Refugees, Humanitarian Aid, and Gender Equality as a Governing Tool

June 21, 2016 Posted by Caron Gentry


Elisabeth Olivius, Umeå University

My article in the current issue of IFJP (18:2) is a part of my doctoral dissertation, which I defended at Umeå University in December 2014. In my dissertation I analyzed how, and with what effects, gender equality norms are constructed, interpreted, and applied in the global governance of refugees. Thus, I was interested in how the idea of gender equality is given meaning and used as a governing tool in this field, and in the power relations that are produced as a result. This aim was primarily pursued through a case study of humanitarian aid practices in refugee camps in Bangladesh and Thailand, and I conducted a total of 58 interviews with humanitarian aid workers as a part of my dissertation research. In this article, however, I also analyze two of the most central international humanitarian policy texts on gender. The combination of policy texts and case studies makes it possible to identify patterns in how the meaning of gender equality is constructed in humanitarian aid as a field of global governance, and examine how international policy discourses are taken up in humanitarian field practices.

The analysis presented in this article focuses on two research questions:

  • First, how is gender equality represented as a policy goal in humanitarian aid to refugees? In other words, what does it mean to promote gender equality in refugee situations?
  • Second, which subject positions are constituted through the representations of gender equality that currently inform the global governance of refugees?

To answer the second research question I examined how three categories of people were described in the material: refugee women, refugee men, and humanitarian workers.

In the article, I identify two main representations of the meaning of gender equality in humanitarian aid to refugees. The first representation conceives of gender equality as synonymous with women’s participation. Refugee women are represented as strategic partners in the delivery of humanitarian aid by virtue of the reproductive roles they are assumed to perform, and harnessing refugee women’s specific contributions through increasing their participation is represented as essential to humanitarian aid effectiveness. By contrast, refugee men are represented as unreliable and problematic. Humanitarian workers are constructed as rational administrators, working to make gender differences useful.

Moreover, gender equality is also represented as a project of development, involving the transformation of “traditional” refugee communities into modern societies. Gender inequality is constructed as an expression of underdevelopment, to be remedied by the introduction of international human rights norms. The promotion of gender equality is thereby not only seen as essential to the immediate delivery of aid or the protection of women’s rights in the short term, but as an aspect of the reconstruction of more developed, peaceful, and stable societies in the long term. Refugee women are represented as victims of “backward” cultures in need of protection from humanitarian workers, cast in the role as saviors, while refugee men are represented as perpetrators of “uncivilized” masculinities in need of reform.

What I find problematic about both of these representations is that the promotion of gender equality in refugee situations is constructed as something that is done for refugees by humanitarian aid organizations. Thus, the agency of refugees themselves is marginalized, and power hierarchies between humanitarians and refugees, and between western and non-western peoples, are reproduced. However, this does not mean that attempts to promote gender equality in refugee situations are not relevant or desirable: rather, precisely because such attempts are important and hold potential to destabilize unequal relations of power, it is essential to examine the ways in which gender equality projects may entrench and reproduce forms of domination and marginalization despite their good intentions.

Working on this research project gave me several ideas about new directions for my research. One theme that I became more interested in as I wrote this article is how refugee men are represented and approached in humanitarian efforts to promote gender equality. The emerging trend towards increased attention to men and masculinities in humanitarian gender policy and practice is arguably part of a broader shift in this direction, and I wanted to explore what the implications of this shift might be. This analysis (which can be found here) built on and extended the examination of how refugee men were represented in my IFJP article. I found that three main representations of the role of refugee men in relation to the promotion of gender equality could be detected in my existing interview material combined with a new and broader set of humanitarian policy documents on gender.

As I had already noted when writing the IFJP article, refugee men are represented as perpetrators of violence and discrimination against refugee women, notably because they belong to “backward” cultures. However, I also identified two other ways in which refugee men and their role were described. First, refugee men are also represented as gatekeepers who, as power holders and decision makers in their families and communities, can both obstruct and enable change towards gender equality. It is therefore seen as essential to convince men to be partners and allies in the struggle for gender equality.

Secondly, I found that refugee men are represented as emasculated troublemakers. The inability of refugee men to perform masculine roles as providers and protectors in a refugee situation, in combination with aid agencies’ efforts to empower women, is said to leave men disempowered, emasculated, frustrated and bored. Male violence against women, alcohol abuse and criminality is represented as consequences of this situation, and gender equality policies that better respond to the needs of men is offered as the solution.

While consciously conceptualizing and addressing men and masculinities is no doubt necessary for the pursuit of more equitable gender relations in refugee situations as well as in other contexts, these ways of representing refugee men are problematic in ways which severely limit their usefulness to a project of gender equality and liberation: refugee men’s masculinities are pathologized through a representation of refugee communities as primitive; the power relations constitutive of gender differences are obscured; and the representation of refugee men as emasculated is frequently used to make an anti-feminist argument against the empowerment of women.

Another idea for further research that emerged from my dissertation project is to explore how refugee women themselves conceive of and work to achieve gender equality. While my dissertation project took the ideas and practices of external humanitarian actors as its focus, I came across local women’s organizations particularly in the Thai refugee camps who had been working for women’s rights and social justice long before the arrival of many humanitarian organizations. Thus, I became interested in knowing more about how these organizations defined their goals and how their struggles intersected, and possibly clashed, with the agendas of international donors, UN agencies and NGOs.

