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Militarised Masculinities: a closer look

In this article, we are sharing the show notes and the full transcript of the Second Episode of our Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace podcast.

 

Yellow circle with the backs of three soldiers
Image credit: WILPF
WILPF International Secretariat
14 February 2024

Welcome to Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace, a podcast from WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, in which we uncover the transformative power of feminist peace and explore how men can be active proponents of achieving gender equality and peace.

In this clip, Laila Alodaat speaks to us about her mandatory military training at the tender age of 13 in Syria.

Show notes

As we delve into the complex world of militarised masculinities, hear the remarkable and powerful stories of three feminist peace activists, each working to dismantle the patriarchy.

In this episode we discuss why masculinity is so often intertwined with ideals of violence, power and control. How militarised masculinities have invaded every aspect of our lives. Why we must challenge the notion that this link between violence and manhood is inevitable. And how men can be allies to women and effectively feed into the feminist movement.

Our guests are:

Laila Alodaat, a human rights lawyer specialising in international law of armed conflicts and the human rights of women and is the current Deputy Secretary-General of WILPF.

Oswaldo Montoya, a life-long advocate for gender equality, children’s rights and non-violence and one of the founders of the Men’s Group against Violence in Managua, Nicaragua. Currently with MenEngage Alliance.

David Duriesmith, a professor at the University of Sheffield and an academic who explores the relationship between patriarchy, masculinities and violence from a pro-feminist perspective. 

Our sources

Duriesmith D & Holmes G (2019) The masculine logic of DDR and SSR in the Rwanda Defence Force. Security Dialogue, 50(4), 361-379.  

Duriesmith D (2020) Engaging or changing men? Understandings of masculinity and change in the new ‘men, peace and security’ agenda. Peacebuilding, 8(4), 418-431. 

Engaging men and boys in the Women, Peace and Security agenda: Beyond the ‘good men’ industry – David Duriesmith (11/2017)

Episode full script

Reem Abbas: [00:00:00] When you think of what it means to be masculine, what do you picture? For many, masculinity is tied up in ideals of violence, power, and control. But why is it considered manly to carry guns and fight in wars? And who benefits from these conceptions of manhood? Today, we will discuss the concept of militarised masculinities.

Dean Peacock: Welcome to Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace, a podcast from WILPF, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. I’m Dean Peacock. 

Reem Abbas: And I am Reem Abbas. In this brand new podcast series, we will be joined by a range of incredible guests on a variety of topics to uncover the transformative power of feminism.

We will explore how men can be active proponents of achieving gender equality and peace in this time of growing pushback and escalating war.[00:01:00] 

Established in 2020, the Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace program is an initiative of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in partnership with the MenEngage Alliance, a global alliance working in nearly 70 countries around the world to increase men’s support for gender equality.

The project is implemented globally and in six focus countries, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Colombia, the DRC, Nigeria, and Yemen, where we have conducted and published original research to understand what’s driving militarised masculinities and figure out ways to increase men’s support for women’s rights and peace.

Dean Peacock: The project uses five broad social change strategies at the local, national, regional and global levels. Alliance building, research and knowledge dissemination, advocacy, peer learning, and then the fifth one is a mix of [00:02:00] communications approaches, including this podcast. This body of research and many other resources, including a documentary film, can be found on our project web pages, and we’ll put a link in the show notes, so you can find that there. 

Reem Abbas: In this, our second episode, we explore how WILPF, the oldest women’s peace organisation in the world even came to have an initiative on men. What we mean by militarised masculinities and how men can support feminist peace.

Let us now introduce you to our guests, Laila Alodaat, who is WILPF’s Deputy Secretary General, Oswaldo Montoya, who’s a founding member of the Nicaraguan Men’s Association, and David Duriesmith, a widely published pro feminist activist working in academia. Laila, starting with you, can you tell us a little about yourself and [00:03:00] your journey to feminist peace activism? What inspires you and where do you find room for optimism? 

Laila Alodaat: Thank you, Reem. So I’m a lawyer from Syria and I grew up in the 80s under authoritarianism in a highly militarised society. It was one party, one ideology, and a serious use of force and torture, and abuse to deter and control political dissent.

As I grew up, arms were visible and glorified, and violence was almost the go-to tool to address issues, to enforce views, and to center the powerful in the community and in the political system. And that filtered into, from the state into the society, and then filtered into the school and the family and the workplace.

And when I was growing up, military training was obligatory in schools. So, for example, as a 13 year old, I was able to assemble and deassemble a Kalashnikov, blindfolded, as part of my military training in school. And [00:04:00] how military training was obligatory for girls and boys in school was portrayed as equality.

There was a notion that our women were as fierce as our men and that we were forceful and can be as violent as men and we’re ready to, to fight when needed. And we were supposed to take pride in that. And I say this because I remember it when women in the military is brought up as a measure for equity and to streamline the women, peace and security agenda.

And as a woman who was forced into that system, I remember that it doesn’t work as much on the other side of this equation. And later in life, I became a lawyer and I practice as a corporate lawyer, but at the same time, I was a trainer of international humanitarian law. So I was very interested in international law and in the rules of armed conflict and how we make these more humane. And as I develop in my career, I wanted my day to day work to be aligned with my values.

So I took a career break, came to London to [00:05:00] study. And when I came here, my exposure to free access of information was life changing. Remember, I’m coming from a very controlled society. We had no access to information. It was a very tight fist of authoritarianism. So coming to what came across as a freer society and being engaged in debate and healthy disagreement and allowing curiosity was life changing to me.

