The Femininity of Peacebuilding

Posted by on May 5, 2011 in Creativity, Gender, Peacebuilding Organizations | 0 comments

In my Strategic Peacebuilding class, we got in a heated discussion about a book entitled Women Building Peace: What They Do, Why it Matters, written by Sanam Naraghi Anderlini. In retrospect, it seems strange that a book about peace would spark debate, but nevertheless even those members of the class who rarely spoke, raised their hands to speak their opinions that day. The debate began because some females in the class thought this particular book supported the common stereotype of women as “caregivers” and pigeonholed us into solely a nurturing role. They were offended by this perception and some chose to view the book as a type of propaganda working against women’s equality.

Personally, I chose to view this book as a way to highlight the peacebuilding work women undertake all over the world, mostly without recognition or fame, as well as a way to incorporate the crucial female perspective into peacebuilding processes when too often it is omitted. It did, however, get me thinking about gender stereotypes and if peacebuilding practice and literature creates them or simply accentuates present differences. There is no doubt that women must be included in peace processes, but why? One explanation is because we are natural caregivers with a higher capacity to love. However, this explanation is too one dimensional for me, because even if this were true of all women, this does not mean all women are destined to be good at building peace. So, the discussion here is not necessarily if women are better at building peace than men, it’s more about how we are different at building peace than men. It’s about how we choose to implement our unique perspective and creative voice.

Iraqi born Zainab Salbi believes in women’s voices and our capabilities to build peace. This is why she founded Women for Women International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women in war torn regions rebuild their lives and communities. Women for Women International helps women who are survivors of war and conflict learn the skills necessary to become economically self sufficient with its direct aid program, rights education, job skills training, and small business development.

Salbi discusses the femininity of war in this TED video: Women, wartime, and the dream of peace.

Anderlini supports Salbi and all women with this statement, “Yet, in acknowledging women’s experiences of violence, we cannot overlook or ignore their resilience, sense of self dignity, desire for survival, and struggle to move beyond passive victimhood. In the words of on United Nation’s officer, “in crisis situations, the women are the best humanitarian workers.” They are also among the most committed peacebuilders. We must recognize, respect, and support their efforts.”

After thinking about women, our role in peacebuilding, and whether this is a stereotypical feminine practice and consequently forces us into a role we might not want to play, I came to the conclusion that men and women are different. Our biological, social, mental, physical, and hormonal differences cause us to behave according to our given sex/gender. Whether the ways we operate are inherent or socially constructed does not really matter in the context of peacebuilding and focusing on this aspect can actually detract from important work that needs to be done. What does matter to me is that because of our variances we have the opportunity to include a multitude of views and voices at the table contributing to the pertinent, challenging, and powerful conversation about building peace. Men bring certain individual capabilities and women, as evidenced by Anderlini and Salbi, bring others, equally as valuable. Sometimes these capabilities overlap and sometimes they don’t but the distinctions are what lead to variety and creativity in action. So, I say, yield to our differences, maybe even celebrate them because then we will not relegate women’s observed unique capabilities into a stereotype.

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