Volume 19, Issue 1 Blog

Why Gender Must Matter Differently for International Peace and Security

Maria Tanyag, PhD Candidate, Monash University


The 2017 IFJP Special Issue, according to Jacqui True, Sara Davies and Nicole George, was inspired by two key themes which were explored at the 2015 Annual IFJP Conference held in Queensland, Australia. First, 15 years after the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, they underscore the need to assess the impacts of gender equality efforts, and to understand why and how gender equality reforms have advanced to the extent that they have.  This means equally taking stock of positive outcomes in policy and advocacy as well as how else can the case be made stronger for taking gender seriously in international peace and security. Second, towards this goal, the geographic location where we direct our scrutiny matters. The Special Issue, as True, Davies and George emphasise, was motivated by the nuances presented by the Asia Pacific region as a case study. On the one hand, the Asia Pacific has demonstrated relative peace and stability and where women’s leadership and participation in peacebuilding are and continue to be increasingly recognised. On the other hand, from a more critical lens, the region allows for the interrogation of what the authors suggest as the ‘veneer’ of political order which then masks or normalises everyday gendered insecurities.  Here feminist epistemologies and methodologies are ideally positioned to challenge and see through such façades to unravel their costs for women and girls in the Asia Pacific.    

It makes sense, therefore, that Australia is increasingly becoming the geographic location where a vibrant hub of critical feminist scholars is coalescing. Australia provides the strategic environment – as part of the Asia Pacific – where feminist scholars are able to appreciate the salience of being attentive to prevailing knowledge boundaries around peace and security, and where they can freely raise and debate critical questions on diversifying feminist approaches to unpack the social construction of gender in relation to other identity categories such as race/ethnicity, nationality/citizenship, religion, class, disability and sexuality. The range of participants at the 2015 Conference and the articles selected for the corresponding Special Issue attest to this diversity and promising research agenda. The region with its range of country case studies contains a multiplicity of identities, economic structures and political systems rife for examining regional and global gendered processes for peace and security.

Importantly, the Special Issue raises the challenge of translating ‘beautiful commitments’ and rhetorical support for peace and gender equality into concrete measures that simultaneously stem the root causes of conflict and gender inequality. This task, as True, Davies and George acknowledge, is unlikely to be straightforward. Indeed, we are increasingly finding ourselves at a time of political polarisation, besieged by reversals or backsliding, the rise of openly misogynist leaders such as Donald Trump in the US and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, as well as overt anti-feminist backlash. How then can we (re)assert the links between gender, peace and security in Asia Pacific and globally in the face of tremendous challenges to the very foundational notion of feminism which is that gender matters? I find that the Special Issue does provide some suggestions moving forward.  

In introspectively examining how far gender equality has advanced in relation to international peace and security, we might find ourselves taking on the double-burden of first, going ‘back to basics’ in terms of (re)articulating how and why gender perspectives make a difference in international peace and security policy-making.  This also means rethinking the analytical links between gender, peace and security that feminist scholarship has made thus far. More to the point, we must equally try to answer ‘how can gender matter differently for international peace and security’ while examining, as the theme of the Special Issue posits, ‘the difference that gender makes for international peace and security’. What innovative theoretical approaches can we draw from to enrich and strengthen our analyses?

Second, as feminist scholars, it is even more important to ensure that our academic works penetrate through political and economic decision-making processes across all levels from community, to the state and globally. Two contributions in the Special Issue, for instance, deliberately attempt to bridge the artificial divides between theory and practice such as the conversation pieces between Sara Davies and Devanna de la Puente who serves as the gender-based violence advisor for the Asia Pacific Interagency Standing Committee GenCap Cluster; and Sarah Hewitt and the IFJP 2015 Conference Keynote Captain Jennifer Wittwer who is the acting Director on National Action Plan for Women, Peace and Security in the Australian Defence Force. Now more than ever, we need to be opening such lines of communication and critical dialogue. Rethinking old and new links between gender, peace and security requires that we regroup ourselves to broaden our engagements, or risk confining ourselves within feminist ‘echo chambers’. Who and where else do we need to form partnerships in academe, policy and activism? These are just some of the questions I offer in encouraging continued debates inspired by the 2017 Special Issue inspire and what had arisen as part of the 2015 Annual Conference.