Can Conflict Resolution & Peace Building Survive Right-Wing Populism in Colombia?

I don’t feel that Duque can jeopardize my legacy,” asserted Juan Manuel Santos, the outgoing Colombian president and Nobel Peace laureate in an interview with the news website La Silla Vacía published on July 7, 2018.  Santos’s response might calm down some of the fears of Colombian peace process supporters, as much of them see in the entry into office of the president-elect Iván Duque on 7 August 2018 a serious menace to the ongoing implementation of the peace agreement signed by Santos’s government with the FARC guerrilla in 2016.

But statements made at the 2017 National Convention of the Democratic Center Party have even sparked the fears of those who were confident in the implementation of the peace agreement, as one of its most relevant members asserted that the first challenge to be undertaken by Duque’s political party will be “to shatter this cursed paper called final agreement with the FARC.” Nevertheless, during the presidential campaign which led to his election in May 2018, Duque was able to play a more moderate card by using a double-edged strategy. One the one side, Duque claimed that he we will make some adjustments to the peace agreement and, on the other, he pledged to support the ongoing process of FARC demobilization opened up by this agreement. When starting his government on August 7, Duque will have a comfortable absolute majority in the Parliament, which will secure him the ability to pass any proposed reform. However, the peace accords have been enshrined in the Constitution and, moreover, a ruling of the Constitutional Court obliges the next three governments to implement them.

All well and good, but can we trust Duque’s independence from the hard-liners of his right-wing party? Why should we be cautious about the populist imprints of the Democratic Center? And more precisely, how might the Democratic Center’s populism endanger gender mainstreaming in the peace-building process?

Why Should We Fear the Democratic Center’s Populism?

Contrary to what this question might suggest, I must start by asserting that I don’t reject populism outright. As Chantal Mouffe suggests, there is a necessity of certain forms of populism in order to enhance the agonistic relations that are essential for a vibrant democratic debate to exist. In their defense of populism, Mouffe as well as Ernesto Laclau explain that populism is not an ideology but “a way of constructing the political” (Laclau 2005). It is a way to build a transversal political identity by articulating different political demands. Not limited to concerns of class, populist demands may stem from other cross-cutting social relationships including, for instance, nationality, gender, race, religious belonging, or even environmental relations. A populist chain of demands is not fixed, but rather can be re-articulated or fall apart. That is another reason why populism is better defined as a way of “constructing the people,” and not as an ideology.

To put it shortly, the need for left-wing populist alternatives, that Mouffe prompts, arises as the current post-political consensus has rendered the adversarial model of politics obsolete and has achieved to turn the rule of technocracy into a hegemony. But at the same time, it is precisely the increasing rule of technocracy, with its ability to depoliticize and foreclose any debate about possible alternatives to, for example, measures of austerity, the rules of neoliberal globalization, or the global refugee crisis, what is at the roots of the current global success of right-wing populism.

Unlike a current elite unable to formulate alternative answers, right-wing populist parties claim that they embody the voice of the people, and their ability to construct a collective difference between an Us opposed to a Them is one their basic features. Notoriously, the other key feature of right-wing populism is its ability to build a political identity based on the articulation of a chain of identities and demands against a current elite, who they claim has failed or betrayed the people. And precisely, this recurrent practice whereby a political group labels those who dissent or oppose them, for instance, of being unpatriotic or supporters of terrorism, has been one of the most prominent footprints of Duque’s party Democratic Center. Thus, in order to map the populist architecture of this right-wing party, it is good to start by scrutinizing this practice.

Founded by Duque’s godfather, ex-president Alvaro Uribe, the Democratic Center fiercely opposed not only the Havana peace talks all along, but reparation to the victims. Insofar as Santos deepened his commitment to these causes throughout his presidential mandates (2010-2018), Uribe’s response was not long in coming and expressing his fury. Uribe labeled Santos as a traitor  who was leaving the country in the hands of a communist menace that he called  Castro-Chavism  and, moreover, accused Santos of  leading the surrender of the country to the FARC. The gendered dimensions of Uribe’s rhetoric are close to the surface, and that, coming from a politician whose war-centered approach to end the Colombian armed conflict and to deal with the coca cultivation entailed a serious militarization of women’s lives, is not surprising. Echoing the sense suggested by Cynthia Enloe, by militarization of women’s lives, I mean a governmental rule that provides a sense of worthiness and normalcy to military –and paramilitary– ideas.

Feminists, as Meger reminds us, “have documented the role that discourse plays in constructing gender symbolism and naturalizing hierarchies of dominance and subordination.” Moreover, she claims, “the discourse of counterterrorism is not only a means of delegitimizing insurgencies but also of feminizing them” (Meger 2016: 90). Uribe’s strategy to deny the FARC guerrilla belligerent status during his mandate was not an exception in this respect. But here, in order to sabotage Santos’s peace process, Uribe was able to use the discourse the other way around. Crafting an analogy between the Havana peace talks and military surrender, and equating Santos’s peace politics with a betrayal to the long effort of the Colombian Army against the FARC’s terrorist menace, Uribe sought to turn the military and their supporters against Santos. And in fact, in the view of public opinion, Uribe succeeded in creating a climate of distrust between the executive and the military. In Uribe’s populist rhetoric, Santos’s peace politics meant the dishonor and emasculation of the Colombian National Army, rendering both the long military struggle against the FARC as if it has been of no value and the sacrifice of Colombian people in the war of drugs as if it would have been in vain.

But, just as Santos counteracted the effects of Uribe’s rhetoric by including the military at the negotiating table, so too the Democratic Center was also able to reframe its chain of equivalences (interests-identities) and to keep its populist architecture going. In this endeavor, another maneuver particularly gendered that serves the purpose of securing to Uribe’s party a large section of the Colombian electorate was set in motion during the campaign on the plebiscite for peace that took place on October 2016. At that time, the Democratic Center orchestrated a misleading campaign that led not just to the resignation of Education minister Gina Parody but, even worst, to the rejection of the Havana peace accords. In what has been one of its most successful attempts to destabilize Santos’s government, the Democratic Center appealed to the religious beliefs and fears of the Colombian electorate by directing its attacks to the mainstreaming of gender in schools and to the inclusion of the term gender in the Havana accords. Crafting a discourse to stir up fear among the growing Christian community (Protestant and Catholic), the Democratic Center targeted as its new scapegoat the minister Parody. Blaming her for smuggling a supposed gender ideology into the schools and into the peace agreements, this party claimed that the inclusion of such foreign gender ideology would jeopardize the heterosexual basis upon which the traditional Colombian family is grounded. In the aftermath of such a defeat in the plebiscite, which journalist Maria Jimena Duzán has called “The Night of Tears”, Santos managed to achieve a new peace deal which included amendments and clarifications suggested by sectors of the “No” vote.  Approved by the Colombian Congress on December 2016, yet the new peace accord maintained the use of the gender-based approach, which broadly speaking was referred to as the recognition of equal rights for men and women. Despite the fact that Colombia has not issued a National Action Plan for the implementation of UN Security Council resolution 1325, the final peace agreement has been recognized for having incorporated 122 gender-specific provisions.

In its ambitious architecture, the Colombian peace agreement with the FARC seeks to tackle the following aspects: First, what have been identified as the causes of the war, and which, worthy to mention, have underpinned the FARC insurgency’s political grievances, such as inequality in land access and concerns related to territorial control. Second, factors and dynamics that fuel the war, being the most significant drug trafficking and others such as illegal mining. Third, socio-economic and political inequalities that have allowed human rights violations, which include but are not limited to gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political beliefs or affiliation. Four, the peace accord aims at offering to the victims a comprehensive system for truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence. Thus, going beyond the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the FARC guerilla, the final document addresses the above-mentioned aspects in six chapters: (1) comprehensive rural reform, aimed at reducing the socio-economic gap between urban and rural areas  which, worth mentioning, involves measures aimed at bringing about sustainable development; (2) political participation, with a view on enhancing democratic pluralism broadly understood; (3) DDR of the FARC members in order to guarantee their political, social, and economic integration into civilian life; (4) comprehensive solution to the drug problem which promises to overcome the over-criminalization produced by the war on drugs and, instead, involves a comprehensive plan with an equity-based and gender-based approach for the substitution of crops tackling the structural causes that lead families to cultivate illicit drug crops; (5) comprehensive system of transformative transitional justice;  and (6) system for the verification of the implementation of the agreement.

So far, so good. But can we be sure that in his attempts to adjust the peace agreement, the newly elected president Duque could resist its political party’s tendency to resort to right-wing populist strategies?