But also living here, I was very impressed by the absence of arms and the absence of weapons in the public scene. I landed in London and police didn’t have guns. There were no guns to be seen anywhere. And as I grew in my activism and political awareness, both locally in the UK and internationally, I realized that my relative safety as a Londoner and the feeling that arms are very far away is a little bit orchestrated.

And I realized that this country actually produces arms, but sell them in other parts of the world and profit here from them. So other people, other [00:06:00] civilians get harmed by them and that we are never far away from a militarised thinking if we allow states to have it. And I say all of this because I find my personal journey to be one where ‘the personal is political’ was actually my reality and how connecting the local to the global have been very formative in the way I see the world.

And when this awareness is created, it’s almost inevitable to go into pacifist feminism. And having been through the pain of militarization and arming and discrimination and the lack of freedom, it’s almost inevitable to want to address root causes of violence and root causes of what has impacted my life.

So the freedom and safety that I enjoy temporarily can be streamlined to the world I’d like to live in. What makes me optimistic is [00:07:00] that what used to be complete alien in a lot of the spaces I was active in many years ago is now common conversation, both in the Middle East, where I come from, the conversation about pacifism and pacifist feminism and challenging a notion that feminism could be co opted by the state and by authoritarian regimes has become very central to our conversations, and also here in the UK and international spaces where I work in. Bringing a feminist agenda is no longer, you know, an alien thought by the few. It’s at the core of the political identity of the many. And going back to activism, our collective strength as individuals and as groups, and the need to contribute to change in a structural and transformative way has become a way of thinking. So I’m optimistic because I think there’s no way back.

The states could [00:08:00] try to limit the spaces available to us, but they’re unlikely to succeed. 

Dean Peacock: Thanks so much, Laila. That image of you, age 13, learning how to assemble and disassemble a Kalashnikov is really striking and moving. I’m going to turn to you now, Oswaldo. Your childhood in Nicaragua spans Somoza’s dictatorship, the Sandinista Revolution, and then the US imposed war against the Sandinista government.

In the early 1990s, you were one of the co founders of the Nicaraguan Men’s Association Against Violence. And you wrote a foundational book, Nadando Contra Corrientes, or Swimming Against the Current, about men’s involvement in supporting gender equality. You then went on to serve as the first global coordinator of the MenEngage Alliance.

Most recently, you’ve been very involved in MenEngage’s work on the importance of men’s accountability to women’s rights movements. While also [00:09:00] being very active in efforts to hold Daniel Ortega accountable for the violence he and the Sandinista party has unleashed on pro democracy protesters in Nicaragua.

Can you help us understand what has motivated you and how you’ve engaged with militarism, war, and violence over this long trajectory? 

Oswaldo Montoya: My childhood in Nicaragua during the right wing dictatorship, during the Somoza regime, really left a huge mark on me. I experienced a very pivotal moment when I was 12 years old.

Nicaragua was in war. There was a left wing revolutionary movement trying to overthrow this dictatorship and people were really tired and fed up with the dictatorship, the corruption, the level of repression. And that night, I remember, I was 12 years old, 1978, there was this civilian protest and [00:10:00] we all went to the streets to protest with civic protest with pot and pans. And then the police, the Somoza police came to scare us and we all run away to our homes, but they got my dad. They were able to have my dad under the control and beat him and he returned home injured. And those images, that experience was very profound on me, like like experiencing first hand the abuse of power and the use of the military to abuse power and repress and scare people.

I’d been hearing that on the news, but then seeing it closer was very profound. And one year later, this dictatorship was overthrown and we enter a new phase in Nicaragua. Came the, what was called the Sandinista Revolution. I was an early teenager. I got super involved in that. There were beautiful social [00:11:00] projects at the beginning.

National literacy campaign. Community health campaigns that I was part as well of. And we felt so proud. And as young people, we felt so full of hope and proud that we are doing something that would be good. But I will set an example internationally. And then came the other war, the war in the 80s, this U.S.-Imposed war against the Sandinista government, against the Sandinista revolution. And so we moved from these social projects to military projects. And many of us, at that time, felt that we have to be part of, that. We have to take arms to defend this social project, this revolution. And then I, I joined, I even voluntarily joined the, the, the military service.

And then that was part of a law. And actually did the opposite of what Dean did. I actually was promoting that young man [00:12:00] abide by the law, by the new law, military service law, and join the governmental forces to defend against this U. S. imposed war on Nicaragua. And so, and after that, that was in the 80s, then in the 90s, everything fall apart.

The revolution fall apart, so many abuses of power within the revolution, and I felt as many betrayed. Betrayed and started rethinking about what we did. And also being more critical about when really it’s really justified to go to take arms and to what extent we were really part of, uh, we were manipulated by power, by the elite in both sides.

So a lot of questioning came in the early nineties. So I think that’s, that’s why. Those are reasons, those moments of, of excitement and hope and then disillusion and that cut [00:13:00] across social justice and as well as war and the use of force are so important to me in my life in how to really move forward in this world.

Reem Abbas: Thanks Oswaldo. Now, David, you have written quite prolifically about men, masculinities, and conflict, including studies you have conducted in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Aceh, and other places. You presented at a high level UN meeting last year on masculinities and countering violent extremism. The political is, of course, personal.

