Securitizing peace: The Need for Feminist Perspectives

Rushali Saha - Associate, Peace and Conflict Mandate

Picture by OECD


One of the first concepts we are taught as students of International Politics is anarchy. In the realist tradition it is believed to be a “fundamental fact” of international relations and all other assumptions, concepts are seen to flow from it. The first thing that struck me in the course on realism was the very few readings by women authors and even less female theorists.This is particularly significant, as it has been shown that there is a close relationship between those working in foreign security policy and political realism. The more I explored this, the more questions I had and having a handful of female professors in a male dominated faculty led me to superficial answers. The writings of J. Tickner, a key critic of state and security, provided theoretical answers to the many questions I raised and led to me a vast array of feminist definitions of security studies but also made me acutely aware of the gap between theory and practical reality. The long history of women’s exclusion from peace making process is evident from the fact that between 1992 and 2018, women constituted 13 per cent of negotiators, 3 per cent of mediators and only 4 per cent of signatories in major peace processes tracked by the Council on Foreign Relations. But why is it important to have women in the peace process? Historically it is women who suffer the most during war which is conveniently neglected during peace negotiations which continue to conflate security with only state security. Feminist scholarship defines security as the security of individuals as well as states and people with keen understanding of this are sure to look beyond narrow definitions of security in the peace building process. As I understand it, it is not merely a question of representation but a nuanced understanding of the way in which women are affected during times of conflict and what can be done to redress that. Yet in a world which is deeply patriarchal, women understand women’s lived experiences better than men. This is not to discard gender activists who irrespective of their gender have fought for women’s right but to situate the calls for women’s participation within the broader calls for inclusivity in peace processes dominated by men. A simple google search which reveal a plethora of research confirming how women’s participation in the peace processes has created more long lasting peace, but I would like to draw the reader’s attention to more telling facts and figures.

The vast majority of peace agreements reached since 1990 fail to refer to gender based violence in effect ignoring or even negating the problems they face which are unique to them. Only two women in history, Miriam Coronel Ferrer of the Philippines and Tzipi Livni of Israel have ever served as chief negotiators, and only one woman—Coronel Ferrer—has ever signed a final peace accord as chief negotiator. Is this because women are bad negotiators? Statistical analysis reveals a different story confirming a robust correlation between peace agreements signed by female delegates and durable peace. Ironically research has shown more active women representation in the informal or Track II processes who even work to legitimate the formal negotiations yet are visibly absent in the formal negotiations.

South Asia has unfortunately been the site for violence for several decades now and is no exception to the general trend where women have been disproportionately affected by war. If anything it is worse since cultural practices have long legitimised gender discrimination in public and private life. Women peace activists in South Asia have pointed out the importance of peace processes as an opportunity to transform gender relations and build a more gender equal society making it all the more vital for women involvement in all stages of the peace process.

Despite the many strides woman have made through years of activism and struggle we are far from an equal society. Integration of feminist perspectives and direct participation in the peace making process is another step, albeit an important one, towards the larger mission of equality. Discourses which securitise peace in an all-inclusive manner is going to complement these efforts and women need to come forward to overhaul current narratives framed by men in security analysis.

Rushali Saha is currently pursuing her Masters from Jadavpur University in Political Science with specialization in International Relations. She graduated from the same university with a degree in Political Science in 2018. She has previously served as the Social Enterprise Director for Responsible Charity working in the fields of education and women empowerment.