Authors: Janakan Muthukumar & Ibrahim Bahati*
The purpose of this policy brief is to provide insight into the role of men in contemporary peacemaking and in post-conflict rebuilding and empowerment programs. In doing so, the first part of this brief provides the changing role of the men, and how it influences the peacemaking and post-conflict and empowering process. The second part will address how revisiting the roles of men would make a positive impact in peacemaking and in post-conflict rebuilding and empowering programs.
Changing the role of men in the post-conflict context
The battle for equality and recognition of women’s rights during and after conflict and displacement have been an unfinished business. It is because the war is often a gendered practice, a political act dominated mostly by men. Reports indicate that almost in all cases, men are the primary perpetrators of violence in an act of war. Gender experts argue that such role men play is a socially constructed one, a result of dominant masculinities. In many societies, such dominant masculinism was hailed of heroism. However, today’s nature of conflicts has been changed and has influenced in redefining the ideology of masculinity in new ways.
The nature of conflict has been changed as no longer a battlefield against another group or only against a state but against non-state actors such as terrorist groups, and pirates. In such content, not only the means and methods of warfare but also the involvement of women changed the discourse of war. Women in every capacity in the military, but also in joining in terrorist groups as militants have changed the gender discourse in war zone rapidly as the war on terror has become no longer solely a male preserve. Such involvement of women in the war zone has alarmed the states and international bodies to change the discourse of war, as to accommodate ‘gender-related persecution’ not only at the battlefield but also in providing security and humanitarian assistance in refugee camps. This notion of gender persecution particularly under scrutiny in cases of detainees, spies and prisoner of war as it has no legal meaning, rather is used to encompass the range of different claims in which gender is the relevant consideration in the determination of their status.
On the other hand, the nuance of gender-related persecution reaffirms the historical aspect of war, that women are the immediate victims of the war, however, the men are also being targeted in the same manner. In such instances, there have been no policies and specific legal aspects those protect the rights of men. Further, the ideology that men are supposed to be strong, acting as protectors have never been a rightful claim and weakened by the external factors, such as poverty, diseases and being the target of racial and other discrimination. Further, the crimes against men particularly in the conflict zone, such as male rape and male mutilation are being today’s weaponry of war significantly moved the paradigm that the role of men as a victim is required to be acknowledged, and such acknowledgement must be taken into account in peacemaking and post-conflict rebuilding and empowering programs.
Evidence also indicates that in instances where men have been left out in social rebuilding causes severe backlashes in the peacemaking process. Although few researchers indicate the action of left out men in turning to other institution of control such as militarism as the absolution of their emasculation and a gateway to reassert their ‘control’ such as in the case of Somalia, where men joined al-Shabab to regain the social status and power, which in their view provides ‘alternative pathway to manhood’ or in Kaduna, Nigeria, where men resorted to use of religion as their safe space of control and assert their influence caused the peacemaking process unsuccessful. Therefore, revisiting the role of men as a primary victim, but also as a stakeholder in peacemaking and post-conflict rebuilding and empowering programs is unavoidable.
Revisiting the role of men, accommodating them as the primary victim and stakeholder in the peacemaking process
There have been unspecific reasons for the reluctance in involving men in post-conflict rebuilding, particularly in women empowerment and development projects. Apart from the assumption that conflict is usually a male preserve, the other reasons emanate from the social structure of patriarchal and of the fact that male figures are already being favoured over the female. It is like asking, why we give rights to someone who already has them? Second, the ideology of masculinity ignores that war has an effect on boys and men, and itself create gender silence when men are instrumentalized as evil in nature and want to control women, and patriarchal. Third, gender experts indicate that ‘men appear to be missing from much of gender and development policy’ or practice is due to the fact that there has been lack of studies on men and masculinities when analyzing the socioeconomic and political structure, particularly at conflict situation. Cleaver indicates that programs like Women in Development which were only pro-women failed to achieve their overall objectives because men were delineated in the process as agents of women’s empowerment projects.
Ignoring men as development partners in post-conflict arrangements is more likely to trench them in gendered vulnerabilities causes collapsing masculinities, results for violence for absolution. The fact that there remains a gendered theorization of development and peacemaking processes without or with less imploring of a gender lens has resulted into similar processes where ‘the impact of the development of men remains relatively less well understood.’ In fact, the talk of ‘masculinities’ inclusion in the post-conflict development practice has political dimensions and that this invisibility reproduces ‘gender inequality, both materially and ideologically.’