Can you tell us a little about how you came to focus on this area? 

David Duriesmith: So I came to feminism, I guess, in my late teens after growing up in the sort of conservative evangelical church in Australia. And I got exposed to feminism initially because a partner at the time had been disclosing previous experiences of [00:14:00] violence and abuse.

And I didn’t really have a framework within the theology and worldview that I had at the time to understand what was going on in their life. And at the same time, I was fortunate enough to get exposed to some fairly bolshie radical feminists in Melbourne who were pushing me to, you know, do things like read Andrea Dawkins.

And that really shook me up a fair bit, uh, sort of reading a lot of the seventies classics of feminism. And where that got me fairly quickly was asking some awkward questions about myself and particularly my own aesthetical leisure attachment to violence. Um, I’m sure like lots of men in my generation, I grew up on, you know, violent video games and media and having a kind of quite close aesthetic and sort of entertainment attachment to militarism and war, despite growing up in a very peaceful context in terms of [00:15:00] formal violence. And so when I came towards the end of my degree, I really thought this question about why is it that so many of us as young men and boys are drawn to violence both in our leisure activities and visually, aesthetically, why is this a desirable thing?

And then from there, I made lots of foolish decisions like doing a PhD, um, and going into academia. And so I’ve done a lot more work sort of on how is it that young boys and men go from position of not being willing to do violence to being highly likely to do a wide range of different forms of harm socially.

And I’ve been working on that now for about 15 years. 

Dean Peacock: Our project focuses a lot on the question of militarised masculinities, and you’ve written a lot about that. It’s a term that I think, even for me as someone who has been working in this project for three and a half years, I, I [00:16:00] constantly struggle with what exactly do I mean and how is it being used?

Can you help us make sense of the term? And what do you see as the strengths and limitations of the term militarised masculinities? 

David Duriesmith: I guess the most common way that militarised masculinities gets invoked is the idea that we have masculinities that become increasingly associated with militarism and militarism increasingly associated with masculinity, so that the practices, values, aesthetics, behaviors, political economy of the military or armed violence become so deeply enmeshed with mainstream understandings on what it means to be a man that they’re difficult to break down.

Within scholarship this is a bit of a messy concept though because there are a few questions we need to ask first. So. What was the masculinity that existed before it got militarised? Because militarised implies a process [00:17:00] of going from less martial to more martial. And this is where some figures like Alison Howell have questioned whether we should be talking about militarization to things that have for a very long time been about the military at all.

The other question I guess would be around context, location, and time. What is the point that we’re looking at? Where is the militarised masculinity inhabiting? Does it exist within your local community? As in like the group of people that you personally know and could call out? Does it exist within your geographic location?

Your nation? Internationally? So the militarization process is very conceptually muddled. Why I still think it’s really useful to use is because when I look at lots of the contexts where violence exists, there is a process of the values and practices and political economy of militarism becoming more important in men’s lives and in them asserting their position as men in lots of spaces.

And that process of the [00:18:00] military becoming more important whereby, I think about Fiji where I did a bit of work a couple of years ago, where rugby playing and boxing is now so closely enmeshed with ideas around the military that you’re almost embodying military masculinity to engage in sport. And so that I think is a very useful concept to use, but it’s, it’s a slippery one and can get us into lots of trouble if we use it in too comfortable a way, I think.

Dean Peacock: Help us, um, with your example, just break it down for us a little bit. How has sports in Fiji become infused with militarism? What does that look like? How did it come to be? 

David Duriesmith: So sure, there’s a long version of how it came to be, which is about colonialism and the classification of martial races. But the shorter version of how it came to be is Fiji has, for the second half of the 20th century, had a very strong military tradition that’s been closely entwined with politics for indigenous Fijian men, [00:19:00] particularly. Particular sports, especially rugby and boxing are very closely associated with indigenous men.

And there is presented to be these kinds of warrior values, Bati values that are linked about courage and strength, indomitability, about ferociousness, that are both attached with being a good warrior, good soldier and being good at rugby. And so even if you’re not participating in the armed forces directly, your participation in contact sports is by extension performing aspects of militarised masculinities to an extent where they end up bolstering one another.

They end up sort of reinforcing the importance that to be a man, you have to be available to do violence. To be a man, you have to be willing to subject yourself to violence as well. And that happens both on the rugby pitch and in a cadet program at school, for example. This is kind of the [00:20:00] insidious ways that militarism can come to infect all aspects of our lives in ways that we might not think about until you sit back and look at it in a kind of considered way.

Reem Abbas: Now Laila, you have a lot of expertise in the Middle East and North Africa. Can you tell us about the situation in the Middle East and North Africa region and your experience of feminist peace there? 

Laila Alodaat: As you’d know, the, the main region bore the brunt of a global failure in controlling arms, in adhering to international law and in living up to the fundamental rights and freedoms.

And it’s not a MENA specific problem. It’s all connected. The arms that are being used in the MENA came from somewhere. The ruling classes have been supported by a global system that doesn’t mind authoritarianism. The state and non state actors that are unleashed in the region are supported by regional and global powers.