Fortunately I will get the opportunity to delve into these exciting questions in the coming years, thanks to a research grant from the Swedish Research Council (grant no 2015-01756). This new project focuses on how women’s organizations representing women from ethnic minorities who have fled from Myanmar/Burma, such as those I encountered in the refugee camps in Thailand, engage with and seek to influence conflict transformation, democratization and peacebuilding in their homeland. The aim is to examine how the activism of these organizations seek to shape the building of a new, post-conflict society, and how they navigate their relationships to other actors ranging from ethno-nationalist movements to international advocacy networks and donors. Hopefully this project will generate interesting insights into how women in exile organize and act politically, and how their activism contributes to reshape conceptions of gender, ethnicity, and nation.


Problematizing Institutions of U.S. National Security: From White Scientific Masculinity to Biodefense

June 9, 2016 Posted by Caron Gentry


Gwen D’Arcangelis,

Gender Studies Program, Skidmore College

 Biological weapons are neither the most accessible of topics, nor an obviously feminist issue. Yet, the anthrax mailings of 2001 both captured the U.S. public’s imagination, and sparked a nine-year criminal investigation brimming with implications about gender, race, and nation. The lengthy FBI-led investigation was noteworthy in that it resulted in the fingering of a white male government biodefense scientist as the culprit. What’s more, as I show in my article, the investigation, and mass news media coverage of the same, produced profiles of the perpetrator that ultimately served to defend the authority of biodefense, government science, and white males—a complex I name “white scientific masculinity”—as trusted sources of national security.

I became interested in the anthrax mailings in late 2002 while conducting research on the role of the biosciences and public health in U.S. imperialism during the War on Terror. As my research led me to examine, for example, the social implications of heightened security regulations in biomedical research, in my everyday life I continually engaged in discussions with colleagues and friends about ongoing developments of the War on Terror. A sporadic, if recurrent, topic was the anthrax investigation. For the investigation contained a great many curiosities—from its revelation that the source of anthrax used in the mailings originated in U.S. biodefense laboratories to its revelation that the most likely culprit was an elite biodefense scientist working, ironically, on countermeasures to bioterrorism.

As a feminist science studies scholar, the stakes of the investigation jumped out at me—these revelations had the potential to disrupt normative assumptions about the infallibility of biodefense and the assumed trustworthiness of white males. Yet, nowhere did I see a discussion of these important implications—neither in the mainstream press nor in the academic literature. While news media coverage of the investigation certainly focused on the rather sensational idea of the anthrax and the culprit being domestically-based, they went no further in delving into the deeply troubling implications.

The striking absence of such a discussion led me to the following inquiry: How, despite the shocking facts of the investigation that should have undermined the authority of U.S. biodefense and white masculinity, were profilers and journalists able to maintain both as pillars of U.S. national security? What I discovered, and what I show in this article, is that the FBI, profilers, and journalists wielded specific discursive strategies to shore up these unsettling revelations; and they did so in the very crafting of the language of the perpetrator profiles—from the initial profile put out by the FBI at the start of the investigation, to the two subsequent profiles that emerged in later stages of evidence-gathering.

In fact, as my article reveals, the successive perpetrator profiles collectively re-established normative assumptions that

  1. white males are rational and safe, the only exceptions being the “loners,” a trope that has been deployed repeatedly to rationalize the excess of white male mass violence as attributable to disturbed white males (i.e., not your typically trustworthy white male);
  2.  science (especially government science) and scientists (especially white male government scientists) are trustworthy and infallible; and finally
  3.  if a white male government biodefense scientist is found guilty of a biological weapons attack, he must have done so for noble reasons—as a cautionary tale to the dangers of biological weapons.

The unbelievable, yet unsurprising, way that the anthrax profilers were able to mold dominant discourse to rationalize even the most egregious contradictions is significant for multiple reasons.

Perhaps the most enduring point is the limitless malleability of dominant discourse to persist by absorbing contradictory evidence. Thus, one aim of my article is to increase our collective public understanding of how dominant actors (the FBI, journalists) reproduce problematic notions about gender, race, and nation. But my article also aims to draw attention to the problems specific to biodefense research. The anthrax investigation, despite the attempts of profilers to shore up its revelations, highlighted the ongoing dangers of biodefense research.

Even without the scenario of the rogue scientist, biodefense research is plagued by unintentional laboratory accidents. The most recent incident, gaining national coverage, occurred in June 2015 involving the accidental shipment of live anthrax by the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah to labs across the U.S. and internationally. As I discuss in my blog on the topic, these accidents are a problem inherent in biodefense research and can only be addressed if the field is deeply scrutinized, reduced, and/or eliminated altogether. In this context, white scientific masculinity serves as a powerful prop underpinning the authority of this industry, and obscuring its very real dangers. By demonstrating the constructedness of the authority of white scientific masculinity, I hope to also promote a deeper critique of the biodefense field.


Where Women Rebel, Revisited: Cross-National Patterns in Context

May 4, 2016 Posted by Caron Gentry


Alexis Henshaw,

Bucknell University 


My article in the current issue of IFJP (18:1) is an outgrowth of research I did for my dissertation at the University of Arizona (completed in 2013). Sharp-eyed readers will note that my findings cover a sample of rebel movements active between 1990-2008, under a rubric defined in the article. While relatively few new insurgencies have emerged since 2008 (according to UCDP/PRIO’s data), the greatest change has come in which groups we now focus on. In 2016, perhaps no single insurgency will attract greater policy attention or analysis than the Islamic State (ISIS).