Ivan Duque: Under the Shadow of Populism

Since he was picked up as the Democratic Center’s official candidate, Ivan Duque was depicted for many as Uribe’s new puppet; a shadow from which Duque has not been able to free himself. And that despite the active support of the media, which facilitated him to elude any serious public debate. The media played its part directing the spotlight towards Duque’s experience working at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and thereby helped him to build a pro-business profile. In the meantime, Duque refused to attend various debates, and notoriously a debate organized by women’s movements and feminist organizations, so-called “The Women Ask.” Yet, the Democratic Center could not afford to overlook the LGBT constituencies. Hence, it found a way around not just to repair the rifts caused by its misleading campaign on gender ideology, but to counteract the fears of the LGBT community that the Democratic Center will re-open the so-called anti-gay referendum. Without hesitation or shame, Uribe rushed to give a hand to his protégé by addressing a public statement to the LGBT sector and declaring that the Democratic Center will respect all acquired rights.

As for the peace process, Duque maintained his positioning as a moderate politician by emphasizing that he will adjust the agreements rather than shatter them. However, history might repeat itself and, hence, Duque might face serious difficulties to maintain a margin of autonomy from his party. As it happened with Santos, any step Duque might take in an opposite direction from Uribe’s rightist approach or from the Democratic Center’s hard-liners could cause him to be labeled as traitor.

The latest developments show that Duque’s government has begun to reshape the peace-building process even before its entry into office. Just some days after Duque won the presidency, the Congress passed a reform proposed by his party which weakens the power of a backbone institution created through the Havana agreements, so-called Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP in Spanish). The JEP is a transitional justice mechanism whose main function is to investigate and prosecute serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed during the Colombian armed conflict. Since the creation of the JEP, the Democratic Center has argued that this tribunal places on equal footing guerrilla members and the military. Thus, recycling the argument according to which the peace agreement undermines the honor of the Colombian Army, the Democratic Center succeeded in obtaining from Congress approval of a reform that obliges the JEP to create a special chamber to judge military personnel. Law scholars, such as Rodrigo Uprimny, have argued that this measure disarticulates the entire transitional justice architecture, while others have warned that this reform leaves over 2,000 military personnel who have expressed their intention to appear before the JEP in a legal limbo. But beyond that, what this amendment suggests is that the attacks to the peace-building process that Duque’s right-wing party may put in motion will be brutal, though not necessarily frontal. While keeping his technocratic façade, Duque can be tempted to resort to populist tropes and strategies aimed at disarticulating the institutions created through the peace agreement.

For instance, Duque might cast doubts on their design or on the neutrality of the functionaries appointed to work at these agencies asserting that they are ideologically biased. Thereafter, he can use that argument as a pretext to change their organization, turning them into dysfunctional agencies unable to accomplish their mission. Even starker, Duque’s government might provoke a division between the traditional poor and the victims. For instance, and given the huge cost of victim reparation programs, hard-line factions of his party can spread rumors asserting that, because of such expenses, the government might be obliged to reduce social investment for the poor. Or finally, as a report of the International Crisis Group has warned, the government might render transitional justice institutions inefficient by starving their operational budgets.

Yet, by way of conclusion, the Colombian peace-building experience does not suggest that we should reject all forms of populism, or that populism is antithetical to peace building and democratic rule. If the tropes used by populism include, for instance, those related to gender equality and respect for diversity, populism can help societies to bring about transformative justice and durable peace. In contrast, when the tropes and mottos adopted by populism work to promote patriarchal masculinities, to undermine democratic pluralism or to maintain inequalities, it is most likely that the only kind of post-conflict context populism can help to bring about is one ruled by an oppressive peace.

Note: at the time of submitting this article (July 2018), the Colombian Supreme Court announced that it has widened a criminal investigation to include Ex-president Uribe on charges of bribery and intimidation of witnesses. This investigation stems from another case concerning alleged participation of Uribe in the formation of death squads during the 1990s.

Acknowledgments

My grateful thanks go to Lucy for permission to use her cartoon. I would like to thank also Carine Middelbos for her invaluable comments and editorial support.

Instrumentalizing Women’s Security in the Counterterrorism Agenda

The UN Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda has become the dominant international legal and discursive framework for addressing gendered violence in international relations. The United Nations made its first great strides towards recognizing violence against women as an issue of international security in its landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. For many, the securitization of gendered violence through 1325 and the subsequent resolutions that now make up the WPS agenda has been a decisive win, elevating to the ‘high politics’ of security the long-expressed concerns that the effects of war, armed conflict, mass violence, and other forms of international insecurity have distinctly gendered effects on men and women. However, as the WPS agenda has developed, the increasingly instrumentalist and reductive view of ‘gender’ and of ‘violence’ employed therein has had unintended impacts on structural, cultural, and economic forms of violence against women.

Since the adoption of SCR 1325, the development of the WPS agenda has been divergent and highly contested. Many feminists have noted with concern the practical bifurcation of the agenda into two parallel, and rarely integrated, concerns: protection versus participation, with ‘protection’ afforded greater attention and institutional support within the UN and other agents of global governance. This prioritization of ‘protecting’ women in times of conflict and insecurity has problematically both relied upon and reinforced gendered logics of protection that reproduce stereotypical ideas of women as passive, weak, and victims, in need of saving by rational, heroic, and militarized men.

When, in 2015, the UN Security Council passed a new WPS resolution, 2242, on countering terrorism and violent extremism, some optimistic that it finally represented a shift in perspective from seeing women only as helpless victims of men’s violence in armed conflict to also being active agents whose inclusion in political peace processes is central to advancing our peace efforts. Yet, the move to incorporate countering violent extremism (CVE) into the WPS agenda has largely focused on women’s roles in preventing radicalization and extremism, further instrumentalizing women’s security towards conventionally statist priorities. Key stakeholders in the implementation of both CVE and WPS measures have tended to operate in a way that seeks to fit women and their concerns into existing militarized prerogatives for addressing international security, rather than considering the social conditions that make such insecurities possible. In this way, the incorporation of gender into the CVE agenda may further represent how gender and gender-based violence has become securitized through the WPS agenda.

What has not been systematically addressed in this ‘gender mainstreaming’ paradigm for CVE are the multiple ways that terrorist groups use highly gendered narratives in their recruitment campaigns to bolster their appeal both to men and women, and how such narratives resonate with their target audiences. For example, ISIS’ recruitment narrative relies on hyper-masculinized and violently militarized motifs, portraying their jihadists as ‘real men’ who are rewarded for their service with promises of a home, monthly allowance, and a wife. The reliance on conventional gender norms and exploitation of gendered anxieties regarding the capacity to fulfill said norms are critical to understanding the appeal of extremist groups.

Yet, within the CVE frameworks, gender remains narrowly understood as relevant only to ‘women,’ and the interest in gender instrumental to the security of states. Rather than rendering the global security regime developed to combat the threat of terrorism a “gender-friendly” space, global policy on terrorism and counterterrorism “show the continued dominance of a masculine paradigm in those arenas central to international security.”

 

How the WPS-CVE Nexus is Failing Women

In July 2018, thousands of women are being held in Iraq and Syria on terrorism related charges on accusations of their links to Islamic State. Known as “jihadi brides” or “sexual jihadis,” these women are being denied basic provisions of human rights and facing punishment on the mere suspicion of their links to IS militants. Facing death sentences for their links to terrorism, the implementation of CVE measures in this case has exacerbated gendered abuses.

Captured in 2017, many of the women are being held in detention camps in legal and political limbo, as their home countries refuse to repatriate them, fearing the spread of radical Islamism. While many of the women are from neighbouring Gulf States, a number also come from Western countries including Germany, France, Russia, and the United States. Others have already been charged with terrorism-related offences and are now facing 10-minute death sentence trials under the Iraqi judicial system. Accused of entering the country illegally and supporting ISIS by living in the caliphate, the thousands of women are facing punishments to the full extent of counter-terror laws in Iraq. Iraqi officials speaking to the New York Times explained:

“These Islamic State criminals committed crimes against humanity and against our people in Iraq, in Mosul and Salahuddin and Anbar, everywhere,” said Gen. Yahya Rasool, the spokesman for the Iraqi joint operations command. “To be loyal to the blood of the victims and to be loyal to the Iraqi people, criminals must receive the death penalty, a punishment that would deter them and those who sympathize with them.”

According to critics, one of the most egregious outcomes of these women’s being swept up in the counter-terror proceedings is that it has also impeded political will to investigate gender-based crimes perpetrated by ISIS, including the systematic use of forced marriage, sexual slavery, and strict curtailments of women’s rights. News reports suggest that the lives of ‘jihadi brides’ were strictly monitored and controlled, with women facing harsh punishments if they behaved in a way considered un-Islamic.

