The Gender Dimensions of Social Conflict, Armed Violence and Peacebuilding

field research situation Jos, Nigeria

The gender dimensions of social conflict, armed violence and peacebuilding are multifaceted and complex. Fifteen years after the path‐breaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325, gender has been mainstreamed into most peacebuilding activities but adequate implementation on the ground is hampered by the current lack of evidence‐based promising practices. This research project assembles feminist and conflict researchers from Indonesia, Nigeria, Geneva and London.

​About the project

  • Background

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    Research in International Relations and Gender Studies shows that gender inequality is correlated with a country’s tendency to solve conflicts violently, and that processes of conflict escalation involve a militarization of masculinities. However, there is limited knowledge on how gender relations interlink with social conflict, armed violence and peacebuilding at the micro-level. Civil war research has demonstrated that the spread and intensity of violence varies on the ground, suggesting that the capacity of communities for conflict management is an important factor that renders them more or less vulnerable to armed conflict. The project starts from the assumption that intersectionally gendered power relations affect a community’s capacity to manage conflicts and prevent violence. We call conflict management and peacebuilding practices intersectionally gendered when they draw on constructions of femininity and masculinity in conjunction with age, ethnicity, religion and other identity categories.

  • Objectives

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    The project pursues two goals. It seeks to:

    • develop a better understanding of the ways in which gender informs conflict management and peacebuilding practices;
    • influence local, national and international peacebuilders to improve their practices through the targeted circulation of contextualized and transferrable knowledge.

    Our research is designed as a micro-level study of intersectionally gendered conflict management and peacebuilding practices, comparing communities in three regions of Indonesia and Nigeria that have experienced different types of conflict. We explore the following two overarching research questions:

    • What is the connection between gender relations, the level of violence a community is exposed to in a conflict setting, and its capacity for violence prevention?
    • How does gender inform peacebuilding practices in intersection with other identity categories and to what effect?

    We aim to identify different types of local conflict management and peacebuilding practices and their links to extra- local norms and initiatives with particular attention to the role that intersectionally gendered identities play in these practices.

  • Relevance

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    Understanding the relationship between gender, conflict, and peacebuilding remains a crucial analytical need in an international context pervaded by civil wars, ethno-religious conflicts, and armed violence. With the adoption of Security Council Resolution 1325, the international community has embraced the idea that international peace and security require a gender-sensitive approach to conflict management and peacebuilding. At the intersection between International Relations, International Law, Anthropology, and Gender Studies, this project intends to address the gender gap in the peacebuilding literature, exploring how gender operates in processes of conflict (de-)escalation and peacebuilding and the (lack of) connections between local, national, and international peacebuilding practices. Targeting peacebuilders (students, communities, practitioners), decision-makers, and academia with specifically designed outputs (briefs and articles, course modules, promising practices guidelines disseminated in local, national and international fora), the project aims to make a long-lasting impact by disseminating community-informed, intersectionally gendered peacebuilding practices to relevant actors involved in conflict management and peacebuilding.

  • Highlights and most important results

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    Building upon a careful and systematic analysis of over 300 interviews, the Consortium has developed original concepts that allow exploring the way gender drives conflict cycles. One key emerging concept is the notion of ‘intersectionally-gendered social mechanisms’ shaping conflict cycles (Rigual, Prügl, and Kunz, n.d.). The concept of social mechanism is based on an epistemological understanding of causality as constitutive, forgoing notions of efficient causation widely criticized in the feminist literature. Suggesting that mechanisms aren’t just gendered, but intersectionally-gendered, we bring into view the fact that social cleavages such as class, ethnicity, and religion intersect with gender as they contribute to shaping conflict cycles, i.e. as they constitute or make thinkable violent behaviour. In-depth comparative analysis of interviews has led to the identification of several intersectionally- gendered mechanisms at play in conflict escalation and management:

    • Rumour circulation and control . While rumours have been long been identified as a key driver of conflicts, little has been said about their gendered dynamics. Building upon an analysis of four case studies (Jos and Enugu in Nigeria, Maluku and East Java in Indonesia), Rigual, Onyesoh and Udasmoro (2018) suggest that rumours escalating violence are gendered at three levels: first, at the contextual level, rumours tend to spread through gendered networks; second, at the content level, rumours can focus on particular gender identities (such as targeting ‘women’ or ‘mothers’); finally, rumours often integrate a message about gender relations (in particular content describing sexual violence or a threat to perceived masculinities), activating two gendered social mechanisms strongly associated with ethno-religious violent retaliations: masculinist honour or pride, and masculinist protection. This finding not only helps explain communal violence, but also allows for understanding how such violence can be contained. Indeed, in communities having experienced lower levels of violence, such as Dadin Kowa (Nigeria) and Wayame (Indonesia), interfaith groups of respected elders not only used authority and social control over youth groups (Krause 2016), but specifically forbade rumour spreading, publicly punishing those who broke the rule.
    • Alternative forms of masculinities . The literature often conflates hegemonic masculinities with violent and/or military/militarized masculinities. In contrast, the various non-violent and peaceful forms of masculinity that are involved in everyday conflict prevention and management and in active peacebuilding have so far received little attention (Myrttinen, Khattab, and Naujoks 2016). Drawing on vignettes of Acehnese men’s experiences, Kunz, Myrttinen, and Udasmoro (2018) explore masculinities that achieve relative hegemony in non-violent ways. They identify three strategies of conflict prevention and management these men employ: strategic appeasement, creating safe spaces, and transforming militarized masculinities. In doing so, men in conflict-affected Aceh contributed to reducing violence, yet did not necessarily challenge masculine hegemony. The case study paints a nuanced picture of what comes to be seen as hegemonic in a given society at a given point in time and what can be contested.
    • Interfaith bonding . Rigual, Onyesoh, and Udasmoro (Forthcoming) explore the creative ways in which people in case communities in Jos and Maluku have established initiatives to repair, strengthen and foster interfaith social ties. These often-informal and less visible initiatives have played a vital role in counter- acting the rigidification of identities and geographical segregation, which accompanied the conflict. Three initiatives in particular were present in both locations: women’s interfaith markets, women-led reconciliation rituals, and interfaith dialogue. They triggered mechanisms of exchange and dialogue that effectively re-established an interfaith, shared social fabric.
    • Social criticism as peacebuilding . In their analysis of resource-driven conflicts in Enugu and East Java, Rigual, Udasmoro, and Achakpa (Forthcoming) argue innovatively that social criticism is a mechanism for building peace. Villagers were divided on how to position themselves vis-à-vis the external actors that provoked tensions over land (the Fulanis in Enugu and the mining companies in East Java), but some organized and voiced their opposition (more or less violently). Such social protest can become an element of peaceful conflict management under certain conditions: if there is a neutral and committed local government, if people are allowed to voice their opposition in a peaceful manner, and if there is space to mediate such oppositions. In successful cases both men and women were actively involved in these processes, demonstrating, acting for peace, and organizing the communities. Women contributed, in particular by participating in protest, as well as through local mediation and efforts at establishing dialogue, even though they are rarely involved in more formal political processes during and after the conflict.
  • Geographic scope

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    • Indonesia and South‐East Asia
    • Nigeria and West Africa
  • Project website and links to P3

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