On the other hand, it is also to be noted that the assumption to look at all women as naturally feminists, supporting the women’s rights to gender equality is not accurate. Women as individual agents also have the interests and motivations of which might be distanced from creating safe spaces that are free from violence. There are many cases where women militants have profiteered from female genital mutilation in societies. Such evidence indicates that making a case that caregiving is largely feminized is not absolute.
In this context, following the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) there have been two explicit ways provided to include men in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda. One is by ‘the enlistment of men and boys in the effort to combat all forms of violence against women’, and by engage ‘men and boys as partners in promoting women’s participation in the prevention and resolution of armed conflict, peacebuilding and post-conflict situations.’ Although the national action plans (NAP) of the states’ attempt their own way in accommodating these recommendations of inclusion, in the context of conflicts and post-conflict such arrangements have been usually forgotten. Thus, in those situations, men are more likely to oppose reconstruction goals that are assembly seen as likely to cause a power shift in their power balance. Duriesmith argues in warfare, dominant masculinity dupes’ men’s awareness that their ‘own expendability in military service creates contempt for women as objects that men are supposed to protect.’ Thus, post-conflict community reconstruction programs need to harness the prowess of participatory action process where inclusion, power and ideological difference are central to the policy debate. For example, there should also be healing centres that serve post-traumatic men as it serves women. Such initiatives are important in barring cyclical forms of violence against women when men with post-traumatic disorders return to the society where the same perpetrating laws, culture and agents remain without any reform in terms of education or seeking justice. Beyond reasons that are both political and cultural, the space for creating the dialogue of the vulnerabilities of the male gender on issues of victimhood such as male rape should be created against it has been reflected as a taboo. Further, recognizing that male rape has been used a ‘weapon of war’ is essential in understanding and designing the post-conflict restricting programs address such violence, thus men can also involve from being the victim, and as partners in the peacemaking process.
The notion of incorporating men in the peacemaking, post-conflict reconstruction and empowering process comes in two faces. One envisioning them as agents of change while the other to counter the negativities of collapsing masculinities which manifest in all forms of violence (physical, sexual and psychological) which may end up as systematic or structural combat. Thus, peacebuilding missions and campaigns must harness the power of ‘willing men’ as both champions and change agents for their targets and cause. Although men have been identified as the primary perpetrators of crime in the war zone, the fact that similarly men on the forefront leading the way to stop also cannot be ignored. This in its own brings to another reality that plagues women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict situations.
Revisiting the role of men does not mean revisiting their gender roles per say but as well the situations which they find themselves in. It means the need to continuously ask the questions that consider what dimensions men and women could be found in common in restructuring and what type of agency does that fuel in post-conflict situations. The language and practical tendency to over-focus on women as the victimized group at the hands of men, the ‘dominant’ in itself has allowed the continuous perpetration where women have been treated and turned into victims in need of saving from traditional men in need of fighting against. This creates the ‘logic of masculinist protection’ from the roots of the society up to the state. It also roots for ‘behavioural propensities of men link[ed] to violence’ while circumventing women to be more of peacemakers thus amounting to ‘these differences that help to account for the structure of states and international relations.’ The discussion about ‘what about men?’ in conflict to peacemaking and development situations is complex but is inescapable of the time. Complexities continue to emerge due to lack of understanding that not all men are obstacles to women’s development and equal rights, nor all men have benefited from patriarchy positively and its hegemonic masculine dominance. Men are also being victimized of conflict equally. It requires more policy guidance and practices in the post-conflict situations that could emphasize the role of men in this transition. Such policies must acknowledge that the popular understanding of masculinities has been overweighed to lean into the fitting of ‘hegemonic masculinities’ which needs to be deconstructed.
*Ibrahim Bahati is a Mastercard Foundation Scholar at the American University of Beirut (Lebanon) studying an MSc. in Rural Community Development and MA in Gender Studies at Makerere University, Uganda. He is currently The Global Summit People’s Fellow (2018) a recent Women in International Security Next Generation Fellow (2017) and holds a BA in Development Economics.