The region has gone through a serious challenge [00:21:00] of what peace looks like and who does it benefit. And unfortunately, growing up in the region and working in the region before being part of WILPF, I remember how peace, the notion of peace was contested. There was skepticism of peace. And WILPF played a fantastic role, learning in the region and learning from the region and creating spaces to strategize and think together of what an equitable peace, a feminist peace where, where equality and safety and protection and dignity and freedom is central to it. And what would that look like? And we went on a journey with our partners and sections and members in the region to re own that and to label it in a peace that’s relevant, that matters, one that doesn’t leave us broken.

It leaves us stronger. And the past decade has been absolutely central to the growth of their feminist peace movement, but also to [00:22:00] linking it strongly to the peace movement, to the global feminist peace movement and join it in mutual learning. It’s been such an honor to work with all our partners who have worked across the spectrum of peace activism from being central players in peace talks and in political initiatives and bringing a radical feminist approach to all of these.

All the way into working on militarization, WILPF played a role in changing the narrative about militarization from that it is any use of arms, including, you know, the one that victimizes the individuals and shies away from the industrial multi trillion dollar complex of militarization. We redefined this conversation with our partners, and we got their trust, and we thought together and developed both the normative and the practical approaches hand in hand. And it also created an opportunity for linking that to the [00:23:00] daily violence. How does the use of arms, how does the use of explosive weapons in highly populated area result in siege? That changes the lives of women and pushes gender identities and unequal division of labor within the family, within the community and so on.

So this exercise has been enlightening. Our partners also have done a fantastic job researching contextually and locally the impact of small arms and how is that different from other regions and what needs to be done. And bringing this as advocacy messages, that are applicable and transformative rather than just feeding into a global narrative that generally dehumanize people in the Middle East and North Africa quite regularly.

Dean Peacock: Oswaldo, you’ve played a really important role in our work with men and boys across Latin America and globally. Can you share a little of that history from Latin America? And how it connects with our focus on militarism and [00:24:00] peace activism. 

Oswaldo Montoya: Sure. And I want to link it to the reflection that David engaged regarding these core messages about masculinity in the context of Fiji and still this is a kind of a cross continental global pattern somehow, in which men are expected to be, to be protectors. So, even though David put it as, to be a man you have to use violence, I mean, the noble narrative is not that you have to use violence just because you have to use violence. It’s because you have to protect, you have to be a protector of your family, a protector of your community, a protector of your country, right? And, and that’s how we romanticize, we create heroes, the idea of the heroic warrior. And for that, yes, to protect you have to resort to violent means because the enemy is, is an enemy that, [00:25:00] uh, doesn’t understand, only by, by violence.

And I think this is something that also is manifested in not only political high level dynamics, but also at the individual level, at the family level, at the community level. When we, many of us, male identified people have been raised as boys, that was part of the code. If someone tried to disrespect you or someone tried to disrespect your people, your family, you have to stand up and you have to use, you have to protect it, including the use of force, your fist, your, your body or an arm.

So it’s the same logic that is here at play. And I think my involvement, going to your question, really my involvement in the work with men comes with that, that critical reflection, with that crisis that I also experienced [00:26:00] after being, after being involved in this, in this narrative. Of me being part of this heroic force of, of men, of young men protecting our country, of protecting our revolution.

And then in my late twenties, being influenced by feminism. And also being, being disillusioned. I mean, it’s a great way when you are disillusioned, and in crisis, and what, what happened in the war. You know, all the, uh, failure of the formal socialist project in many countries that we were part of.

So it came this possibility of reflecting really what’s going on here, what truly is, are the meaning of my life and how my own identity as a male have been built on lies, on things that are really not what really respond to, to my core identity. And that realization and that opportunity to reflect about that, to reflect that my definition of being a man [00:27:00] doesn’t have to be built on this role of violence and performance.

David was talking about this performing aspect of masculinity. It was based on performance and in other arenas as well, like in sexuality, performing that I am capable as a young, man, when I was in a teenager, for instance, to conquer a woman. And have sex with a woman, and not just with one, but with two, and not just with two, but with three.

So all of that performing in sexuality, in relationships, in politics, is really so toxic, so harmful for our life. And it’s the way that we build politics, as we have seen right now, and we have seen in history. So it’s the same dynamics. What’s happening at the micro level is reproduced at the more structural level.

So, going through that crisis, and having the possibility, and this, this was the great, uh, contribution of [00:28:00] feminist movements in my country. Clearly, feminist movement, uh, feminist women, in particular, were more accustomed to ally with men for social project, for the revolution. So, it was easier to get closer to become allies to feminists.

And they gave us, feminist women gave us the space to men to start reflecting about this in a critical way. And then we opened up that space for other men. So we created a collective, a men’s collective, to reflect about all these issues, about our identity, about what happened in Nicaragua. And that really, we started writing about that.

We started writing about our reflections, and sharing with our neighbors in Central America, and then in Latin America, and then, then that created a sort of loose network of men, and pro feminist men and feminist women in different parts of Latin America that were saying, yes, indeed, we need that men take care [00:29:00] of these issues as well.

And we need to rebuild society and culture and politics based on feminist values. So it was a very organic process, I would say, and responding to the historical situation of our times. And then with the onset of the Internet in the mid 90s, that really facilitated a lot to connect with other, other people.

And that led to, at some point, to the creation of the MenEngage Alliance. I mean, the first spaces, the first international spaces in Latin America were convened by feminist women, either in feminist organisations or feminist women within international NGO or UN agencies, that facilitated coming together, coming together with other men and with other women committed also to work with masculinities to create these networks, these alliances. And here we are, here we are more than 10 years later, working as an [00:30:00] alliance in MenEngage, promoting this to new generations and to all generations as well. 