While neither ISIS nor its predecessor group, the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), was included in my sample for Where Women Rebel, the rise of ISIS and the role of women within the organization provides an important opportunity to see what kind of insights my cross-national work can offer when applied to a particular case. In fact, I believe that when viewed in the context of my research, the participation of women in ISIS becomes less surprising in a number of ways.


  1. The inclusion of women in any insurgency is the norm, not the exception. Given my finding that women are present and active in the majority of all armed insurgencies since the end of the Cold War, the existence of women who support the Islamic State should come as a shock to no one. Yet media discourse and policy makers alike continue to puzzle over why women—particularly Western women and girls–would join the organization. The underlying assumption seems to be that it’s counter-intuitive for women to support an organization that undermines their civil and political rights, yet the data I compiled shows that women are present in plenty of insurgencies that have very little to say about the rights of women in a Western, liberal, democratic sense.


  1. The roles women play in ISIS are consistent with other Islamist extremist groups. As with many of the Islamist groups I examined, women in the Islamic State are currently limited to playing a supporting role. This edict was made very clear last year when ISIS’s female religious police, the al-Khans’aa Brigade, published a manifesto for women (see the English translation here). The document outlines a responsibility for women that lies first and foremost in the home, citing Islamic scripture that places men in a position of dominance. Thus, the work of the al-Khans’aa Brigade—i.e., the use of women to police other women—is acceptable, but the involvement of women in direct engagement against foreign forces is not… for now. In a section of its manifesto entitled “Secondary functions of a woman,” a caveat does allow for women to engage in jihad only if “the enemy is attacking her country and the men are not enough to protect it and the imams give a fatwa for it.” This too is something we’ve seen before. Groups like the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade were also slow to allow women to carry out armed attacks, i.e. suicide bombings, but they eventually did so—at least to some extent out of necessity. In her examination of jihadist groups, Davis concludes that these organizations begin to loosen restrictions on the use of women as suicide bombers after an average of 13.5 years, suggesting that need at some point trumps ideology. With recent reports suggesting that ISIS has lost a great deal of territory in both Iraq and Syria over the past year, this should give us pause. This could imply that we might see women fighting on behalf of the Islamic State soon.[1]


  1. Agency is complicated, and forced participation isn’t always what it seems. An analysis of ISIS would not be complete without mentioning forced participation. In the article, I acknowledge the difficulty inherent in trying to identify a “forced participant,” and I allude to the complex co-existence of both “forced” and “voluntary” participation in many insurgencies. The case of the Islamic State illustrates this complexity. In ISIS-held territory today, there are women who are slaves living alongside women who voluntarily joined the organization. In between these groups lies a large gray area. Namely, women like those interviewed last year in the New York Times—Syrian women who were not exactly forced into ISIS, but who agreed to collaborate to protect their own. For some women, collaboration may also be their only means of remaining connected with the world outside their homes. Are these women terrorists? War criminals? The question of how we view them is not just relevant in an academic sense; it is a concern that will have to be recognized in any future peace and reconciliation process.


With all these similarities to other armed groups, is there anything about the position of women in ISIS that is unique? I think so. In my studies, I saw few if any other organizations that succeeded in mobilizing a large, transnational contingent of women. For ISIS, that may turn out to be a blessing and a curse.


As noted above, women in ISIS-held territory exist within a rigid social hierarchy. While the women enslaved by the group are clearly at the bottom of that order, the New York Times interview linked above exposes an interesting fault line. The Syrian women who served with the al-Khans’aa Brigade seemed to think women who were foreign recruits enjoyed privilege. They report that these women got better weapons, petty cash, and more freedoms. The suggestion that ISIS is–intentionally or unintentionally–pitting women against one another is worth some attention. A PBS Frontline special last year already showed how women are fighting ISIS from within: Coordinating group rescues, reporting on building floor plans, and passing along information about checkpoints. While Frontline focused on the efforts of Yazidi women, many of whom are held in slavery, reluctant collaborators like those mentioned above might be in a position to do even more. But that depends on our ability to see women as combatants, to understand their motivations, and to value their potential as agents of change.


[1] In spite of some high-profile reports in 2015, the ISIS restrictions on women in combat still stand. Early reports of a female suicide bomber in Paris were discredited, while San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik’s Facebook pledge to the Islamic State does not suggest a direct link.

“Am I Going to Eat Peace?” – The Politics of Redistribution and Recognition in Women’s Peace Activism

April 21, 2016 Posted by Caron Gentry

Simukai Chigudu is a DPhil candidate in International Development at the University of Oxford, where he holds a Hoffman-Weidenfeld scholarship.

The story of global feminism is often told as a progressive and emancipatory movement emanating from the West and fostering radical politics elsewhere in the world. Such a view is not only ethnocentric but, critically, it fails to engage with the complex ways in which feminist politics travel and are evinced in specific localities. In this blog post, based on a recently published research article entitled ‘The Social Imaginaries of Women’s Peace Activism in Northern Uganda’, I seek to understand how marginalised women in the ‘Global South’ – particularly in Africa – interpret, experience and negotiate feminist ideas to wield political power within the context of their social and moral worlds.