The example of jihadi brides underscores the tensions between the two available subject positions of women in armed conflict. The narratives of these women as dangerous terrorists is premised on the fact that their active participation in violence runs counter to the idealised feminine role we expect of women, ultimately characterizing them as gender deviant. On the other hand, to characterize them solely as unwitting or unwilling victims, subject to the will of their male protectors and guardians, reinforces gendered stereotypes and deny any agency or attachment to political ideals that the women may hold. The explicitly sexual connotation associated with ‘sexual jihadis’ implies a sexual deviancy and suggests that the women may be getting what they deserve for allowing themselves to be ‘seduced’ or ‘lured’ into ISIS in the first place by men more powerful or more clever than themselves.

Yet, even where attitudinal shift has taken place towards women who have been associated with ISIS from seeing them only as victims to also seeing them as active agents of terrorism, the focus has remained on how to instrumentalize women towards operational effectiveness in preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism. For example, in March 2016 at an event on Gender and CVE, the US Under-Secretary of State Sarah Sewall stated that “empowered women provide powerful antidotes to violent extremism. They are able to refute extremist narratives and nihilistic visions with independence and authenticity. Societies that respect the rights of all and fully engage the participation of all have no room for violent extremism. So women’s empowerment is not only essential for defeating violent extremism; defeating violent extremism is essential for women’s empowerment. The two go hand-in-hand” (qtd in Chowdhury Fink and Davidian 2018, p. 163). These sentiments are echoed in SCR 2242 itself, which calls for ‘the participation and leadership of women and women’s organizations in developing strategies to counter terrorism and violent extremism.” Such sentiments have sparked concern amongst scholars and civil society activists regarding the co-optation of the WPS agenda in service of counter-terrorism policy and the retention of a problematically narrow scope of concern for what constitutes ‘violence’ of relevance to international peace and security. Women’s unfeminine, unruly behaviour is interpreted as a warning sign and thus efforts to address women’s participation in terrorism, or to empower them to join efforts in countering terrorism and violent extremism, still stem from assumptions that women are not independent, political agents.

 

Gender in the CVE Agenda

Both narratives, while exploiting stereotypical assumptions about ‘femininity’ and appropriate roles and behaviours of women in relation to violence and armed conflict, work to downplay the significance that politics may have in women’s participation in organized violence, including terrorism. Much like the label of ‘terrorist’ has succeeded in securitizing, and thus de-politicizing, the social and political grievances that lead to violence, or that make participation in a terrorist group attractive. A 2017 report issued by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI) showed how reductive the ‘jihadi bride’ narrative has been, and how far it went towards constructing women in terrorist groups as passive, manipulated, and brainwashed. Contrary to this prevailing narrative, the study found that many women, particularly those coming from Western countries, were drawn by a sense of ‘empowerment’ offered by ISIS, and were thus “deliberately seeking to challenge both traditional and Western-imposed gender norms, by seeking a new identity for themselves”. The report also suggests that exclusion and marginalization from wider Western society were compelling ‘push’ factors for women to join ISIS. Yet, prevailing efforts to account for women’s role in terrorism and counter-terrorism strategies ignore the structural social, political and economic roots of their own involvement, as well as the unique ways that women’s social positions may present alternative reasons or pathways for radicalization than their male counterparts.

Thus, while SCR 2242 and the focus on women in combatting violent extremism does, for the first time, shift the prevailing discourse of the WPS agenda from one of protection to one of participation, the scope for participation is restricted. Women’s agency and capacity for empowerment is discussed in complete isolation from the underlying social dynamics that both shape their social, economic, and political positions and that underlie the political economic dimensions of violence, armed conflict, and terrorism in the first place. Much like other global initiatives aimed at ‘empowering’ women, the discourse is designed to ‘sell’ women’s empowerment as good for the economy (or, in this case, good for political stability) rather than as a good in and of itself.

Because international security regimes enabled through processes of securitization enable states to use extraordinary means of force to eliminate threats outside of the oversight of democratic processes and civil society, the marrying of the WPS agenda to national security prerogatives, including the securitization of terrorism and violent extremism, may have quite serious implications for gender and gendered forms of violence. As feminists, we ought to be critically interrogating the extent to which gender-based violence and gendered vulnerabilities are best resolved through their formulation as acute existential threats that require such exceptional responses.

Does the urban question matter in the post-conflict era?

Given the increasing urbanization of persons experiencing forced displacement, it should be clear that the answer to this question is yes. Indeed, in 2017 alone, the number of new persons displaced because of armed conflicts almost doubled from 6.9 to million to 11.8 million, reaching an estimated 40 million people worldwide living in conditions of forced displacement. But contrary to popular belief, most internally displaced persons (IDPs) reside in urban areas rather than in refugee camps. Cities are now the main destinations where displaced people seek refuge, and at the same time, because of civil conflicts taking place in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region, they are also places from which an increasing number of persons are forced to flee. In view of this, it is worth considering: what are the instruments through which urban-related needs of displaced persons and other victims of armed conflicts can be met? Great interest is given in current post-conflict processes to the right to truth, memory of the victims as well as to criminal justice. Important as they are, there is also a need to reflect on transformative means of reparation that post-conflict processes can make available to those victims of war who experience protracted displacement in urban centers.

The main focus of those involved in bringing an end to the plight of forcibly displaced persons is to achieve so-called durable solutions as it was suggested 20 years ago, when the UN adopted the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Crucial to this approach is the responsibility of national authorities to provide the means to enable displaced persons’ voluntary return, their relocation to the places where they have found refuge or their settlement elsewhere within their own country. Nevertheless, when it comes to protracted conflicts or displacement caused by state actors, the pressures on local authorities to reduce the displacement figures might lead them to privilege other solutions rather than to facilitate their local settlement. This despite the fact that, even in contexts where peace agreements or ceasefires are being implemented, forced displacement still occurs. To this should be added that urban displacement is often invisible as displaced persons usually mingle with poor locals, which might be used by local authorities to avoid granting them the IDP status and to disregard displaced people’s particular needs. However, when the conditions surrounding forcibly displaced persons’ urbanization are those such as lack of political recognition and undifferentiated socio-economic policies, it creates additional pressure on the already scarce resources and social services available to the local population. In cities of the global South where growing urbanization has been shaped by informality and has often occurred with poor urban planning, the steady flow of displaced people into poor areas might exacerbate the demand for social housing and might overload existing public infrastructure.

In fact, until 2011, invisibility and poverty trap used to be terms employed by Colombian human rights defenders to describe the conditions experienced by internally displaced people, especially as during ex-president Uribe’s rule (2002-2010), their urbanization was systematically accompanied by the denial of official IDP recognition. At that time Uribe claimed that what Colombia was facing was a combination of a terrorist menace with a massive economic migration, and by deploying such an argument his government turned a blind eye to displaced people’s condition of victim. In line with Uribe’s denial, governing authorities did not go further than offering displaced persons minimum humanitarian assistance while overlooking their responsibility to provide them with the means to find a place to rebuild their lives and guarantees of non-repetition.

Against this climate of denial and marginalization, in 2008, women’s displaced organizations in coalition with feminists NGOs were able to make a dent in Uribe’s politics, as they resorted to the Constitutional Court and succeeded in getting passed a gender-sensitive ruling, the so-called Auto 092, on the rights of women forcibly displaced by the conflict. The Judicial Decision 092 states that due to historical discrimination of women, forced displacement has a disproportionate impact on their lives and called the Colombian State to adopt measures to specifically prevent conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence before, during and after displacement. Whereas underlining and addressing the risk of re-victimization, Auto 092 compels Colombian authorities to implement positive actions in order to tackle social, cultural and economic inequalities that allow conflict-related violence against displaced women to occur. In so doing, Auto 092 stands as an example of transformative justice as it goes beyond a focus on redressing civil and political rights violations.

Indeed, in their article “Exposing the Gendered Myth of Post-Conflict Transition,” Rees and Chinkin point to the timeliness and appropriateness of jurisprudence that, like Decision 092, binds the victims’ right to reparation to the so-called second-generation human rights:

The problem is that economic and social rights have long been regarded, especially in the global North and thus by those who are lead players in many peace processes, as non-justiciable and supported by only weak enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. Access to appropriate and affordable health services, housing, education, social security and employment are regarded as “benefits” or as services … The myth of their non-justiciability has been broken by the jurisprudence of constitutional courts in South Africa, Colombia, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and by the entry into force of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) in May 2008 (Rees and Chinkin 2015: 1220).