Dean Peacock: Laila, as you think about this vision of equitable peace that we’ve been talking about, the project that Reem and I are involved in is attempting to increase men’s support for feminist peace, obviously. Where are the men in Syria and perhaps in the Middle East more broadly, in terms of supporting feminist peace? The stereotypes in the West are very often that in the Middle East, men’s default position is to oppose gender equality and women’s rights, but we know that’s not the full story.

So I’m really interested in this question of militarised masculinities and the ways in which you’ve seen men in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, join with feminists, to demand that kind of equitable peace you’ve been describing. 

Laila Alodaat: I spent some time working as a trainer of international humanitarian law.

So I trained state and non state actors about [00:31:00] the rules of law and about what to do and not do in a battlefield. And the one thing that they had in common, although they’re usually on opposing sides in the battlefield, is despair. I found that there’s a deep sense of despair and injustice and helplessness that push men to hold arms because arms are available and because they want their life to be of any meaning when they are deprived of hope and of dignity and of basic life needs.

And same for organised armies. We usually in organised armies in the region and here and most places I’ve been working in, it’s predominantly made of social groups and classes that are struggling with despair and hopelessness. And they feel that an organised beast of an army could deal with that. And I mentioned this because I think despair is [00:32:00] imposed.

It’s not a personality trait. It’s imposed by a global failure to give hope and meaning and dignity to big groups of people around the world. And that applies in the global South and in the global North. And if we are to address this need for militarization, carrying arms and imposing violence and pain, we need to look at what push people to do that.

And I also, having been involved in this, I looked at the despair that women feel in the same spaces. And I’m not suggesting that either of the group is, you know, a binary defined group or all women will face despair the same, neither or men. But I just saw how the spaces available to women to combat their despair have been very different from men.

And that’s what we need to change. We need to change this despair imposed on large groups of people, and we need to change what’s available to them to [00:33:00] fight it in their community individually. I mean, stereotypes about men in the region and in the global south are not accidental. They are architected, because we need an enemy.

We need a brown and a black man to be the enemy of civilization. So all the brutality is justified. And that has been the case for hundreds of years. We know it, we see it, we see the results of it, and we need to collectively want to stop it. I’ve always find in spaces I’m engaged to that men in the region had to answer to assumptions more than they had to answer to their actions.

And I’m not obviously justifying actions. Every person is accountable for the actions they do, but when you have a collective judgment at a group of people, their individual actions take a different shape and form. As a Middle Eastern woman, the amount of times where the judgment I face [00:34:00] all the time impacted my individual choices of actions is just beyond counting.

And we need to address this painting a large group of people with one brush and just getting them to answer to our prejudice and to our assumptions, and giving them the chance to just be the anonymous, you know, generic people that people in the Global North enjoy being. And then we can look at individual actions and hold them accountable.

I personally have some skepticism to the concept of allyship. I feel that it just emphasizes binary groups, a privileged group that needs to be an ally to an underprivileged group. And that doesn’t usually work. I think there’s far more meaningful thing that we can create by joint interest and by coalition building.

That is far more transformative. I would rather that we question the binary and look at their collective struggle [00:35:00] for a word that’s worthy of us to live in, in dignity. I want our struggle for survival and dignity to be a joint cause. And then it becomes everybody’s struggle. And then we all raise against it and don’t unintendedly emphasize this notion of saviorism and of binary.

Dean Peacock: Yeah, the word that I had in my head as you were critiquing the notion of allyship was charity. And so you also talked about allyship as potentially a form of saviourism and that manifesting in lots of different social justice arenas and struggles. And I think it’s such an interesting question, right?

Because, you know, I’ve been reading recently some of Mike Messner’s histories of the early days of work that men were doing in various parts of the world, to advance gender equality and to challenge patriarchy. [00:36:00] And that work was very much framed as men’s emancipation as well, right? So it was like referred to as the male liberation movement.

That language doesn’t exist anymore, and I think some of our big global alliances and coalitions like MenEngage take a very clear position that the work is intended to increase men’s support for gender equality. And forty years ago, they took a position to not do work around disadvantage that men may experience also as a result of patriarchal norms.

So what you’re saying, I think, is really interesting in the context of, I think, a reluctance amongst people doing work with men to challenge patriarchy, to create a more just world where I think there’s a fear that if men say, well, patriarchy is also bad for men, that they might be perceived as kind of diverting attention away from more urgent women’s [00:37:00] priorities.

Reem Abbas: Yeah. And, and this leads us onto the subject of accountability, which we will discuss more deeply in a moment. But Laila, given what you’ve said, how then can men be allies and also feed into the feminist movement? How can they be allies and work with women who are part of the feminist movement without making it seem as if they’re taking a separate road and that they’re not connected to the movement in any way?

Laila Alodaat: I completely see what you’re saying and I think we are falling for a imposed scarcity of bandwidth and resources. We will not achieve peace until everybody works for peace. This is not the work of the few, it’s the work for everybody. Luckily, everybody has a stake in gender equality, in freedom and peace and dignity.

Very few have a stake in accumulating power and money and authority and arms. If [00:38:00] activism and if our struggle for gender equality and to oppose capitalism and to oppose militarization has become a way of life, if we centered these values in everything we do, both as activists, advocates, but also as people going on about our day and life, then there is this longevity that allow credibility and then we demand more bandwidth and resources.

