Friday, May 16, 2008

are women more peaceful?

(Picture is the Water Palace in Jaipur, India)

Despite trolling the web all morning, I haven't found much to post - which is why I went for the archives. This piece is a little old (March 08), but definitely interesting; it covers a convention of women in Jaipur, India to talk about women's contributions to peacebuilding, reconstruction, and conflict resolution. I could summarize but this quote does so much better:

"This is not about empowering women," says Ms. Merriam [conference organizer], who also co-chaired the United Nations' Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000. "It is about how women can transform society to help us find new ways of addressing conflict."

There are men here, too. The goal, participants say, is not to antagonize men. Yet each believes that women bring to the issue of conflict resolution a different perspective. Many liken it to that of a mother, stern but caring, and more open to finding alternatives to violence.

Where, oh where to start? So many interesting things at work here. First, the cultural feminism bit - the idea that being female makes you a nurturer, a listener, a mother. It's a nice idea, and one that many people would probably have no trouble accepting. However, capitalizing on it has it's own costs for the advancement of the anti-gender-stereotyping agenda. The women participating in this conference are using their femaleness to get what they want - a voice in the reconstruction efforts of their war-torn countries (Afghan women are well-represented in the article, for example - see this RAND study on the role of women in the rebuilding efforts) and to have things done in a way that they see as more effective and constructive, rather than forceful and violent (which, in addition to whatever inherent negatives those two things bring, hasn't been terribly effective). Does calling it 'a woman thing' take away from it in any way in the short term? Or might it lead to future returns, such as a new appreciation for 'typically female' things? (Are those two things mutually exclusive? I am inclined to think that even if gender roles were reversed, we would still all suffer because specific standards for each gender always leads to troublesome standard-enforcing).

Second, is it true? Does getting women involved really help? The RAND article on Afghanistan says yes ... but it's a very small study. It also - probably wisely - makes no comment on typically female v. typically male behavior - it just looks at empirical trends. Although I am sure I could find gender-biased language given a second read, that isn't the point of the article so I don't want to add any distractions.

I was bitching earlier this week about, basically, the tendency to look down at things that improve quality of life for women in ways that don't conform to the gender-equality agenda, and I may be showing myself a hypocrite here in writing critically about a conference that aspires to bring more communication and compromise into war and postwar scenarios. However, I do think the way that we think about things is important - it makes a difference whether you frame this kind of conversation as one where community-oriented techniques are valuable as opposed to one where inherently female personality traits are valuable. Of course, pragmatic considerations sometimes mean that the more 'progressive' framing is tabled - I am certainly not going to say that better reconstruction tactics should not be used for the sake of eventual gender equality. It is something that I puzzle over, though.

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