Unfortunately, reality does not always match the law. Despite jurisprudential developments such as Decision 092, Colombian displaced women needed to persist in their struggle to obtain recognition of the victim status of displaced people, to convince the Colombian government to seriously address human rights violations and to provide them with reparations that tackle historical inequalities that make them vulnerable to conflict-related violence.

In 2011, the newly elected president Juan Manuel Santos made a clear departure from Uribe’s negationist rhetoric by recognizing the internal armed conflict and passing the so-called Victims and Land Restitution Law. As a transitional justice framework, the Victims Law is not at odds with a transformative approach, as it seeks to offer a comprehensive redress of structural inequalities and explicitly states its intention to provide guarantees of non-repetition (art. 182). Yet, instead of local integration, the major focus of the Victims’ Law and its implementation is on the stabilization of displaced people, whether through their return or through their resettlement elsewhere within the country (art. 73). Hence, inter-alia, the Victims’ Law establishes procedures to facilitate access to land titles and, by giving priority to displaced women, takes into account the informality of land tenure reflected in the lack of enforceable land titles along with gender-related practices and cultural biases; for they are both tremendous obstacles that hinder rural women’s right to enjoy equal access to land and thereby make them more vulnerable to forced displacement.

However, what has thus become clear through the implementation of this law is that, in order to be a durable solution, the stabilization of displaced persons by means of return-oriented programs should be considered through the lenses of a comprehensive sustainability.

Return-oriented programs and the challenges of defeating impunity

Concerns about the limitations of the Victims’ Law and its program of land restitution to achieve their goals in the midst of the war have proved to be real difficulties. For instance, according to the report “A Land Title Is Not Enough” published by Amnesty International, most economic and political elites who commissioned and benefited from forced displacement have avoided being brought to justice. The interweaving of these structures with neo-paramilitary groups has taken over illegal and legal economies that have fed into the Colombian armed conflict and has not ceased to cause additional displacement. Of equal concern, as the 2015 report of the Working Group on Women and Armed Conflict brought to light, is the growing use of gender and sexual violence against Afro-Colombian women who have acted as social leaders in the process of land restitution. Following the peace agreement signed in 2016, the majority of FARC’s militias demobilized and the number of homicides in Colombia has significantly decreased. However, the number of killings of human right defenders, including land restitution leaders, has simply increased.

Colombian transitional context exemplifies a dramatic example of the difficulties of drawing a line between conflict and post-conflict. Given such a landscape, it is likely that the most pressing endeavors to achieve sustainable solutions would oscillate between providing security to those displaced persons willing to return and recognizing that, for a large portion of this population who live in protracted displacement, it will simply be unfair to condemn them to an indefinite wait until the restitution of their lands is feasible.

 

Stabilization: but not without transformation

A revision of the UN Guiding Principles on Forced Displacement issued in 2010 provides specific criteria to evaluate whether a durable solution for displacement has actually been achieved. Importantly, as this framework highlights, an actual stabilization is not limited to the restoration of the conditions in which a person was living before the displacement. It must take into account that even when an armed conflict has ended, displaced people “commonly continue to have residual needs and human rights concerns linked to their displacement.” Therefore, as with transitional justice measures aimed at providing reparation, the process of stabilization should be seen as an opportunity to address discrimination e inequalities that allowed the occurrence of forced displacement or might enable further victimization.

For instance, when relocated in areas other than their places of origin, forcibly displaced persons can face difficulties to access health services due to the lack of registration or adequate documentation. Also, when trying to find a job, they can face discriminations based on their relatedness to the armed conflict. Because of their political affiliation, they might too be victims of hate crimes, and they can experience discrimination on racial, gender or ethnic basis when trying to rent a dwelling or access social services.

Published in the so-called Framework on Durable Solutions, the revision of the Guiding Principles sets eight criteria of evaluation, with the understanding that they are interlinked and overlapping: long-term safety and security; adequate standards of living; access to livelihoods; restoration of  housing, land and property; access to or replacement of documentation; family reunification; participation in public affairs; and access to effective remedies and justice. But if we aim at embracing these criteria, we should look for how their implementation participates in bringing about social reconciliation and gender-just sustainable peace. Do options of livelihoods available for displaced people reproduce sexual division of labor? Do women’s livelihoods or jobs allow them possibilities in time and space to exercise political participation? Are the means to access housing failing to recognize non-normative families? Do housing solutions for displaced persons provide real chances to overcome gender-based exclusions? Are processes of public apologies and mechanisms of justice such as truth tribunals being gender-sensitive, or are they encouraging or perpetuating patterns of sexism or the patriarchal relation women-protected/male-protector? These are only a few of the questions that we should address if we are committed to mainstreaming gender when seeking to provide displaced persons with transformative durable solutions.

Housing: More Than a Roof over One’s Head

Achieving a suitable solution meeting the above-mentioned standards not only involves ensuring victims’ enjoyment of their human rights but, in doing so, also entails challenges in development and post-conflict reconstruction, including the building of physical, social and cultural infrastructure. This process in Colombia has mostly been referred to as to bring the state into those rural regions where for decades the only government presence has not been other than the military. Building social infrastructure in rural territories has been a claim of Colombian feminist movements since a long time. However, important as it is, it should not mean losing sight of the fact that for a large portion of the displaced population, who have lived far from their lands for almost decades, return might not be a feasible solution.

Despite the urban segregation that displaced persons experience, in Colombia women are less likely to return. This is due, in many cases, to the better access to education and health services for their children available in urban centers or to the fact that they have created new family ties. Thus, difficulties related to urban segregation or discrimination they might endure pale in comparison with the uncertainties of returning to areas where peace and war still overlap.

In spite of this, the main focus of Santos’s Victims’ Law is the return of displaced persons, and therefore it does not include housing restitution but instead access to housing subsidies. In that sense, the Victims’ Law fails to comply with the criteria of return sustainability mentioned above which, like the Pinheiro Principles, put forward that forcibly displaced persons “have the right to have restored to them any housing” of which they were deprived. However, as it has been demonstrated by urban scholars, for a displaced person, the probability that housing subsidies crystallize in an actual purchase of a property is extremely low. Especially, because the conditions of poverty they face and their lack of regular salary income make them ineligible to access a bank loan.

Over time, the Santos government decided to include some IDP families among the beneficiaries of its Free Housing Program. Nonetheless, the experience of Colombia in the implementation of social housing programs, and especially as a means of providing reparation for the victims of human rights violations, reflects similar difficulties to those faced by other global South societies engaged in transitional justice processes. For instance, in their research on post-apartheid South Africa, Parnell and Pieterse hint to some axes of the urban question which, if left unaddressed or ignored, might risk victims’ rights to the city being deferred:

The ongoing focus on electoral and participatory democracy as well as on protecting other individual rights (freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression, etc.) may marginalize new efforts to advance 2nd generation socio-economic rights. These are achieved through the sustained delivery of affordable urban services to households and neighborhoods (not individuals), and through viable service administration and finances, not just through infrastructural investment (Parnell and Pieterse 2010: 148).

Parnell and Pieterse touch on how weak decentralization, inadequate institutional support as well as the imperatives of neoliberal globalizations, such as privatization, play a role in determining the uses of land, limiting the availability of affordable land for developing social housing, and blocking the possibilities of offering subsidized or free services for the poor (electricity, water, sanitation). Other urban challenges such as rigid or outdated zoning plans can restrict development of social housing and social infrastructure, and prevent the evolution of dormitory areas to mixed-use neighborhoods. Those conditions are increasingly seen as requirements for sustainable housing as they prevent risks such as neighborhood deterioration, and further informality.

A combination of these difficulties have been experienced in Bogotá, the Colombian city where the majority of IDP live, as between 2012-2015 the city administration attempted to allocate social housing units for internally displaced persons. But specifically, the case of Bogotá exemplifies the misalignment between the politics prompted at national level and their implementation at local/municipal level. For example, Juan Carlos Flórez, an independent local politician, asserts that the current Bogotá’s administration of Enrique Peñalosa “does not at all comply with meeting victims’ right to housing.” Indeed, from an estimated 500 thousand victims of the armed conflict who live in Bogotá and who have no access to decent housing, only 4 thousand were included in Bogota’s development plan. Like picturing a recipe for disaster, Flórez explains that no free houses will be allocated to displaced people, and furthermore that the institutional support provided to access credit is so weak that it is working to preclude any chance displaced people might have to effectively gain access to the social housing units supposedly allocated to them.