So I think I’m advocating for more belief in the complementarity of work on peace and for freedom and dignity and the diversity of the spectrum of activism. And pushing for a place where we all can do our bit and allow others to do their bit and put the joint goal in front of us. One that works for all of us.

And take pride in numbers, because we are many. Those who are negatively impacted are far more than those who are gaining from this inequity. 

Dean Peacock: And Oswaldo, you’ve done a lot of work on this question of accountability. [00:39:00] What does accountability mean to you? You’ve been instrumental in writing and rolling out the MenEngage accountability framework.

Can you tell us more about how men can be involved in the women’s rights movement? And in the feminist movement more broadly, whilst also being accountable to the women that they’re working with? 

Oswaldo Montoya: My understanding of accountability is about relationships. Really, accountability is about relationships.

That we are part of a network. We are part of this network of life and social network in which we are Ubuntu, borrowing this beautiful philosophical, spiritual teaching from Africa that we have learned from our African colleagues. We are Ubuntu. I am because you are, and we are in this space as feminist, pro feminist men, because, because of you, because of the work of others, particularly because of the work of women, [00:40:00] uh, feminist women.

And so, it’s a relationship, and we need that to continue in that relationship, so, because we, even though we have this passion, I personally have a lot of passion, and I see my colleagues and friends and comrades, this passion and this sincere commitment for living based on values of equality, of justice, of care, even though that, we are humans, so we make mistakes, we forget, and we were raised in patriarchy, we were raised in these authoritarian cultures and politics, and so we easily replicate, even without knowing, the same power-over model that we were raised.

To me, that’s the importance of accountability. Because accountability as a relationship help us that others remind us about our passion, remind us about our values. Hold us accountable in a way that tells us, hey, [00:41:00] but aren’t you the one who are supposed to be really, uh, relating to others as equals, particularly to women and other non binary people?

But here you are, saying these things or engaging in a way that you are more accumulating power, taking too much space, whatever. So we need that kind of mutual accountability, among pro feminist men, with women, with other social justice activists. We need accountability as a way to really try to, especially to become aware when we, when we fall short.

To become aware, to reflect, to course correct, to make amends, to acknowledge mistakes. And that’s what we also teach to men. What we teach to men, what is the message that we bring to other men? That even though we grew up in these patriarchal structures, and even though we might be resorting to violence to [00:42:00] assert power, we can recognize that, we can make a stop, we can change, we can start again.

And for that, we need to acknowledge our ignorance and our mistakes. 

Dean Peacock: David, I’m sure this is an issue you’ve thought a lot about your peace engaging or changing men in some ways is about accountability amongst other issues. And so we’d love to get your thoughts on this question of accountability and how you live it, how you view it. 

David Duriesmith: I think it’s a massive issue. Doing the research on men’s involvement in the women, peace and security agenda in interviews, particularly with women, with, with trans activists and others, there were unfortunately lots of stories about men who were advocating for women, peace and security issues, whose behavior didn’t live up to the goals that they were expressing.

And that was something that was really distressing. I think the accountability part is so [00:43:00] important, I guess, in my view, because in many instances as men, we’re not really socialized or raised to take women’s concerns and voices that seriously, and that means that even though people might, including myself, consciously adopt feminist politics and want to live feminist lives, if you don’t have that accountability, if you don’t have people around you that are gonna tell you when you’ve not lived up to that, there’s a good chance that you will end up sidelining, speaking over, being harmful. And you see this in practice, unfortunately, with the way in which some efforts to promote work on men and boys has sidelined feminist organisations in contexts of conflict, where women have been working on these topics for a very long time, and then with a desire to push through work that takes on men’s needs or vulnerabilities, for example, [00:44:00] that it hasn’t really been sensitive to the work that women have done to make that space in the first place.

I think this leads to lots of conflict within organisations who are working on gender and violence and militarism. I think it leads to really unideal outcomes in terms of breaking down relationships. And I think unfortunately I’m a bit old school with this addressing it requires both having people who will make you accountable, but also a lot of self work, a lot of, I guess, what I would think of as consciousness raising about your own behavior, um, that is quite difficult stuff to do and I guess in my personal experience is an ongoing project that takes a lot of time as opposed to being something that you just get to decide that you’ve done one day and it’s over. 

Dean Peacock: David, in your piece around men and the WPS agenda, you also talk, perhaps not using exactly this language, [00:45:00] about accountability to the feminist and social change roots that the work, certainly feminist activism, has embodied and that some of the earlier work with men and boys connected to and was propelled by.

Um, in my own experience, the organisation that I first worked at Men Overcoming Violence in San Francisco was an organisation that had been established in response to insistent requests from feminist activists saying we can’t deal with violence against women unless you also step up and start to engage the men.

And so I was curious if you could tell us a little bit about your thinking, perhaps your research on this question of drift in a way, right, from these kind of feminist, more activist roots. You have written about what you’ve called the good men industry, you know, and you’re quite critical in that piece and in the other piece that I just referenced. It’d be great to get your insights, um, what you learned from your research and [00:46:00] what you’ve seen in the years that you’ve been connected to this work. 

