The Role of Men in Engendered Peacebuilding

Donald Steinberg currently serves as president of World Learning, a non-profit organization working throughout the world to train a new generation of global citizens to build peace, prosperity, inclusion and good governance. He formerly served deputy administrator at the U.S. Agency for International Development, where he focused on the Middle East and Africa, reforms under USAID Forward, integration and mainstreaming of gender and disabilities into agency programing, and enhanced dialogue with development partners. 3

The term “gender” is usually considered synonymous with “women” when it comes to peacebuilding. In that sense, applying a gendered lens to a peacebuilding activity means taking women’s perspectives into account and more effectively using women’s contributions. To create sustained peace, however, we must understand gender as including men and women, encompassing men’s roles not only as perpetrators of violence or leaders of peace processes but also as victims and witnesses of violence and agents of change in conflict and postconflict societies.

In order to build peaceful and inclusive societies, we must first move beyond the simplistic notion that men are inherently more aggressive and violent than women. While men are up to six times more likely to commit and be victims of homicide, this has as much to do with early exposure to violence, economic frustration, militarization of societies, boys’ coming of age rituals, and gender-based access to light weapons as it does with testosterone. Similarly, even as we observe that women have a greater capacity to work across ethnic and class divisions and bring new skill sets and negotiating styles to the table, we know that these skills are not innate talents exclusive to women and instead are due to context and circumstances.

Similarly, we must avoid the stereotypical and even dangerous notion that men end the war and women build the peace. Our field must exploit the role of men as resources in promoting gender equality, peace, and stability.

I have long advocated for greater inclusion of women in peace and security work. One of my proudest moments at the US Agency for International Development was announcing in 2011 our new Global Women’s Leadership Fund to support women’s participation in peace negotiations, political dialogues, and donor conferences with funds for training, transportation, child care, and physical protection. This protection in particular is essential, since one of the most dangerous professions in the world is that of a woman peacebuilder. Yet despite more than a decade of work, conferences, resolutions, and pressure from senior leaders, men still slam the doors to peace conferences and reconstruction coffers in the faces of women.

An October 2013 symposium at the US Institute of Peace on men, peace, and security highlighted the central questions in seeking this more inclusive approach to gender in peacebuilding: How does male behavior shape conflict and violence, and how does conflict affect male behavior? What social, cultural, and economic drivers influence the development of men and boys? How do these drivers reflect in exaggerated and violent gender identities? What are the challenges for men and women alike in adjusting to life after war? How can local and international actors, governmental and nongovernmental, respond to and intervene in problems of hypermasculinities after conflict?

While advocating for an approach that sees men as important resources in postconflict settings, I also accept a basic truth: The current system that leaves peace processes in the hands of men who act in traditional ways and keep women on the outside looking in simply does not work.

I learned this lesson the hard way two decades ago. In 1994, serving as President Bill Clinton’s special assistant for African affairs, I supported the Angola peace negotiations, which bore fruit in November of that year with the signing of the Lusaka Protocol. This agreement promised to end two decades of violence that had cost up to a half million lives. Addressing an audience in Washington after the protocol was signed, I was asked about the role of women in negotiating and implementing the protocol. I responded that not a single provision in the agreement discriminated against women. “The agreement is gender neutral,” I declared, a little too proudly.

President Clinton then named me US ambassador to Angola and a member of the Joint Commission charged with implementing the peace accords. It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda to realize that a peace agreement that calls itself gender neutral is, inherently, discriminatory against women and far less likely to succeed. Most telling was the exclusion of women from the commission itself. At each meeting of this body, 40 men and no women served on the delegations of the Angolan government, National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), the United Nations, Portugal, Russia, and the United States. This silenced women’s voices on war and peace and meant that issues such as internal displacement, sexual violence, abuses by government and rebel security forces, and the rebuilding of social services such as maternal health care and girls’ education got short shrift.

The Lusaka Protocol was largely silent on a wide variety of other issues as well, including human trafficking, displacement-related burgeoning of HIV/AIDS cases, and proliferation of small arms and light weapons in civilian hands. Where were the training programs for men on these issues? Nothing in the commission members’ backgrounds as military commanders would have given them special insights into girls’ education, mother-child health care, or related concerns.