Bogotá as other urban societies of the global South cannot elude the requirements posed by global competitiveness in order to play a role in the global economy. However, for those facing democratic transition, to provide transformative comprehensive reparation to the victims is an essential responsibility if they are aiming at social reconciliation, the building of sustainable peace and at not condemning the victims of forced displacement to become the new urban poor.

When is Terrorism Not Terrorism?

When the political motivations are misogyny, of course.

This week, Canada was rocked by a devastating mass killing, when 25 year-old Alek Minnasian drove a rented van into dozens of people on a busy Toronto street. By the end of the ‘van rampage,’ 10 people were killed and at least 15 more injured. And although the means and mode of attack very closely resembled some recent ‘van rampages’ in Europe that have been connected to terrorism, in Canada it shall not be named so.

Minassian’s 10th grade yearbook photo, (c) the Toronto Sun.

The carnage was reminiscent of deadly attacks by Islamic State supporters using vehicles that have shaken up Nice, France, Berlin, Barcelona, London and New York. But late Monday, Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale, said this time appeared to be different.

“The events that happened on the street behind us are horrendous,” he said, “but they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security based on the information at this time.”

It did not take long, though, for media reports to begin digging into Minnasian and discovered the likely motive behind his ‘rampage’:

While the police did not disclose a motive for the rampage, interviews with former acquaintances of Mr. Minassian, witnesses and others, and his now-deleted Facebook account, portray a troubled young man who harbored resentments toward women, had a penchant for computer programming, served briefly in the military last year, and appeared determined to die.

In a Facebook post made minutes before embarking on this rampage, Minnasian apparently wrote:

“The Incel Rebellion has already begun!” the posting stated. “We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”

While Toronto Police declined to comment on the sex of the victims, it has now been reported that the majority were women.

According to internet culture, ‘incels’ are ‘involuntary celibates’, a group of extremely misogynistic men’s right’s activists who rabidly hate women and blame feminism for, essentially, making women not want to have sex with them. According to researcher Arshy Mann, self-described incels are:

“almost entirely men who are laser-focused on their inability to have sex & blame women. Of the manosphere communities, incels are the most virulently misogynistic.”

Amongst this subculture, Elliot Rodger is worshipped as an almost deity. Rodger’s own manifesto, the insight into his motive for killing six people on a college campus in California in 2014, expressed frustration over not being able to find a girlfriend, his hatred of women, his contempt for racial minorities and interracial couples, and his plans for what he described as “retribution”.

And again, as we saw in the aftermath of Rodger’s ‘rampage,’ this violence is not being called ‘terrorism,’ but rather the unfortunate effects of one man’s ‘mental illness.’

Yet, by individualizing the problem of men’s violence – especially, in such overt and extreme forms – we lose focus of the way in which through its everydayness, the persistent threat of violence against women is in and of itself a means of terrorizing women. In their provocative book Loving to Survive, Dee L. R. Graham, Roberta Rigsby and Edna Rawlings argue that men’s violence fosters in women an omnipresent, and therefore often unrecognized, terror. This terror manifests in protective measures women take against the potential for rape, represented in any strange man she encounters, as well as strategies to reduce their risk of angering men. This omnipresent threat of violence can be theorized as a form of patriarchal terrorism. 

Unfortunately, within our existing legal and humanitarian frameworks, we haven’t the capacity to even conceive of men’s violence as terrorism, namely because this jurisprudence rests on the assumption of 1) an ideological agenda and 2) a community targeted as such. In both domestic and international law, women’s experiences have been largely trivialized, overlooked, or relegated to the private sphere of concern because the law has been grounded in the experiences of men.

As with the laws governing crimes against humanity and genocide, a core component of labelling an act of violence as ‘terrorism’ is the ability to show the offence to be directed against a community and not an individual. That is – is the violence discriminate or indiscriminate? Strangely, though, for all of international legal history, ‘women’ are not considered to be a community or recognizable group in and of themselves. Rather ‘community’ is defined strictly in ethnic, racial, religious, or political terms.

As MacKinnon once argued with regards to ‘genocidal rape’:

The acts of sexual violence perpetrated as an act of genocide are “routinely done to women everywhere every day on the basis of their sex. All the sexual atrocities that become genocidal in genocides are inflicted on women every day under conditions of sex inequality” and are inflicted upon them as women because they are women (MacKinnon 2006: 225).

The exclusion of sex as a ‘community’ against whom the rape may be used instrumentally may be a deliberate choice by the international community as it would open the door to understanding all rape as political and instrumental. As women are not considered a people, sex has not been included in the legal definition of a group that can be destroyed.

Recognizing this absence, Andrea Dworkin coined the term gynocide to “designate the relentless violence perpetrated by the gender class men against the gender class women” (1976: 16) to express the terrorizing of women through gender-based violence committed world wide at times of war and times of peace. However, it is only when the very same acts perpetrated against women daily are directed against a group of people on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, or nationality, it is recognized as destructive.

Thus, despite overwhelming evidence that not only was Minassian’s motive ideological, and that his violence was used in the pursuit of a political aim (read: textbook definition of ‘terrorism’), and that his target was women, as such, the rhetoric remains one of maladjustment, personal trauma, and mental health issues. Despite overwhelming evidence we now have in the West that these ‘lone-wolf’ mass murderers nearly all have a history of violence against women, we are loathe to consider how that violence may be, in and of itself, political.

David Futrelle has been researching this virulently misogynist online movement through his site We Hunted the Mammoth, and explains both the breadth and depth of the ‘Incel’ phenomenon. In his post on Minassian, Futrelle includes screenshots from one forum user, BlkPillPres, who advocates more effective mass violence in pursuit of the ‘Incel Rebellion.’ To him, mass shootings are ineffective. He says:

“What I can’t wait for, the one I know is really going to fuck with normies, really punish society, is when the first incel mass rape/serial rape takes place, when a guy leaves a manifesto after killing himself detailing all the rapes he’s done, that will be the best ER ever, because his victims don’t just get to die, and their families don’t just get to ‘move on’…”

Futrelle warns that these are not isolated sentiments, but warnings of a larger subcultural movement that could have very serious social repercussions. In a piece written for Elle, he warns:

“[The Incel movement] has transformed young men dealing with depression — or simply the ordinary unhappiness of life — into a veritable underground army of angry, bitter misogynists who feel they have nothing to live for and have no hope of improving their lives in what they see as our “gynocentric” society.

If these young men aren’t stopped, there will be more horrors like what we saw this week in Toronto, if not worse. In the forums on incel hangout Incels.me, some are already hailing Minassian as a hero, and looking forward to the next wave of incel terror attacks.”

In Australia, recent receptivity on the parts of the Victorian Police, for example, towards feminist arguments about the sociopolitical basis of men’s violence may be bucking this trend. Late last year, the Victorian Police announced that they would be treating domestic violence perpetrators like terrorists. In a statement, Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton, argued:

“The ramifications are the same in the long run. We have death, we have serious trauma, we have serious injury and we have people impacted for the rest of their lives.”

Intimate terrorism will now be investigated as major crimes by specialized police units. One of their priorities will be to target repeat offenders and work to predict violence in order to intervene before women and children are injured or killed.

Yet, we should temper our enthusiasm, since only a couple of short months after this initiative was announced, the Victorian government also announced a new A$31.6 million centre to prevent and combat terrorist and lone-actor attacks. The centre, problematically, includes no experts on domestic violence or violence against women. This suggests we have a long way to go towards politicizing men’s violence against women not only as acts of terror in and of themselves, but also as ‘warning signs’ of the potential for public forms of large-scale violence.

Economies That Work for Women Post-War

This blog is based on a forthcoming paper by Carol Cohn (Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights) and Claire Duncanson (University of Edinburgh). It originally appeared on Monash GPS blog here.

Building lasting peace and security in countries coming out of war is challenging. Many recent publications point to how badly the international community has fared in its attempts, and there has been much recent soul-searching within the UN system itself as to how to improve its record.

Economic recovery, reconstruction and development are critical, if often neglected, elements of attempting to create peace and security post-war. Regarding this more specific area, too, the UN and the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) who are the key actors in this sphere, have been the subject of several critiques.

One strand of critique focuses on relatively technical issues, such as sequencing and timing, flexibility and coordination. The international community fails, in this account, because it insists on implementing “development as usual” policies too early. Rather, it should accept that post-war states need to do several things which are not optimal in terms of conventional conceptions of economic growth – primarily providing decent jobs and basic services for ex-combatants, as well as other groups impacted by war, so as to give them a stake in the peace. In the immediate aftermath of war, “the peace objective should always prevail over the economic”. The IFI’s economic prescriptions are essentially sound; what is required is tweaks in how and, crucially, when they are applied.