David Duriesmith: Yeah. Thanks Dean. So as you say, the work with men and boys around challenging sexism, homophobia, it initially came from men who were adjacent to the feminist movement and, to a significant extent, the gay liberation movement who were being challenged to shift their own sexism and the sexism of their male peers. You know, they were being told, you need to do the work to stop this, because women are so exhausted and overwhelmed dealing with the symptoms of patriarchy in their lives that they can’t then also be the one to go sympathetically work with men to challenge our own internalized sexism and homophobia.

And that comes out of a really radical movement historically of men looking at our own behavior and trying to work as allies to feminist politics, to support the goals [00:47:00] of women’s liberation, smashing the patriarchy, all the good stuff, but in a way which is both self focused and collective in its politics.

Unfortunately, from my point of view, and many people do and will be critical of that or disagree, I, uh, have argued, as you say, in a few pieces that where a lot of this work has gone is to a more neoliberal model of behavior change where certain groups of men, this is often marginalized young men in the global south, although not exclusively, who are identified as being the problem with gendered behavior and external short term interventions are run to shift their behavior in relation to masculinity.

My argument has been that this is a real fundamental shift from earlier work, which basically says mainstream, dominant, [00:48:00] accepted models of masculinity are harmful and problematic, and if we want to change them, we need to be willing to reject the privileges that we receive through that, and work to transform society so that those institutions can no longer exist. Instead to what Henri Myrttinen and Charlotte Mertens have referred to as like liberal self betterment initiatives where masculinity transformation becomes more like a self help program for individuals to shift their behavior rather than a radical desire to make dominant models of masculinity untenable on a social level. So I think that you don’t, this is not a one way direction. You see both of these trends currently. I’m not saying all the current work at all is like this, but there is a tension between work, which is aiming to be externally imposed. Put through funding and basically to be a development program as opposed to a [00:49:00] radical political movement, which has come in lots of contexts from men working aside women’s liberation and queer liberation movements to deconstruct and undo the harm that dominant masculinity does to all of us. 

Oswaldo Montoya: Oh yes. I fully agree with that critique. And that’s, that’s one of the reasons why accountability in the men’s gender, men’s work is so important because we can easily misconstrue this or redo this work in a, in a way that is focused on individual change and not just men behaving nicer and not mistreating women.

And that’s it. But the system continues the same. And actually I coordinated a study that the publication came as Nadando Contra Corrientes, Swimming Upstream, interviewing men who were capable of overcoming their own violence [00:50:00] and having a relationship with their partner. It was in the context of intimate partner relationship dynamics that were very different from the dominant model of men’s violence and abuse of women. And yet, when we presented the results, this was very interesting because this was in the context of a feminist organisation with Fundación Puntos de Encuentro in Managua. When they presented the result of that, before publication, with our feminist women, feminist women colleagues, many of them were very disappointed.

And they say, what’s this? I mean, this is just the good patriarch, the good patriarch. What you are just documenting here are men who, yes, uh, are no longer using violence, but they are still the power holders in their families and their communities. So, that was very, that dynamic, that interaction, those reflections with our feminist colleagues were very critical.

To look at this [00:51:00] data and not to be too early, too premature in celebrate these changes, that might be important, I mean, this is complex because on the one hand, imagine women who are in a situation of danger, of risking their lives because of an abusive partner and that that partner is able to improve himself, quote unquote, and stop exerting violence in a way that threatens her life and the life of the family.

You can give some credit to that, but it’s not enough, of course. It is not enough because so many men don’t restore to that kind of violence and still establish a very violent and oppressive relationship with their partners and their families and their communities. So it’s kind of tricky in some way, it’s complex in some way.

Reem Abbas: So I want to ask you about the structural drivers of men’s violence in conflict. And here I [00:52:00] want to borrow the definition from Gamlin and Hawkes, in which they define structural violence as violence between the powerful and against the powerless. They go on to argue that the link between the global economic restructuring and violence is visualized when we focus on how poverty, marginalization and consequent male unemployment directly impact on men’s sense of worth and dignity, which then acts as a trigger for different forms of violence.

How do you make sense of the relationship between structural forces and militarised masculinities? And how is men’s violence influenced by the larger structural issues that we’re seeing? 

Oswaldo Montoya: I absolutely agree with that analysis because militarised masculinities don’t happen in a vacuum. The development of these militarised, masculine male identities happen in the context of structural forces that create the culture, [00:53:00] create the necessity, the pressure on men to adopt it in order to have a sense of value, of dignity, of agency, even of agency.

So absolutely necessary, and it’s important to say it’s influenced and not it’s determined. Because if we say this is determined by this structure of forces, then there is not much that we can do. And then we are actually giving men an excuse to act in dominant and violent ways, because they are determined by this structure of forces.

Indeed, they are influenced by that, we are influenced by that, and we really need to address that. But we are not determined, it’s not our destiny, and there is some level of agency. And we can, of course, part of the change is altering the structural forces, but we don’t have to wait until the structural forces are changed in order to see radical and sustainable changes in men and in their [00:54:00] families and in their workplaces and in their communities.

We can create a new reality. If we really adopt this vision of the need to address structural changes, I think our programming in working with men and boys on gender issues should really be more holistic. More intersectional, not just focusing on gender, gender injustice, but all the other form of injustice and working at all levels, at the level of the individual family dynamics, labor, at the community level and the structural level, political level, because that’s the only way that we can create the synergy for changes.