My case study focuses on an NGO – called Isis Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) – that mediates and helps to organise women’s peace activism in Northern Uganda. Based on extensive and in-depth interviews with a wide range of activists in the organisation and in its network in post-conflict areas of the country, I argue that Isis-WICCE pursues peace and justice along two axes: ‘redistribution’ and ‘recognition’. Redistribution refers to addressing the material factors that precipitate and perpetuate social suffering by making the control and spread of resources more equitable. Recognition refers to elevating and valorising the social and cultural status of women to one of mutual respect and reciprocity, particularly with men, within their communities. Both of these frames relate to addressing and redressing the injustices inflicted on the female body during conflict and violence, and they provide an impetus to challenge the structures that produce violence and to reaffirm women’s personhood and moral agency.

Isis-WICCE was founded in 1974 in Geneva before relocating to Uganda in 1993, thereby becoming the first women’s peace-building NGO in the region. At first, the organisation set out to challenge the conventional war narratives that ‘lionise men as heroes and ignore the agency and experiences of women.’ It recognised that narratives of war are often gendered and treat women as an undifferentiated category despite their vastly diverse experiences of war as soldiers, rebels, civilians, patrons, abductees and so forth. Isis-WICCE thus endeavoured to use women’s testimonies as lobbying and advocacy tools to make specific practical demands for women’s needs – based on their particular experiences of war – from governments and international development agencies.

Ruth Ojiambo Ochieng, the director of Isis-WICCE at the time of writing, told me a story about how, during her tenure as director, she set about expanding the organisation’s founding mandate of ‘documentation and advocacy.’ When she first joined the organisation in 1994 as a programme officer, she met a young woman called Devota Mbabazi, an ex-combatant living in a remote area in the Luwero district of central Uganda. Mbabazi had been ‘raped by 21 soldiers, and developed several sexual and reproductive health complications including fistula and HIV and AIDS.’ Moreover, the uneducated Mbabazi was unable to integrate into the formal army after the Liberation War (Uganda-Tanzania War, 1978–79) and was thus unable to access social services or receive a state salary. Horrified and indignant at this story, Ochieng believed that it was unacceptable to document Mbabazi’s story for the purposes of advocacy without doing anything practical to attend to her immediate material welfare. Thus, in 1998 Ochieng started an emergency medical intervention program, as part of Isis-WICCE’s work, for ‘women war survivors’ in the Luwero district.

Isis-WICCE’s exposure to the material needs of women’s bodies in war zones challenged many of the organisation’s founding precepts of what it means to conduct a ‘feminist intervention’ – hitherto encompassing documentation, advocacy and ‘cross-cultural exchange’ – during and after armed conflict. At one of the first cross-cultural exchanges that Isis-WICCE hosted for its Ugandan clients, a survivor of violence questioned the theories of peace and conflict resolution being proffered. She simply asked, ‘Am I going to eat peace?’ thus highlighting the abstractedness and ineffectuality of a peace discourse that does not address the material reality of abject poverty.

This led to a debate within the organisation about the politics of redistribution, the politics of recognition and how to marry the two. This conversation reflects a long-standing, and much-discussed, fissure in development theory and praxis between practitioners concerned with the practicalities of development and normative theorists focused on the more abstract notions of ‘liberation for the subaltern subject.’ In response to the intellectual and pragmatic challenges presented by this debate, Isis-WICCE began to reconceptualise its approach to women’s peace activism to encompass both the material demands for redistribution and the sociocultural demands for recognition. The feminist peace discourse proffered by Isis-WICCE thus became a manifold metaphor for women’s political activism, peace-building and reconciliation, economic empowerment, and community development. Rhetorically, the organisation framed its approach as one ‘that will address the body, mind and spirit that has been shattered. It is about building humanity and bringing back the dignity to those who have lost it.’ In practical terms, this expanded discourse was constituted through different domains of action that addressed the physical, social and political needs of women after war.

The body is a central idiom that Isis-WICCE deploys in drawing attention to the unjust afflictions of conflict and violence on women and in contesting the androcentric nature of post-conflict reconstruction led by the state and international organisations. For Isis-WICCE activists, the ‘mainstream’ post-conflict reconstruction agenda in Africa – littered with recommendations such as ‘improve the rule of law,” ‘hold free and fair elections,’ ‘combat corruption,’ and ‘hold perpetrators of violence responsible for their actions’ – is elitist and blind to the subjective realities and voices of women. By highlighting how women’s bodies are violated during war, how women’s bodies provide labour for household survival and how women’s bodies have distinct needs in all facets of post-conflict development, Isis-WICCE asserts that the embodied experience of women in war is integral to the creation of protective social institutions following conflict. This is the way in which the organisation attempts to unite the politics of redistribution with the politics of recognition and the sense in which the organisation views itself as feminist.


Is BDS Feminist?

March 11, 2016 Posted by Caron Gentry

Dalit Baum,[1] American Friends Service Committee,

Merav Amir,[2] Queen’s University Belfast,

Editor’s Note: Given the ongoing conversation around BDS,  we invited several individuals to respond to the the Conversations piece by Simona Sharoni, Rabab Abdulhadi, Nadje Al-Ali, Felicia Eaves, Ronit Lentin, and Dina Siddiqi in the 17(4) issue of IFjP.  This is the second response of two.  