A second set of criticisms focus more on the way that IFIs do not sufficiently recognise how their policies exacerbate the inequalities and violence of the “clandestine economies of war”. In this critique, neoliberal economic policies might be sound in general but not in post-war contexts because the profits created are subject to elite capture and corruption. The recommended policy response is “good governance”:  creating the institutions and regulatory framework that can facilitate inclusion in economic growth.

The IFIs have been receptive to these two lines of critique and evidence of adoption of these recommended solutions, at least on paper, is clear.

A third set of scholars make a more fundamental critique. The neoliberal policies themselves, and not just their propensity to elite capture in post-war contexts, are the problem.

Feminist colleagues working in this area and I agree with the scholars in this third strand. Although good governance (and better sequencing, timing and coordination) would be nice, they, alone, are not going to bring about the transformations required for gender-just sustainable peace.

What the third strand of scholars tend not see or highlight, however, is the gendered nature of neoliberal capitalism. As such, they overlook some of its harms and drivers, and how they play out in conflict-affected areas. They also miss the solutions that feminists offer.

To take one example, typically the World Bank’s reconstruction programme will be dominated by physical infrastructure, which usually comprises at least 60 per cent of the programme. Physical infrastructure is of course important for peacebuilding, but one might question the emphasis on physical infrastructure over social infrastructure (spending on health, education, childcare and so on), given the level of need for these services in post-war contexts. Moreover, the physical infrastructure projects tend to be designed primarily with men and markets in mind, and privilege superhighways, for example, from mines to ports over rural roads enabling people to get safely from home to healthcare. Investment in infrastructure is increasingly funded through public-private partnerships (PPPs). Evaluations of such PPPs focus on profitability, rather than on whether infrastructure serves the needs of people, including the specific needs of women. Rather than a basic good for all, infrastructure is conceptualised as a source of potential profit for foreign-owned commercial interests.

Central to the IFI’s approach, it is clear, are some neoclassical economic assumptions. A central one is the idea that the economy is for solving the problems of how to distribute things efficiently, and the beauty of market-provided solutions, according to mainstream economics, is that they are efficient. This approach is problematic in several ways. First, it elevates efficiency to the status of primary goal. Second, it privileges the monetised aspects of the economy, while ignoring the sphere of “social reproduction” or “unpaid work”, which includes both subsistence production (particularly significant in much of the Global South) and unpaid care (for family, friends and neighbours) that keep the social fabric together. Third, it is an approach which focuses on meeting human wants, without asking “how much is enough?” This is clearly problematic given finite resources on an increasingly degraded and dangerous planet.

Feminist economists (in company with other heterodox economists) see the purpose of the economy differently: human well-being, not economic growth, is the central measure of economic success. There are many different feminist approaches to the economy, but there are at least three which challenge the neoclassical model, and provide new ways of thinking about post-war economic reconstruction: the human rights approach, the centring care and social reproduction approach, and ecological and sustainability approaches.

Adopting a human rights approach could transform the way that IFIs respond to post-war countries. It would arguably compel them and post-war states to put employment creation (decent jobs, not just any jobs, food security, housing and land rights, for example, at the heart of their approach to economic reconstruction. Approaches that seek to make care visible and valuable also have the potential to be transformative. If IFIs and post-war states invested in social infrastructure, it would not only help meet the huge demand for health care and education, but create jobs on a massive scale, considerably more than physical infrastructure does. As such, an economy based around social infrastructure starts to become self-financing, as the tax base widens and the productivity of the labour force increases. The third approach, making sustainability a goal of the economy would move us away from the model of extraction and exportation of natural resources. These strategies, that degrade and destroy the natural environment and undermine women’s security, are all too dominant in post-war contexts.

Nonetheless, challenges and questions remain. What does putting sustainability at the heart of economic models mean for post-war countries?  How can the IFIs be persuaded of the need for alternative models? How can post-war states, often weak and corrupted, be the vehicles for transformation envisaged in many feminist economist accounts? These questions are part of an important research agenda, creating a Feminist Roadmap for Sustainable Peace, led by the Consortium on Gender, Security and Human Rights, and involving a team of international interdisciplinary researchers. For more information see http://genderandsecurity.org/feminist-roadmap-sustainable-peace.

Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Aid Work

The internet is abuzz this week with the breaking news about revelations that Oxfam workers paid for sex with women and children in Haiti in 2011, while deployed to the country in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake, from which the country is still recovering.

The 2010 earthquake killed 200,000 Haitians and caused more than 1.5 million people to become homeless, as well as devastated the national economy. For years, people have lived in tent cities, supported by numerous international aid organizations, including various UN agencies.

As numerous studies have now pointed out, women are made especially vulnerable in the wake of crises, such as that which rocked Haiti in 2010. Because of pre-existing social, political, and economic inequalities, which mean women pre-crisis have limited material means to support themselves or families independently combined with a high burden of care responsibilities, both the effects and costs of natural disasters and other acute crises often gravely magnify women’s subordination.

It is precisely because of Haiti’s already starkly stratified society, wherein gender intersects with class-based and racial inequalities, that not long after the quake, reports began to emerge of systematic sexual exploitation and abuse occurring in the country. One of the early scandals involved reports of troops belonging to the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti – MINUSTAH – gang raping (or, in the industry lingo, perpetrating ‘collective rape’ against) an 18-year-old Haitian man, which was caught on video. However, long before this incident, reports were indicating an alarming extent of rape and sexual violence against women and children as young as 2 in the tent cities. Further reports allege sexual exploitation of women and children in ‘exchange’ for food, money, or other consumables. The Interuniversity Institute for Research and Development in Haiti noted how common the “sex-for-food” exchange was in camps in Haiti, saying:

 “In particular, young girls have to negotiate sexually in order to get shelter from the rains and access to food aid.”

But even before the earthquake, UN aid workers were implicated in systematic sexual abuse of female children (resulting in the expulsion of over 100 Sri Lankan troops from Haiti in 2007), and of ‘rampaging’ in Port-au-Prince, firing 22,000 rounds of ammunition, killing 23 people. Thus, these new revelations must be placed in a longer history of (neo)colonial violence and exploitation that has characterized the international community’s engagement with Haiti for over a decade.

80 percent of Haitians live in poverty. Before the earthquake, the country was one of the lowest-ranked in development indicators by the UNDP (149th out of 182), a situation only exacerbated by the adoption of neoliberal economic policies as a condition of receiving US and international assistance for decades. These policies, combined with foreign aid policies, have “for decades undermined the capacity of the Haitian state to meet the needs of its citizens” (Horton 2012: 299). Thus, the social support that should have been available to vulnerable populations has long been absent, or problematically tied to funding priorities of external agents. These conditions have made women affected by the earthquake even more dependent on international agencies for what life-sustaining provisions they may offer. Two years after the earthquake, it was largely poor women who remained as the primary residents of official and unofficial tent camps.

A situation, obviously, rife for exploitation.

According to researchers, post-earthquake societal and camp conditions have facilitated sexual exploitation of women and girls through various means. In some camps, male-dominated committees are responsible for the control and distribution of aid, and women have reported being forced to negotiate sex in order to obtain access to vital supplies. Women community leaders have repeatedly linked women’s economic situation post-earthquake with a rise in the number of women and girls engaging in ‘sex work.’

But to claim that these girls and women are exercising agency in exchanging sex for food, or money, or protection may be misguided. Before the earthquake, a 2005 study by the IOM found that, while some cited poverty and lack of opportunity as the reason they engaged in ‘sex work,’ others were trafficked against their will.

Of course, with the most recent revelations brought forward regarding Oxfam, accusations are being levelled against the organization’s toxic and masculinist environment and lack of moral leadership. The UK International Development Secretary is threatening to cut aid funding in the wake of the scandal.

What is not being talked about is both the link between peacekeeper sexual exploitation and abuse and aid worker sexual exploitation and abuse, and the systemic structural conditions that make exploiting vulnerable women around the globe both thinkable and actionable for renegade aid cowboys. While one quite decent analysis rightfully points to the economic disparity between aid-recipient states and deployed rich, Western humanitarian workers as an obvious source of the problem, nowhere does the author or other commentators note what gender is doing in this equation.

In a global and historical perspective, we know that rampant sex-based economies that now characterize countries like Thailand and the Philippines were born of the sexual exploitation and abuse of women by foreign (US) militaries. Prostitution industries have more or less formally been established around military bases throughout the 20th century, and laid the groundwork for prostitution becoming a considerable market sector for host countries. As Jeffreys puts it:

“military prostitution caused the industrialization of prostitution in a country” and “local women and girls became the raw materials of the global sex industry, not only prostituted within local and sex tourism industries at home but trafficked into prostitution worldwide.”

