Women, War, & Peace

I'm not a gender essentialist. I don't believe that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. I suspect strongly, in fact, that women and men are the same species and might even be able to reproduce. 

At the same time, it's true that women and men—on average, in general—tend to behave differently. You can't predict any individual woman's or man's behavior based on sex; as we've discussed here before, some boys want to be princesses, and some girls are hard-core jocks with a fabulous swagger.

Yet at the same time, the international policy community knows that, on average, women tend to invest in their families while men spend their money on themselves. And that if women are involved in peacemaking and national rebuilding, that peace is more stable than if it were all organized by men. 

Last month, Hillary Clinton gave an extraordinary speech that got little attention, buried as it was during the holidays. In it, she discussed: 

... the growing body of evidence that shows how women around the world contribute to making and keeping peace, and that these contributions lead to better outcomes for entire societies.  From Northern Ireland to Liberia to Nepal and many places in between, we have seen that when women participate in peace processes, they focus discussion on issues like human rights, justice, national reconciliation, and economic renewal that are critical to making peace but often are overlooked in formal negotiations.  They build coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines, and they speak up for other marginalized groups.  They act as mediators and help to foster compromise.  And when women organize in large numbers, they galvanize opinion and help change the course of history.

Think of those remarkable women in Liberia who marched and sang and prayed until their country’s warring factions finally agreed to end their conflict and move toward democracy.  If you have seen the movie—and if you haven’t, I highly recommend it; it’s called Pray the Devil Back to Hell—you know that these brave women laid siege to the negotiations until the men inside the rooms signed a deal.

Now I know some of you may be thinking, “Well, there she goes again. Hillary Clinton always talks about women, and why should I or anyone else really care?” Well, you should care because this is not just a women’s issue. It cannot be relegated to the margins of international affairs. It truly does cut to the heart of our national security and the security of people everywhere, because the sad fact is that the way the international community tries to build peace and security today just isn’t getting the job done. Dozens of active conflicts are raging around the world, undermining regional and global stability, and ravaging entire populations. And more than half of all peace agreements fail within five years.

At the same time, women are too often excluded from both the negotiations that make peace and the institutions that maintain it. Now of course, some women wield weapons of war—that’s true—and many more are victims of it. But too few are empowered to be instruments of peace and security. That is an unacceptable waste of talent and of opportunity for the rest of us as well.  

Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network first brought this speech to my attention. I was reminded of it last night at a forum at Harvard's Kennedy School, organized and chaired by former Ambassador Swanee Hunt, who quoted the speech before introducing some remarkable female peacemakers from Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Israel, and Palestine. For instance, Mossarat Qadeem told about the painstaking process of winning the trust of poor rural families whose boys had joined the extremists, talking with those boys about a more peaceful interpretation of Islam, and reclaiming them for a normal life of soccer and work. But I was most struck by Rebecca Joshua Okwaci, now a deputy minister for the brand-new Republic of South Sudan. She talked about being a "freedom fighter" during the civil war, fighting while living in the bush. They lived on what they could find, she said, and sometimes villagers gave them eggs and chicken. Now, she explained, it was their responsibility to give back peace and stability. 

Christian Science Monitor reporter Jina Moore stood up and said that her journalistic cynicism had just been knocked on its head. She explained that she had been in many post-conflict zones and had interviewed many former fighters who said that they had earned power by fighting—and now they were going to enjoy it. Instead, she said to Okwaci, you said that they gave us the eggs and the chickens, and now we have a responsibility to give back. 

Yes, said Okwaci. We must pay it forward. (Yup. She actually said that.)

Now, Nelson Mandela was an extraordinary fighter turned peacemaker. Martin Luther King Jr. took injustice and rage and transformed them into reconciliation and peace. I don't think women have a lock on the topic, by any means. But if women aren't involved in making peace—if the interests of half the population are left out of reclaiming a country from conflict—that peace won't be as deep and wide as it should be.


"..., the international policy community knows that, ... if women are involved in peacemaking and national rebuilding, that peace is more stable than if it were all organized by men. "

Interesting, as this is entirely counter to most serious, well-read students of history and actual contemporary experience. As one historian noted (I forget who at the momement, but believe it was a 19thC. Brit), "Men fight the wars women start . . ."

Also, I went to an all boys school (1980's) and relations amongst the "men" was, on the whole, always peaceful with only an occaision "row"; whereas the girls' school down the street was always in a a state of war -- every single day news of some new "cat-fight" would come down the road. I've also noted (as an educator in the past, and as a student) that most of the fights that occur in coed situations in K-12 and college involve women in some way -- if not at the start, then they get involved and make the situation worse.

Just as this article starts out emphasizing the generalizations being made, my statements too are generalizations of the "average" and there are always examples of individual exceptions (though rare).

So generalizations and exceptions aside it's an interesting disparity that requires acknowledgement and proper political/social application if peaceful social results are truly desired.

GENTLEMEN...ABSOLUTELY!! Women must be incorporated into each and every crevice of American institutional life. Unfortunately, such may not project American Empire power toward those policies which also place a premium on justice and the lives of the colored and dark hordes which constitute the majority of the world. No, it simply may result in a womanized version of American war addiction. After all, mothers also embrace vulgar patriotic narratives which allow them to rationalize sacrificing their sons and daughters to the great levels of violence required to maintain the Empire. No ground swelling of mothers, sisters, grandmothers, or girlfriends facing down US militarism here. Just as some felt that Blacks with our history of being ,along side Native Americans,objects of the most verile constucts of American race hatred, would inform American militarism towards less wars once admitted to all echelons of The ESTABLISHMENT, we learned otherwise. After all, did bombs unleashed by us onto Iraq in the first Gulf War,which bombed the country back to the middle ages and ,according to a Harvard research team, may well have resulted in the deaths of 100,000 Iraqui children. hurt less because real and true AMERICAN PATRIOT AND LEGEND, GENERAL COLIN POWELL,as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff led it or as the first Black SECRETARY OF STATE sold the second invasion with his UN speech? IS OBAMA'S ADDICTION TO COMMITTING WAR CRIMES less vulgar because his people were subjects of European colonialsm?
HILLARY CLINTON making the case for women?ARE YOU SERIOUS? Who is more supportive of U.S. militarism than she?WHO IS MORE SYNCHOPHANTIC IN ITS SUPPORT THAN SHE? MAYBE BLACK SISTERS CONDI AND SUSAN PERHAPS?? Just understand, that unlike the thesis of the A P article, the case for female inclusion rests on principles of equality and anti-sexism and not on some romantic but dangerous narrative of female appreciation for life.

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