David Duriesmith: The need to attack this from multiple angles, I think is really important. I mean, I’ve been quite critical of some of the work that’s been done. But I think there is, for example, a space for people who are addressing the worst symptoms of patriarchy, even if they’re not addressing the root causes, because the worst symptoms are [00:55:00] unbearable, you know, awful. And you know, you have to accept that in some places. Where I really see hope, despite all of the conflict that’s happening around us all, all the time now, I think, is the push from feminists and those pro feminist supporters who are working on masculinities is making it increasingly harder to treat masculinity as if it is not gendered, as if it doesn’t have a structural cause and can’t change.

And I think that the space for political movements that can say, “no, men don’t have to be like this, we don’t have to be forced to be like that” is growing. Even if it is up against a, or sort of insurmountable problem. I mean, where I really see a lot of this work having a lot of positive change in terms of recently is you’re increasingly seeing people making space within their organisations to have critical conversations about [00:56:00] not just as one of my research participants said not just the young guy smoking on the corner, but my boss. You know, the conversation on masculinities is shifting from just being about men who are being seen to do masculinity wrong because their behavior is disruptive to a patriarchal society, as opposed to the men whose masculinity is often invisible because they benefit the most from it and society’s set up for them.

And I think there is real space to do that because when you have all of this constant conflict, um, the violence and militarism, people are unfortunately suffering the harms of that. And I think that is unacceptable to people. And that does lead to some more difficult space for critical conversation. So I think that is hopeful in a depressing way, I guess.

Reem Abbas: And David talking about the structural issues and the root causes behind various forms of patriarchal violence, interpersonal violence, [00:57:00] violence against women and armed violence, what are your reflections on what we would do to move the conversation back in some ways to its more political beginnings and address in meaningful ways, some of those structural issues? And what does that mean for the conversation around men and masculinities anyways?

David Duriesmith: I think one thing is really treating it like a political movement, rather than a health or development intervention is the first thing that has to be done. As I know that you’ve done in some of your previous work, Dean, when we look at societies and you see, you see viscerally the men who are benefiting the most from this system and what they’re getting from it, you can’t let the focus shift away from that. And treat this as an exceptional problem, like the unacceptability of this state of existence needs to be at the center. I think that relies on one sort of intersectional coalition building, you know, working with [00:58:00] other movements who are interested in the environment, um, who are interested in queer liberation, in animal rights, all of those things needs to happen as a really important first step.

This is a political process. This is an individual process. For the structural things, I think we need to… For a long time I think the work has been looking at men who are acting out because the system of patriarchy does not work well for them and they’re using violence as a mechanism to gain status in a context where they don’t receive the other benefits, right?

You know, you don’t have access to good work, you don’t have access to social capital or value, but you have the capacity to do some violence and act out. And so we focus on those men. But, but instead I think if you focus on how I think for my own country, someone like Boris Johnson gets through his life with masculine bluster and an ability to speak in a way that is degrading and humiliating to people around [00:59:00] him and the benefits that he’s reaped from that, not on competency, not on capacity to produce positive change, but this is patriarchy working.

And I think for lots of people, when you show how that gendered practice of masculinity. Benefits these elite men, it makes people angry and that’s a good thing that anger is really powerful if you keep it politically focused and collective. And that the structural conditions of that, I think, when they become visible, become unacceptable.

Reem Abbas: Laila, Oswaldo and David, thank you for joining us today and for exploring the meaning of militarised masculinity, its ramifications and why we work on feminist approaches to peace. 

Dean Peacock: In today’s episode, we learned that militarised masculinities have invaded all aspects of life. From the collusion between militaries and the entertainment sector, to sports, and of course, to politics.[01:00:00] 

And that we need to continually reflect on the things we do that perpetuate the problem. 

Reem Abbas: We have learned that Mobilising men for feminist peace is not simply about men becoming allies to the feminist cause, but about collaboration and coalition building. We’re not working towards the good patriarchy where men simply stop using violence. True peace and equality requires the balance of power to be recalibrated, and it’s a job for us all. 

Dean Peacock: And finally, we’ve learnt that this link between violence and manhood is not inevitable.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Women, men, and people of all gender identities pay an enormous price when we allow our societies to become militarised. We all have a clear investment in peace, and all of us can work together to advance peace and end violence. 

Reem Abbas: Thanks for listening. You can find all the resources for this [01:01:00] podcast episode on our website and in the show notes.

Dean Peacock: And we want to take this opportunity to remind you that the women’s international league for peace and freedom also has other podcasts, which we think you might like. One of these is think and resist conversations about feminism and peace which is an exceptional podcast produced by WILPF’s women peace and security and disarmament teams as they explore how feminism can redefine security. We especially recommend you listen to episode three, which is titled, what about masculinity and militarism?

Reem Abbas: If you would like to support the work of WILPF, consider reading our great publications and following our social media channels. I am Reem Abbas. 

Dean Peacock: And I’m Dean Peacock. And you’ve been listening to Mobilising Men for Feminist Peace, a new podcast series from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

We’d like to extend our deep gratitude to Ollie Guillou for his fantastic support in the production of this podcast. We look forward to seeing you next time.

Ollie Guillou: This podcast is produced by OG Podcasts. Find out more at OG Podcasts.co.uk.

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WILPF International Secretariat, with offices in Geneva and New York, liaises with the International Board and the National Sections and Groups for the implementation of WILPF International Programme, resolutions and policies as adopted by the International Congress. Under the direction of the Secretary-General, the Secretariat also provides support in areas of advocacy, communications, and financial operations.

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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