Underpinning this system is the widespread expectation that rich(er), (more) powerful, (white) men are entitled to extract sex from women and girls over whom they can exercise control. That patriarchal systems not only enable the expectation of women’s sexual availability and men’s entitlement to it, but should also be understood as intimately tied to male dominance as a systemic feature of society. To quote MacKinnon, the exceptionality of these acts as especially exploitative overlooks the extent to which “men do in war what they do in peace.”

Consider these revelations of abuse in the context of a recent study by Promundo which found that 26% of British and American males agree that “A ‘real man’ should have as many sexual partners as he can,” while 40% believed in men’s economic primacy over women. Furthermore, men who expressed such sentiments were six times more likely to have reported sexually harassing a woman or a girl.

Given that the industry as a whole is fraught with power relations inscribed in patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalist class relations, I’m happy to see that this scandal has raised questions about the durability of the aid industry as a means for addressing post-conflict and post-crisis societal issues. But to represent sexual exploitation and abuse as an isolated (to an organization, geographical region, or industry) phenomenon overlooks how the abusive relationship engendered in this scandal is made possible (probable!) by wider power relations in which the various agents of this story sit.

Respectability and the protective logic of liberal masculinity in Australia’s arms trade

On the 29th of January Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced a $3.8 billion fund to encourage local arms manufacturers to increase their trade with the aim of Australia becoming one of the top 10 arms exporters in the world. The reason behind the push, he explained, was twofold. First, he explained that given the size of Australia’s defence budget (around 12th largest in the world) “we should be a lot higher up the scale.” Second, he explained that Australian workers needed the manufacturing jobs. The new arms initiate, named the Defence Export Facility, and the justifications used to back it up are classic protective moves in the handbook of liberal masculinity.

Malcolm Turnbull stands in front of a Bushmaster Infantry Mobility Vehicle

For any student of feminist international relations, this distinction will be a familiar one. In 1992 Ann Tickner wrote about how different models of masculinity are deployed in international relations, showing how notions of manhood are deployed by states to justify their actions. Turnbull’s justifications for increasing the export of arms fits comfortably within the liberal logic of protection. Like most liberal articulations of institutional masculinity, the violence behind the decision to invest almost 4 billion dollars in promoting the arms trade is hidden behind economic ‘rationalism’ and vague allusions to protection.

 

In this mode the arms trade is good for Australia because it will provide jobs and a stronger military. However, unlike more robust articulations of militant nationalism, it does this through promoting the market economy. The program makes militarism respectable by creating “tens of thousands of jobs for Australian manufacturers.” This kind of approach does not contain the violent ‘fire and fury’ rhetoric of recent American militarism but couches masculine protection in a veneer of economic necessity and mutual benefit. But like most liberal logics of protection relies on an impressive capacity for double-speak and structural violence.

Australia, like the Scandinavian social democracies we often hope to be compared to, makes a good show of trying to position ourselves as enlightened (liberal) global citizens by quickly adopting humanitarianism, human rights and a gender-sensitive approach to foreign policy. However, like Sweden, our humanitarianism has centred much more on presenting a ‘human face’ to the world through charity and another posturing while simultaneously pursuing an economic agenda that supports the structural conditions behind the violence. Or as Jacqui True has put it in relation to Sweden: “How is it possible to sell arms (when, regardless of whom you first sell them to, they often end up perpetrating crimes) and at the same time promote a humanitarian, human rights approach to foreign policy?”

At a time when the world is particularly preoccupied with the overt masculine violence of Donald Trump, it is worth being reminded of the more insidious logic of masculine liberal protection. Throughout his tenure as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has striven to distance his ‘leadership style’ from that of his predecessor Tony Abbot. Abbot sort to live up to perform the kind of over exaggerated machismo of militant nationalism which might make a men’s rights activist blush (and Mark Latham swoon). This entailed threatening to ‘shirtfront’ Vladimir Putin and never squandering a chance to show his explicitly demonstrate his patriarchal credentials for a howling mob.  In contrast, Turnbull has consistently tried to position himself as a rational liberal businessman, avoiding the most brutal jingoism of Australian nationalism in favour of dispassionate arguments for order and profitability.

Tony Abbott embracing muscular nationalism

When a leader like Turnbull puts forward the argument that “we don’t see threats from our neighbours in our region, but nonetheless all countries must plan ahead” the structural violence of Australian foreign policy can hide much more easily than behind a populist leader. But that doesn’t make it less violent. When pundits in the Australian left have visible conniptions over the explicit brutality of Trump’s rhetoric and foreign policy it is easy to forget the respectable violence of Australian politics.

The politics of respectability are particularly dangerous in Australia’s politics because of the way that they are used to silence critical voices on settler colonialism, militarism, heteronormativity and racism. Most recently this has flared up in rabid attempts to sack Tarneen Onus-Williams from the Koorie Youth Council in Victoria for pointing out the colonial foundation of the Australian state, but the use of gendered respectability to circumvent radical critique is deeply embedded in the structure of Australian politics. In justifying the right to rule liberal masculinity relies on the politics of respectability to compartmentalise issues and deflect critique. Working against violence demand an attentiveness to how masculine logics can cloak themselves in respectability through contrast with more overt examples of masculine violence. Liberal politicians rely on the promising to save politics from the aggressive masculinity of more overtly militant men and from the disorder of radical change. When actors present their militarism in respectable terms, it’s imperative to remember how the logic of protection operates to make structural violence appear natural, inevitable and justified.

 

 

Why Feminism is Integral to Understanding ‘Conflict Related Sexual Violence’

Last year, I was invited to participate in a couple of workshops on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV). One was academic, with a specific focus on how we can know something about sexual violence in war and the methods used by researchers to come to know this violence. The other was more practitioner-oriented, and was attended by some of the key players of international policy-making on CRSV. While both were invigorating and inspiring events, what struck me from discussions in both is how far removed the study of wartime sexual violence has come from its feminist roots.

In recent decades, academic and policy interest on sexual violence in war has grown exponentially. Far from its origins on the margins of studies of war, sexual violence is now a central topic and efforts to understand its causes and consequences span the disciplines interested in armed conflict, political violence, international security, and humanitarian crises. However, as the issue has become mainstream, much of its early feminist-informed analyses have been lost to increasingly positivist socio-political and scientific approaches to understand this violence.

But much is lost in this maneuver. As I’ve written about elsewhere, the harmonized ‘rape as a weapon of war’ narrative that has been produced through the elevation of sexual violence to the international security agenda “has produced an unsustainable and ineffectual paradigm that is based ultimately on the fetishization of this violence.”

While early feminist analyses of rape in war contributed to this amalgamation of all forms of CRSV as a single, coherent phenomenon, recent corrective efforts by critical scholars to disaggregate and contextualize CRSV has resulted in a near abandonment of feminist frames for understanding this violence. While feminists have pointed out that rape in war, like rape in so-called times of ‘peace’, cannot be understood except through an analysis of patriarchal power disparities between the sexes, some have argued that because patriarchy is a constant structural feature of societies, it cannot be causal or independently explanatory for sexual violence.

But if we throw the baby out with the bathwater, as we have seen done in not only scholarship, but also policy and advocacy on sexual violence in armed conflict, we end up with the explanation that either men are animals who can’t control their insatiable sexual urges, for which war provides the convenient breakdown of social barriers to their animal impulses; or, that rape and sexual violence is genderless, equivalently perpetrated and experienced by members of both sexes, and thus understandable only as either an innate human quality or the result of a few ‘bad apples.’

The value of sexual violence must be seen through the lens of sexual politics. That is, the recognition that (the physical act of) sex and sexuality are deeply set within human social relations and comprehensible only in relation to “the variety of attitudes and values to which culture subscribes” (Millet 1970, 23). Such a perspective invites us to critically interrogate the ways in which sexual violence is enacted within a system of sexual domination, which simultaneously inscribes meaning and power to violated/violating bodies and to the act itself. This meaning and power is not isolated to CRSV, but visible also in the typical link between cruelty and sexuality in our everyday ‘peacetime’ societies, as well.

That is because sexuality is a social construct borne out of patriarchal relations. As such, sexuality is made meaningful as a relation of dominance and submission, gendered through dichotomous symbolisms that associate dominance with the masculine and submission with the feminine. In this way, the gendered nature of sexual violence comes from its construction within a system of patriarchy, while the gendered effects are not limited to the biological sex of either the victim or perpetrator.

Ultimately, the study of sexual violence in armed conflict requires feminism in order to understand how power and sexuality are mutually constituted in ways that make sexual forms of violence particularly egregious and humiliating, reaping for the perpetrator personal, social, political, and/or economic dividends.

