The Emergence of the North-South Human Security Dialectic
The concept of human security that is agreed upon today is not taken for granted, there was a prevalent understanding of North-South negotiations in the early days of human security discourse. Acharya (2001) observes the debate between these two poles as a process that has reflected the expansion of the idea of military security into ‘comprehensive security’. The idea of human security originated from the North’s criticism of India and Pakistan, which were perceived to have spent too much on the military sector at the expense of human development. By the South, the notion of human security was suspected of being an attempt by the North to impose its liberal values and political institutions on the South. While Western penetration is evidently for human development reasons, some Asian countries argue that the promotion of human rights cannot be equated with Western methods. Asian states must take into account cultural contexts and historical experiences, including respect for the communitarianism of their societies. This typology is likely the reason why human rights have emerged in Southeast Asia lately.
To mediate the North-South prejudice, Mahbub Ulhaq, a former Finance Minister of Pakistan, initiated the human security clause to be documented in the United Nations Development Program Report (1994). Despite various criticisms and inputs -for example by Japan and Canada- because the definition of human security was considered too broad, it should be recognised that this document became a reference point where the idea of human security finally occupied an important position in international relations. UNDP recognises seven aspects of human security focusing on economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security.
Following the publication of the UNDP report, the North-South debate on what constitutes “human security” continues. The controversy continues to be that the North dominates perceptions of human security and tends to reflect a liberal individualistic ethos, which is at odds with Asian approaches that develop the concept of cultural relativism.
In short, human security demands a shift in the conceptualisation of security from the domain of the state to the individual or community. As such, human security protects all social groups, including children, minorities, women, and ethnic minorities -which is not at all counterproductive to Asia’s communitarian spirit. The spectrum of issues accommodated is broad, including both traditional and non-traditional aspects. It is at this point that the North-South debate can be reconciled.
Considering the Position of Women in Security Discourse
Taking these dynamics into account, I argue that traditional security and human development cannot be separated from each other, especially in the context of the South, which remains an arena of conflict to this day. The North’s push for the South to pay attention to human development is right, but given the fragile stability of many Southern countries, it is important to make efforts to prevent armed conflict simultaneously. As Afghanistan has shown in the last four decades, Russia’s conflict with Ukraine, and civil conflicts and ethnocentrism concentrated in some parts of the South. These conflicts develop under the influence of interrelated forces between internal and external conflicts. Not only do they threaten global peace and security, but they also produce or exacerbate injustice, especially against women as vulnerable groups in the South.
The nature of warfare today has changed, and it is no longer soldiers -who are often associated with men- who are the most victims, but also women. The social, economic and political access injustices that women experience in their daily lives exacerbate ongoing conflicts and ultimately hinder the long-term process of human development.
In conflicts worldwide, violence against women can not only be seen as an everyday form of oppression but has also been used as a weapon of war. Not only to hurt women, but also to humiliate men on the other side, and erode the social and moral fabric of entire societies for generations (Enloe, 1983). Sexual violence has been used as a war strategy in conflicts ranging from the partition of India to the wars in Rwanda, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, and the Middle East and Ukraine nowadays. This rationale places women as the most vulnerable group in times of conflict.
However, not only during the conflict, it is important to understand the conditions and difficulties of women’s lives after the war. Heyzer (2005) argues that three dimensions need to be considered. First, the specific impact of war on women’s lives, including various forms of violence and the erosion of society’s economic and social fabric. Violence has hurt women’s self-esteem, and in the aftermath, they still have to accept negative stigmatisation from society for the actions committed by militaries.
Second, the importance of women’s participation in the peace process. The Helsinki Agreement, touted as one of the most successful peace agreements, still raises a series of problems because it did not involve women at the negotiating table at all. The involvement of women in the peace process must be done from the beginning. Third, the role of women in shaping the post-conflict reconstruction process to ensure that their societies are built on a foundation of justice, inclusion, and a commitment to the dignity and development of all its members. This stage is the process of building human security for the long term. To be successful, these three dimensions need to ensure a deeper and broader inclusion of human security elements.
This is evidence of the importance of paying attention to the non-military aspects that create injustice without forgetting the impact of war at the same time. Women’s relationship to conflict has rarely been an important discourse in human security studies between the North and South. Although human security discourse, in general, has involved important North-South conversations, whether we want to admit it or not, women from the South still need to be discovered in the dynamics of human security conceptualisation. The North-South relationship in human security discourse is still limited to the ‘dominating North’ and the ‘subordinated South’, without looking further into the multiple subordinations that Southern women experience, especially in times of conflict.
To borrow Acharya’s concept of comprehensive security, injustices that are sidelined and unaddressed will thwart the achievement of the grand vision of human security.
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