Israeli state propaganda often portrays BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) as a powerful transnational organization, encompassing all opposition to the State of Israel, led by hateful and sinister forces that manipulate violent mobs. State agencies organize opposition to “the BDS” and initiate legislation penalizing “support for BDS” in Israel and many Western countries. In a similar fashion, progressive audiences around the world hold support for BDS, at times, as the one measure of solidarity with Palestine, the litmus test of a left-radical identity. But both of these conceptions are misconstrued. BDS is neither an organization or a movement, nor is it an ideology or a political program; it is no more than a loosely-framed set of tactics for grassroots civil engagement, and an old-fashioned liberal toolset at that, consisting mainly of open community conversations, legal and economic research, and lobbying for legislative initiatives.

The use of these tools have been growing in recent years around the

world as part of a response to the refusal of the Israeli government to reach a just political agreement, and its increased use of extreme violence and repression against Palestinians. The opposition to Israeli state policies goes far beyond BDS, and even the use of various boycotts and anti-normalization strategies precedes and exceeds the BDS framework. The BDS toolset draws on these strategies, while channeling them towards pragmatic courses of action. Public debates for and against BDS often serve as a smoke screen, diverting attention from the main issue, the on-going vast economic, institutional and political support for Israeli state crimes. BDS tactics offer a limited, yet sometimes effective, grassroots intervention, when not many other courses of action are available for non-state actors concerned with Palestinian rights. Like other tactics, these should be debated in the context of a particular campaign and weighed against other possible tools.

BDS campaigns constitute a network of organized responses to the 2005 Palestinian BDS Call, which is a historically-situated appeal for action. It is directed at “international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world,” including, explicitly, “conscientious Israelis.” Importantly, the Call invites action, and not endorsements or approval. The targets of this action are not Israeli citizens, Israeli culture or even Israeli companies, but rather institutions and corporations in Israel and around the world which are complicit in oppressive state policies. These campaigns have been successful in mainstreaming the critique of Israeli policies around the world and at times in changing corporate and institutional policies regarding the Israeli occupation. The strategy is not punitive, but forward-looking: reforming institutions and corporations to comply with ethical and legal standards; and creating balancing mechanisms from below to counter institutional racism and war profiteering. This does not come at the expense of supporting the work in Palestine/Israel for justice, freedom and equality, but is aimed at helping to create the conditions for such work to gain ground.

The Palestinian Call has gained resonance with a wide-range of groups globally, from anarchist direct action groups to state pension funds and conservative churches, groups with otherwise very little in common. In other words, although this tactic can be taken up by feminist activists, it is in no way a feminist tactic. However, as a descendent of another lineage, that of nonviolent noncooperation, BDS can deeply intersect with anti-racist feminist analysis and practice. BDS initiatives around the world track complicity locally, and encourage individuals and civil society institutions to step away from their own cooperation in order to expose this complicity and contain it. Solidarity work is thus transformed, from supporting the oppressed from a detached objective distance, to an intimate engagement with our own complicity, accountability and privilege.

It is no coincidence in our view that the first Israeli organization to take action in response to the Call was the Coalition of Women for Peace (CWP), a radical feminist anti-occupation organization in which we were both active. CWP is an organization comprised of Jewish and Palestinian women activists from within 1948 Israel, formed as a national coalition of feminist peace groups during the second intifada. It has been haunted from its inception by the challenges of solidarity and respective privilege in the joint Jewish-Palestinian movement and by dilemmas of economic justice in regards to the occupation. CWP conducted a series of laborious discussions between 2005 and 2010 about our response to the BDS Call, leading to the formation of a grassroots research initiative in 2007, Who Profits from the Occupation. As two Jewish Ashkenazi middle class women ourselves, we felt that this research project made good use of our relative privileges: our freedom of movement, our cultural access, and our relative immunity to help promote a cause we believed in.

In the beginning we mainly wanted to educate ourselves about the economic underpinnings of the occupation, and could not imagine that ten years later this project would become an independent research center and the foremost authority on corporate complicity in the Israeli occupation. We started from scratch, collecting information from site visits and learning how to do the research on the go. But soon afterwards, the information published by Who Profits very quickly became crucial to a growing number of campaigns around the world, and these in turn increasingly succeeded in changing business policies and getting multinational corporations to withdraw from their involvement in the Israeli occupation.

For us, even if there was nothing inherently feminist about BDS, it was our feminist awareness, training and experience that helped us try to transform a complex political dilemma into action. Our experience as feminist activists taught us (the hard way, as always) that we could not simply will privilege away, and moreover, that this realization cannot serve as an excuse for inaction; that privilege is blinding, but it comes with a moral obligation and a responsibility to learn and take action; that learning requires listening to our bodies, our own positioning, our immediate surroundings, tracking our own complicity. It also taught us to question expressions of solidarity that overlook concrete power relations and privilege, and to be wary of endless sanctimonious discussions of identity which lead to paralysis. From our perspective, therefore, the more interesting question is not whether BDS is feminist or not, but rather, what BDS can teach us these days about white feminism, privilege, solidarity and action.

[1] Dr. Dalit Baum, was a co-founder of Who Profits from the Occupation and of the Coalition of Women for Peace in Israel. Today she is the director of Economic Activism in the American Friends Service Committee.

[2] Dr. Merav Amir is an assistant professor of Human Geography at the School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology and a senior research fellow at the Institute of Conflict Transformation and Social Justice, Queen’s University Belfast. Between 2008 and 2011 she was a coordinator at the Who Profits from the Occupation research project.