Sex and Death in the Irrational World of Nuclear Defense

The blogosphere is a-Twitter with Donald Trump’s recent reaction to a speech made by North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un as part of his New Year’s address to the nation. In the speech, he stated:

“The US cannot declare war against us. The entire US territories are within our firing range and the nuclear missile button is right there on my desk,”

“We have secured powerful deterrence against the nuclear threat from the US.”

His speech was followed by a series of social media posts flaunting his nuclear capabilities:

In response, Donald Trump, in usual fashion, responded via social media with a tweet now heard ’round the world:

While many have noted this tweet as the latest in a series of misguided, reactionary social media responses to global political issues that have come to define Trump’s presidency, the obvious analogy to penile (dys)function has been less commented on.

In 1987, Carol Cohn published what has become one of the germinal works of feminist theory in international relations: “Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals.” The piece is an auto-ethnography and participant observation based on her time at a university center on defense technology and arms control, “The Center.” She sheds light on the gendered language through which unfathomably destruction and mass death becomes rationalized, palatable, and even funny in The Center. The ‘technostrategic’ language used by Defense Intellectuals obscures the physical realities of these weapons and instead  is “abstract, sanitized, full of euphemisms…sexy and fun to use.”

In particular, she notes the sexualized vocabulary of the nuclear standoff during the Cold War found the language used by defense staff suffused with sexual, mostly phallic imagery that creates a sexualized intimacy between the developers and handlers of the weapon and the weapon itself. She notes: “homoerotic excitement, heterosexual domination, the drive toward competency and mastery, the pleasures of membership in an elite and privileged group.” The association of nuclear power with male sexual prowess, she finds, mirrors the famous US Marine Corps chant: “this is my rifle, this is my gun, one is for killing the other’s for fun.”

How does feminist theory help us understand Trump’s reaction to Kim Jong-Un? Chris Cillizza, writing for CNN, notes:

“In Trump’s mind, the first, second and third most important measures of success are size. Everything he is involved with must be the biggest, the tallest, the most well-attended, the most expensive, the best.
A bit of armchair psychology would suggest that relentless focus on size is born of insecurity.”

Yet, we cannot understand such insecurity manifesting through obsession with size without feminist analysis. As Penny Strange wrote about the arms race, in 1989,

“striving for mastery and superiority [is] a striking feature of a male-dominated society; we see it as not only widespread, but also admired, desired and cultivated in half the human race, and an acceptable mode of political discourse and international relations.”

This is only made possible because international relations exist in a global system of patriarchy, wherein the physical ability to subjugate someone or something “becomes necessary proof of manhood.” That subjugation need not be only physical, but economic, political and social as well. Each is merely an expression of the same underlying drive for dominance and “are convertible one to the other.”

Of course, Trump (nor Kim Jong-Un) would be the first head of state to act out of masculine anxities. David Halberstam accounts for the behaviour of US leaders in the Vietnam War, noting that:

“President Lyndon B. Johnson had always been haunted by the idea that he would be judged as being insufficiently manly for the job…. He had unconsciously divided people around him between men and boys. Men were the activists, doers, who conquered business empires, who acted instead of talked, who made it in the world and had the respect of other men. Boys were the talkers and the writers and the intellectuals who sat around thinking and criticising and doubting instead of doing…. Hearing that one of the administration was becoming a dove on Vietnam, Johnson said ‘Hell, he has to squat to piss.'” (Emphasis added).

What these analyses point to is the limited scope we have for de-escalation when one’s willingness and ability to “push the button” is so tied up to their self-conception of worth constructed within the norms of masculinity under patriarchy. But also, that a simple change of leadership may not be sufficient, when those leaders are in many ways reflective of wider societal expectations of manly behaviour when at the helm (or fingertips) of the nuclear ‘button.’

Reading a life: Interpreting life-history transcripts honestly

“Life history research brings us to the level of personal experience. Where you are not just dealing with figures, abstractions or cultural categories, we are dealing with real living breathing people and their experiences.” Raewyn Connell

 

“I must confess that I found the analysis of my data intensely problematic. I wanted to be faithful to the methodological approach I had decided upon and to treat the interview data simply as discursive artefacts, but this was complicated by the fact that I was analysing texts that I had created through an encounter with another person. I breathed the same air as these people, they welcomed me into their offices, and we talked beyond the research, sharing small details of our lives. Deconstructing their words… felt decidedly wrong, as though I were trying to catch them out, trip them up, or twist their words. As I made notes, I could hear them in my head: “That’s not what I meant!”

Laura Shepherd (2016) Gender, UN peacebuilding, and the politics of space: Locating legitimacy, Oxford University Press, New York. p.29.

In 2012 I was given the opportunity to travel to Bangkok to take part in a clinic organised by Partners for Prevention (P4P) on the life-history research. The clinic, which was run by Raewyn Connell, went through the basics of conducting life history research and how to read life-history transcripts. In the clinic, we were trained in how to conduct biographical interviews, and how to interpret interviews which narrate individuals lives through a critical feminist lens. In the coming year, I had the opportunity to work on some life-history research with P4P which explored men’s relationship with gender-equality after the Aceh conflict. These transcripts were the result of interviews conducted by UN Women Indonesia that had been transcribed and translated into English.

I found working with these transcripts difficult. Based on reading the record of a few interviews I began to try and interpret the trajectory of 12 men’s lives, as a way to explore their pathways towards and away from violent practice. Reading the transcripts, I tried to become familiar with these men’s lives, where they were born, what they valued, how they had lived and whom they loved. With more than 140,000 words of interview transcript, the stories they told were complex, contradictory and often difficult to interpret. While I was happy with the research chapter that came from this work (exploring anti-colonial politics and men’s support for gender equality), I felt awkward about trying to write the lives of men I hadn’t met.

The most recent life-history research I have conducted, on men’s pathways out of jihadi networks in Indonesia, presented a very different challenge. This research, conducted with Noor Huda Ismail, was conducted in person, with multiple interview sessions, long periods of hanging out, eating, talking about politics and the news, smoking clove cigarettes, and with a few former fighters driving around Central Java. This research did include discrete periods of interviewing but was surrounded by far longer periods where we chatted about unrelated topics, such as their thoughts on Donald Trump (not positive), their favourite rapper (Tupac over Biggie), or the traffic in Jakarta (hellish).

This research has presented a very different challenge to the research with P4P. This time the struggle was more a process of trying to disentangle my own experiences, attachments, and thoughts about someone from what the transcript actually said. Laura Shepherd discusses the difficulty of interpreting the words of participants with whom she had met in person and spent time with. She makes the case that for her own purposes, interviews can still be used as part of discourse analysis because:

“an interview is a limited encounter. Even loosely structured interviews, such as those I conducted, have a beginning, a middle, and an end, at which point the research participant is thanked for their time and the researcher leaves the building. The boundaries around the research encounter, therefore, produce a text that is also bounded, which lends itself well to discourse analysis.”

Laura Shepherd (2016) Gender, UN peacebuilding, and the politics of space: Locating legitimacy, Oxford University Press, New York. p.27.

While the research I have been conducting is quite different in approach and assumptions from Shepherd’s (being life-history work rather than discourse analysis), the difficulty of disentangling the personal encounters and the transcripts is consistent. Her comments on the uncomfortable feeling that the research process was intended to “catch them out, trip them up, or twist their words” is something I continue to struggle with.

Reading gender into transcripts involves looking at comments, stories and experiences which the interviewee doesn’t take to be primarily about gender, and interpreting them through a feminist lens. For both projects where I have used life-history methods, this has involved drawing on historical information, social theory and feminist knowledge to chart gender relations as the “linking thread… along which violence runs.”

Charting these relations is likely to go beyond, or even in contrast to, how an individual thinks about their own experience. To draw out the gendered experience this relies on reinterpreting individuals’ stories through frameworks which are likely to feel very alien to the person who has opened up to narrate their life to you. Or as Raewyn Connell  puts it, “life history data doesn’t stand alone, we need to compare it to all kinds of other sources as aids to interpretation for the information we have.” Drawing on these sources to interpret the transcript in ways the participant might not expect does feel uncomfortable within the research relationship.

This results in treating the interview transcript as an authority in recording the biography of an individual which is then employed to make broader social or political claims about their milieu which they are likely to disagree with. This creates a tension between reading transcripts as a freestanding record and viewing them as recordings of a particular conversation within a broader relationship. Interpreting the social significance of transcripts honestly relies on comparisons which fit uncomfortably with the messy and complex lives of people you have come to know.