The peace accord was based on thirteen separate amnesties that excluded the possibility of prosecution for atrocities committed during the conflict. One amnesty excused actions that might take place in the future. Given the prominence of sexual abuse and exploitation during the conflict, including rape as a weapon of war, these amnesties meant that men with guns forgave other men with guns for crimes committed against women. The men at the table were ill-informed on issues related to transitional justice, truth and reconciliation commissions, and past examples in which amnesties were offered too freely. This flaw also undercut a return to the rule of law and introduced cynicism within segments of society about efforts to rebuild and reform the justice and security sectors.

Similarly, we launched programs to disarm, demobilize, and reintegrate ex-combatants into their communities. These men received a little money and demobilization kits consisting mostly of seeds and farm tools.

We did not offer ex-combatants the psycho-social assistance programs we offered to women and children. We then transported these men back to communities in which they had no clear roles. They lacked marketable skills and their communities had learned to live without them during the decades of conflict. As elsewhere around the world, the result was a dramatic rise in alcoholism, drug abuse, divorce, and domestic violence, along with the breakdown of the coping mechanisms that gave women some protection during the conflict. Thus, the end of civil war unleashed a new and even more pernicious era of violence against women. It was particularly tough for young boys who had never grown up with girls as peers and tended to view all women as bearers, bush wives, messengers, and cooks.

In response, we brought out gender advisors and human rights officers and launched programs in maternal health care, girls’ education, humanitarian demining, transitional justice, microenterprise, and support for women’s nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). But it was too little, too late. The peace process was already viewed generally as serving the interests of the warring parties rather than the Angolan people. When the process faltered in mid-1998 because of insufficient commitment from both the government and especially UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi, civil society stayed on the sidelines and did not press the leaders to prevent a return to conflict. The country relapsed into war, and another three years of fighting ended only with Savimbi’s death in 2002.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in 2000, was our collective response to situations like Angola. In four pages, this impressive resolution spells out the major challenges to bringing a gender perspective to issues of peace and security, explicitly stating that “effective institutional arrangements to guarantee the protection and full participation [of women and girls] in the peace processes can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of inter- national peace security.”

But even Resolution 1325 contains a bias, as it tends to put the burden for change on women themselves. One sign of this bias: The resolution contains forty-six references to women, girls, and females, and only one reference to men, boys, or males.

Unless men who currently control peacebuilding processes come to see it as in their interest to allow space for women and voluntarily surrender power and control, we will likely repeat what happened in Angola. How do we change such perspectives? We start by examining the motivation of men who run these processes.

I often address orientation programs for UN officials going out to lead peacekeeping operations as special representatives, police commissions, and force commanders. I begin by saying that their positions require empowering women as defined by Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, and others. Their eyes glaze over. I then talk about women’s rights and raise concepts of equity and fairness. A few are interested, but mostly the reaction is the same. I try to personalize the argument by reminding them that the disempowered and victimized women could be their sisters, wives, and daughters. A little more interest is evident, but still there is no broad ownership. They start to perk up only when I tell them that their peace processes will fail and that, as a result, their careers will suffer and their reputations will be permanently sullied.

I remind them that women are the ones who will give them many of the best ideas and the most reliable local information. If they want to know where the next rebel attack is going to occur, they should not talk only to regional governors or military commanders; they should ask the women in the marketplace whose families’ safety depends on having the latest information. If they want to know whether justice and security sector reforms are working, they should not only talk to judges and generals but also ask women trying to access that justice system or seek protection from the police and army. If they want to know if their Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration programs are effective, they cannot talk only to camp managers or demobilization organizers; they need to ask the women who are the eyes, ears, and consciences of the communities to which the fighters are returning.

And the peacekeepers should not ask only for information. They should involve women in all programs as planners, implementers, and beneficiaries, under the watch phrase, “Nothing about them without them.” This is the only way to build fair, just, and lasting peace.

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