A View From Within the Fortress

March 1, 2016 Posted by Caron Gentry

Sarai Aharoni, University of Haifa and the Haifa Feminist Institute (HFI),

Amalia Sa’ar, University of Haifa,

Editor’s Note: Given the ongoing conversation around BDS,  we invited several individuals to respond to the the Conversations piece by Simona Sharoni, Rabab Abdulhadi, Nadje Al-Ali, Felicia Eaves, Ronit Lentin, and Dina Siddiqi in the 17(4) issue of IFjP.  This is the first response of two.  

Similar to our previous piece on feminism and BDS, this short intervention is written from a particular standpoint, the standpoint of local, Jewish-Israeli pro-peace feminists. Our perspective is somewhat different from diasporic accounts or other narratives about ‘doing something’ to end the Israeli occupation and the violent separation systems it sustains. Although we do not intend to summarize the multiple voices and positions among Israeli feminists concerning the question of BDS as a solidarity movement, we find it crucial to highlight the importance of this positionality and the possibilities of engaging with it more seriously. In certain ways, this response is written from within a fortress. The metaphor of a fortress captures the current mental and geopolitical reality inside Israel that is becoming more and more fortified amidst a turbulent Middle East. By using this metaphor, we acknowledge how we are both protected by and enclosed within the walls that define and confine our communities. By using this metaphor we also imply that in this juncture there is a clear convergence between the belligerent-cum-isolationist policies of the current Israeli government and the call for BDS. While we sympathize and to some degree even identify with the sentiment that Israel deserves shaming and the Palestinians deserve global solidarity, and while we entirely agree that this conflict is gendered in manifold ways, we would like to question whether isolation and boycott are good for ‘women’, for our communities and future generations.

Our response is not meant to continue a ‘dialogue of the death’ concerning the pros and cons of BDS. Like many other scholars and activists in Israel, we are faced with daily manifestations of silence about the occupation and experience various forms of censorship of dissent, criticism or resistance. Like many BDS supporters we too agree that the situation on ground is so dire that we need to adopt radical, innovative and non-violent means to constantly confront the ongoing militarization, occupation and fundamentalism. But, while BDS is configured as a form of negative politics of resistance (refraining and prohibiting normalized contacts with Israeli institutions), we would like to suggest the possibility of endorsing positive forms of peacebuilding that are based on the acknowledgment that we, those who live here, must work hard to build a joint future. This is particularly relevant to feminist scholars who have been highlighting for years the invisible work done by women to sustain life, empathy and tolerance.

This may be seen as a naïve or privileged point of view, but it has grown out of long and constant thinking about the place we live in. Outside and inside our writing, teaching and research we are constantly faced with moral dilemmas and societal sanctions that are born from occupation. Working and living inside the complex and sophisticated double regime system which actively and skillfully separates Israelis from Palestinians has brought us to ask questions that remain invisible in external debates about this conflict, its roots and possible solutions. This position has brought us, in our current research project, to reexamine feminist perspectives on moral agency and asymmetrical warfare. Doing so, we assume that within this fortress there are various communities (and individuals) that are trying to make sense of the past and present by producing local ethical trajectories that define ‘right’ from ‘wrong’. Moral agency is important since we, as local feminists, cannot blindly endorse gendered fantasies of protection and external salvation. We do not believe in the power of the international community to save us from ourselves. Our explorations are meant to highlight local agency and creativity and insist that these are relevant and important.

Studying the lessons of other intractable bloody conflicts underscores the importance of adopting a perspective of conflict transformation. While the strategy of boycott, divestment, and sanctions aims to force Israel to retreat, and while unlike military confrontation it is distinctly non-violent, it is still strikingly similar to the latter in its focus on defeating the enemy, without much thought about the day after. Arguably, successive Israeli governments have justified this attitude, having repeatedly truncated previous rounds of negotiation by rejecting any terms that would allow a sustainable Palestinian state and by consistently refusing to acknowledge the Palestinian right of return. However, as Israeli feminists, we see our agency not in joining the game of trying to subdue power – a pointless endeavor to begin with – but in trying to undo it by working in its interstices and invisible spaces; and by inculcating care as a moral politics of conflict transformation. We therefore see global feminist solidarity as supporting the Palestinian quest for historical justice while actively working towards de-militarization of all parties to this conflict; and as not giving up on collaborative actions for peace, which the BDS movement unwittingly disparages. Otherwise, we would be denying our own history of cross-border feminist peace activism and forfeiting our legacy of talking in a different voice.

Cripping the World Bank

August 19, 2015 Posted by Caron Gentry


Corrine Mason (

Editor’s Note: Corinne’s article, “Cripping” the World Bank; Disability, Empowerment and The Cost of Violence Against Women ,” is forthcoming in vol. 17, no. 3.

Violence against women is expensive. Homophobia is bad for business. Working with women is smart economics. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) individuals are untapped resources.

Anyone paying attention to gender and sexuality work at the World Bank will recognize these all-to-common phrases. Feminist scholars, in particular, heavily critique World Bank rhetoric for building a technocratic, growth-focused, and business case for women’s rights. In my IFJP article, I demonstrate how economic language is used to promote responses to violence against women, such as economic empowerment programs, that do little more than reproduce status-quo gender work at the World Bank.

