change, before, during and after conflict, and incorporating a feminist perspective in the process for a comprehensive negotiation on peace, equality and development and the reconceptualizing of a new paradigm.
In both United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security approved by the Security Council in its 4,213rd meeting on October 31, 2000, and the Namibia Plan of Action adopted in the Windhoek Declaration, the United Nations has urged all parties involved in conflict and peace processes to incorporate a gender perspective in legal, constitutional and judicial processes.
The basic problem with the resolution is that it does not clarify what a gender perspective is and uses the term gender as a synonym for women and girls. A gender perspective is a comprehensive view of the world and should not only be incorporated in legal processes but rather in all aspects of rebuilding a society.
Additionally, the resolution ignores many of the situations that require an understanding of the existing power inequality between women and men, not only during armed conflict but also after it. Systematizing a gendered application in peace processes (including contributions from women who have experienced armed conflict) allows the monitoring of success. Without concrete indicators, the effectiveness of the resolution will be difficult to measure in terms of women's lives and rights. And without this gendered understanding, it is impossible to create a culture of peace, development and human rights that advances, protects and respects the rights of all human beings.
Moreover, the resolution asked the United Nations Secretary General to conduct a study on the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, women's roles in peace-making, and gender in peace processes and conflict resolution. The study Women, Peace and Security, presented by the United Nations Secretary General in accordance with Resolution 1325, states the specific measures required of the international community to put it into practice. For example, the international community must ensure that principles of gender equality and non-discrimination are taken into account when creating political constitutions in the period after conflicts, and that legal reforms are based on an analysis of civil and penal law from a gendered perspective, including classifying violence against women and girls, and sexual violence as a crime.
In an extensive and interesting evaluation by independent specialists (Rehn and Johnson 6-8) on the impact of armed conflict on women and the role of women in peace-making, the authors pointed out that in order to implement this Resolution, the following, although not an exhaustive list, is necessary:
? Strengthen protections for women and measures on violence against women and gender discrimination in conflict and post-conflict situations;
? Increase coordination within the entire United Nations system to ensure the implementation of commitments to women;
? Monitor, collect information and communicate systematically on gender issues during the crisis and provide assistance during the conflict and after;
? Institute consistent high-level commitment to gender equality and equitable representation of women in all peace-making activities.
Each of these recommendations includes a series of concrete measures that are worth considering in order to make the Resolution more effective.
Finally, the Windhoek Declaration establishes that accountability in the full incorporation of a gender perspective must be pursued at the highest level. The Special Representative of the Secretary General has the responsibility to guarantee that such a perspective is incorporated in all aspects and components of a mission.
Global Impunity, Justice and Accountability
The global policy of militarization, repression, impunity and other forms of human rights violations, like limiting civil liberties and reducing guarantees against violations of basic rights, function as mechanisms of social disintegration and political intimidation, concentrating more social, political and economic power in the corporate elite of the North and converting states into large police stations that obey the laws of the market.
Impunity has become the global rule, more than the failure to punish perpetrators. States, and their militarized and politicized institutions contribute to impunity by not categorizing crimes such as sexual and gender crimes into their legislation; by impeding the autonomy of the judicial branch and not providing it with human and economic resources; by allowing governmental, legislative, judicial and police corruption; by legitimizing sexist, classist and racist media that cover up, distort and reproduce official versions of the facts; and by accepting the normalization of violence against women before, during and after wars in the name of state security, religion, and the fight against terrorism.
Resolution 1325 specifically emphasizes states' responsibility to end impunity and punish perpetrators. Justice is possible, but branches of government themselves conspire to make it impossible. Impunity is as damaging for the whole society as the crime itself, and for that reason it must be sanctioned politically, legally and ethically.
In countries in the midst of armed conflict or in post-conflict situations, there exists a permanent level of violence against all citizens and particularly against women. Rebuilding societies and creating peace and national reconciliation continue to be very challenging, especially when there are no independent executive or legal systems, those that do exist are very weak or when implementing laws has been or continues to be ineffective for women.
The right to justice is a universal human right, which depends on the rule of law, social order and peace.
Yet, how can we ensure justice is achieved and not merely aspired to when so many countries have institutions which generally supported the regimes responsible for perpetrating violations- military forces, police, peace-keeping forces and members of the judiciary- are complicit.
Governments have been advised to develop effective mechanisms and procedures to ensure that national and international procedures do not re-victimize women during judicial proceedings. Some measures that can help prevent added discrimination and abuse of victims are: protection of victims and witnesses, psychological support, health services, and training judicial and police personnel on gender-based violence. The International Criminal Court statute establishes a series of gender-sensitive procedural measures to that end, which do not end complicity, but at least create a more just and transparent process for victims. However, justice is not only 'legal'. Justice is related to accountability of the state and society for crimes against women, which is not merely punishing perpetrators.
But returning to the judicial or semi-judicial system, women do not access justice systems because they lack the economic resources, are intimidated by the perpetrators, and lack the belief in a system that does not treat them equally. Institutional discrimination against women in the judiciary is a systematic pattern before and after conflict.
Post-conflict situations are further complicated by judicial systems' inadequate human and economic resources to judge a large quantity of cases resulting in the need for complementary or alternative justice systems, such as truth and reconciliation commissions.
The is no one formula to achieve justice, truth and transparency, human rights principles and a feminist understanding of the culture of peace. Peace processes are opportunities to create new discourses and alternate social, economic and political spaces, where dialogue begins with commonalities and takes into account differences, where new relationships of power are practiced which do not oppress, where other paradigms are created.
* Please send comments to
* The author is a Costa Rican feminist lawyer, women´s human rights activist, and a former professor of law. She works as an independent consultant for national and international organizations.
* This is a shortened version of an article 'Masculinity, Peace Processes, Impunity and Justice' from the website of WHRnet (http://www.whrnet.org). WHRnet updates readers on women's human rights issues and policy developments globally and provides information and analyses that support advocacy actions. WHRnet has a regular e-bulletin. (To subscribe, email [email][email protected] with the word "subscribe" in the subject line).
* Click on the link below for the bibliography to this article