What is original in my critique of the World Bank’s gender work is my focus on disability. The World Bank uses a measurement called “disability-life adjusted years” or DALYs to measure the cost of violence against women on the economy. I argue that DALYs are not only ableist, but reveal how the World Bank imagines women as “good investments” in market-based schemes with little consideration of their overall well-being.

The Cost of Violence Against Women

In the 2009 World Bank report, The Cost of Violence, the organization argues that violence against women is costly to the economy because abused women find themselves in need of social services and health care. Women are also less productive at work because of the violence they experience. In 2013, Caroline Anstey, then a managing director at the World Bank, claimed “all of us taxpayers, businesses and governments pay a price with every punch, kick and rape.” The World Bank maintains that violence is inefficient.

In 1993, the World Bank estimated that nine million disability-life adjusted years (DALYs) were lost globally as a result of sexual and domestic violence. The number of DALYs lost from domestic violence is larger than DALYs lost due to all forms of cancer, and twice that lost by women as a result of automobile accidents.

What are DALYs?

DALYs were designed by the World Health Organization (WHO) to measure the gap between one’s current health status and an ideal situation where everyone lives into old age, free of disease and disability.

Using Robert McRuer’s (2006) Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability, my analysis “crips” the World Bank’s use of DALYs to measure the cost of violence against women. “Crip” is a word that is used among disability theorists and in queer studies to disrupt the concepts of “normal” (read able-bodied) and “abnormal” (read disabled). “Cripping” the World Bank is really about working to uncover the ways in which ableism, or assuming the able-body is “normal” and ideal, informs the DALYs measurement. By claiming that able-bodiedness is ideal and the highest quality of life, while simultaneously relating inefficiencies to disability, the World Bank’s DALYs discriminates against those with disabilities.

DALYs also instrumentalized the issue of disability by only using the concept of disability (rather than the experience) to communicate the importance of ending violence against women. Pairing cost analyses with well-know World Bank rhetoric about getting women back to work and living up to their productive potential, DALYs provide the World Bank with a economic justification to position women in precarious employment— such as export processing zones, micro-credit, and entrepreneurship where they are most often employed—as sites of empowerment.

The World Bank claims that labor sites are spaces provide an opportunity for women to fulfill their capacities, yet they are also places where women experience both gendered violence and disabling working conditions. What is more, the World Bank employs the DALYs measurement without explicitly addressing violence against women with disabilities, who are at greater risk of violence than those without disabilities.

Isn’t this focus on women a good thing?

Isn’t it great that the World Bank, a growth obsessed organization, is paying attention to violence at all? And, how do you get an institution that, according to their 1944 Articles of Agreement, is prohibited from “being political” to pay attention to human rights?

According to an interview I conducted with Alys Williams in 2012, (a social development specialist at the World Bank) those who are interested in gender inequality issues have to be “opportunistic” and they “have to go where [they] are invited to go.” Often, gender advocates working inside the organization have to speak the language of economists to make lead-way on any issue that might be deemed outside the mandate of the bank.

“Cripping” the World Bank shows us that if DALYs are required to obtain the attention of the World Bank, the response to violence against women made possible by this economic focus may be more costly to the lives of women that the organization can comprehend.

More recently, the insiders at the World Bank has used DALYs to gain traction on sexuality, gender identity and expression or SOGIE. Given the salience of sexuality issues in the development industry more generally, it is predictable that questions of homophobia and transphobia are now also enveloped by market logic at the World Bank. DALYs are being used by researchers to convince the organization to pay attention to the cost of homophobia and transphobia. According to Fabrice Houdart (an openly gay former senior country officer who has been recently demoted and is now embroiled in a scandal after publicly criticizing the organization) argues that advocates within the World Bank must use DALYs and other cost analyses to “trigger any interest from bank economics.”

Given the public ousting of the strongest proponent of LGBT rights at the organization, one might imagine that this research focus will halt. I question the continued use of DALYs, which are inherently ableist, by advocates within the institution to give traction to gender and sexuality issues.

The development industry as a whole is moving toward more inclusive programming for LGBT people. ‘Pink aid’—or LGBT-inclusive or focused foreign aid and development which borrows from the imagery of the pink triangle —might be the most efficient step forward for the World Bank. What impact it will have on LGBT people globally remains unknown.


The liberal warrior after 2014: visibilities and invisibilities

June 8, 2015 Posted by Caron Gentry

Julia Welland (

Editor’s Note: Julia’s article, “Liberal Warriors and the Violent Colonial Logics of ‘Partnering and Advising,’” is in the current issue of IFJP, vol. 17, no. 2.

During the thirteen years British troops were stationed in Afghanistan, I often found myself thinking about visibilities and invisibilities. I thought about the bodies that populated visual grammars of war: the veiled and supposedly oppressed Afghan women, the AK-47-toting Taliban fighter, and the NATO counterinsurgency soldier. I thought about the violences that I saw and heard on news reports and in newspapers, on the car radio during my morning drive to work, and occasionally even on the bodies of veterans themselves. And I thought about what stories or narratives of war – about who we were fighting, why we were fighting, and who was doing the fighting – were visible, and even became familiar. I also thought about what remained invisible, or at least not readily available to an incurious observer: the bodies that failed to appear as part of the warscape, violences I didn’t bear witness to, and the stories of war that remained unfamiliar. I was particularly interested in asking questions about the specific conceptualisation of militarised masculinity that I saw as being overwhelmingly visible: the body through which nearly all our understandings of the conflict was mediated through.

The Liberal Warrior:

In-line with the demands of counterinsurgency warfare, its ‘softer’ and ‘gentler’ approach to soldiering, and its simultaneous need for soldiers who can both fight wars and build nations, I claimed that a ‘new’ militarised masculine subjectivity was emerging: the liberal warrior.

This liberal warrior was produced both through everyday counterinsurgency practices—foot patrols; shuras; firefights—and through its being-in-relation with other(ed) subjectivities. The training, or ‘partnering and advising’ as the British military referred to it, of Afghan security forces was one site where the liberal warrior could be performatively enacted through both practice and relation. In the mentoring of Afghan security forces, liberal warriors demonstrated both their ‘hard’ masculinity—in their provision of command and fire battle support—and ‘soft’ femininity—by providing advice on leadership and operational procedures. These practices produced a softened and slightly feminised militarised masculinity: one that was strong yet restrained, rational yet compassionate.

For audiences in the west, it was the liberal warrior and its specific embodiment of masculinity that became the dominant frame of reference for understanding the conflict, and the centrality of this subjectivity engendered particular visibilities.

The Obfuscating Visibility of the Liberal Warrior:

It was through a liberal warrior’s soft-hatted patrols and population-centric tactics that counterinsurgency entered the public imagination;

It was through liberal warriors’ deaths and amputated limbs that we knew of the continued danger and threat of the Taliban;

And it was through the liberal warrior’s relation to Afghan security personnel that Afghans were scripted (simultaneously and paradoxically) as effeminate, homosexualised and hypermasculine.

Thus, concomitantly, the centrality and visibility of a liberal warrior masculinity engendered particular invisibilities: the concealing of the continued ‘kinetic’ side of the operations, the unknown numbers of injured and killed Afghans, and the papering over of masculinity’s lack of ontological solidity.

The Liberal Warrior in Peace:

However, as of November 2014, the majority of NATO troops left Afghanistan and handed responsibility for combat and security missions over to their Afghan counterparts. The liberal warrior is no longer re-enacted and reproduced in the counterinsurgency environs of Afghanistan, but now largely resides in their home country, thousands of miles away from the context, which it both constituted and was constituted by. What now then for a liberal warrior militarised masculinity? Will the liberal warrior itself be rendered invisible now?

While no longer performatively enacted through counterinsurgency practices, the liberal warrior continues to materialise in the post-Afghanistan context. In March 2015 a service was held in St Pauls Cathedral in the UK, commemorating British involvement in Afghanistan, with members of Parliament, the Royal family, and service personnel and their families in attendance. During the service, we were reminded of the sacrifices of the 453 British troops who had died, as well as the countless others who bear the physical and emotional costs of war.

Increasingly however, liberal warriors emerge as disconnected from war, combat or Afghanistan, and as central figures in the continued militarisation of everyday life. The visibility of liberal warriors – both current service personnel and veterans – is today overwhelmingly in the supposedly civilian sphere. In the Invictus Games, liberal warriors demonstrate their continued physical strength despite the injuries they have endured; this physical capability is apparent again in their position as fitness instructors and personal trainers in British Military Fitness; and they emerge as ‘solutions’ to multiple problems – ‘problem’ children, ‘problem’ schools, civilian security provision – that are then, in turn, militarised.

Through these visibilities the liberal warrior is becoming increasingly personalised and increasingly familiarised to even those with little or no connection to the formal military institution. No longer absent fighting forces, the bodies and visibility of liberal warriors increasingly fills our field of everyday vision. These practices, these visibilities, operate to contain and render invisible the practices, effects and questions of war. These bodies are continually separated from acts of violence and their visibilities script very specific boundaries around what can or cannot be asked or told about their experiences.

The Invisible Remains:

And what about Afghanistan? What about the spatial location where so many of these liberal warriors were deployed and constituted? Afghanistan—its population we supposedly protected and its security forces we trained—continues to fade from our field of vision, becoming ever more invisible in our understanding of militaries and liberal warriors.

It has been reported that despite the British government’s claim that its lasting ‘legacy’ in Afghanistan would be the trained and strengthened Afghan military and police), in the first few months of 2015 casualties within the security forces have increased by around 70%, with an average of 330 casualties a week. With the Afghan spring fighting season only recently started, the country’s first without the combat support of NATO, the legacy of NATO’s involvement in Afghanistan may in fact be a carefully scripted and hypervisible liberal warrior, and the continued invisibility of violence aimed towards those already located in vulnerable and precarious positions.


International Women’s Day!

March 6, 2015 Posted by Caron Gentry

Celebrate International Women’s Day by accessing free articles from IFjP and other journals at the Taylor and Francis website!

Third Annual Conference, University of Southern California, May 2014

February 18, 2015 Posted by Caron Gentry

“Gender and Crisis in Global Politics”

Keynote Speakers

J. Ann Tickner, American University

“Revisiting IR in a Time of Emergencies: Learning from Indigenous Knowledge”


Jacqui True, Monash University

“Winning the War on War but Losing the Battle: A Feminist Perspective on Global Violence”

Video Coming Soon

Jack Halberstam, University of Southern California

“Charming for the Revolution: A Gaga Manifesto”

Video Coming Soon

Pre-Conference Workshop

Carol Cohn, University of Massachusetts, Boston

“The Gendered Political Economies of Peacebuilding”


J. Ann Tickner, American University

“Reflections on the State of Feminism in IR”