Starting the conversation about men, violence, and peace
In partnership with the MenEngage Alliance, WILPF has launched a new initiative to shine a light on the concept of “militarised masculinities” and mobilise men for feminist peace.
Since our founding in 1915, WILPF has always engaged with men – primarily, although not exclusively, by holding men in positions of power accountable for wars and conflict or their failure to build lasting peace.
Through this initiative, WILPF is taking a slightly different approach: We are working in ten countries around the world to actively educate and mobilise men to speak up for women’s rights, gender equality, and peace.
This blog provides a snapshot of efforts taking place in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Lebanon.
Feminists have long written about the different ways in which patriarchy becomes rooted in and shapes societal institutions, events, and norms. And as the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda makes clear, gender hierarchies deeply influence and impact peace and security around the world.
But “gender” is not the same as “women”. When we talk about women’s underrepresentation in leadership, the other side of that fact is men’s overrepresentation. And when we talk about how armed conflict affects women due to their gender, that means that there are other ways in which it affects men because of theirs: as victims, as participants, as perpetrators, and also simply as individuals.
The gaps in understanding these dynamics on a detailed level mean that there are sometimes barriers to effectively incorporating gender into peace work.
So, how do we start having that conversation and bridging that gap?
Many WILPF Sections are asking that very question. As part of WILPF’s global initiative in partnership with the MenEngage Alliance, ten different WILPF Sections are currently working to understand how men can be involved in efforts to support women’s rights and the pursuit of feminist peace.
They’re also putting this analysis into practice by building alliances with men who are working for gender equality and to advance peace. And although WILPF has historically been a women-led organisation, people of all genders are members – including men. In some WILPF Sections, as many as 30 percent of members are now men and boys.
Gender norms, expectations, and stereotypes can be instilled from a very young age. Parenting, educational systems, culture, religion, and interactions with institutions, laws, and social structures – even transnational corporations – all play a role in defining how we think of gender and perceive ourselves, one another, and our place in the world.
In Cameroon, these norms are also being shaped by the conflict in both the Far North, where Boko Haram is currently launching offensives, and in the North West and South West, where escalating conflict between the government and separatist forces has displaced nearly a million people. In both regions, conflict has led to increased rates of insecurity, gender-based violence, displacement, and deepening socio-economic vulnerability.
In Cameroon, WILPF members are working to bring men and boys into the movement for feminist peace and women’s rights by starting the conversation in fresh ways.
To address the intersection of gender and conflict, WILPF Cameroon is using a range of strategies to transform social norms.
With a focus on rural communities, the Section is working with traditional leaders to encourage them to ensure women have equal rights, including access to land, education, and inheritance. They are also working with a partner organisation, FETLEM, to host interactive theatre performances in local communities to promote conversations about gender, social norms, and masculinity.
After watching each performance, the young people attending the event can provide suggestions for how to talk about gender and peace within the household. The Section is already planning future discussions on how to create social and cultural change from the bottom up, and this work is being brought directly into WILPF Cameroon’s research and advocacy.
WILPF Cameroon’s efforts to challenge social norms are a local extension of WILPF’s broader work with the UN to raise awareness of the vulnerabilities experienced by boys and young men affected by conflict and displacement. Most of these boys and young men are actively avoiding joining armed groups or participating in war – and in doing so are challenging norms that equate manhood with embracing conflict. Through their actions and activism, they are also calling on multilateral organisations to move beyond simplistic gender binaries that too often assume men are aggressors and only women are in need of humanitarian support.
In the Central African Republic (CAR), armed conflict has been ongoing for eight years. As a result, there is a severe humanitarian crisis with extensive food insecurity and displacement, and there have been widespread human rights violations – including sexual violence and recruitment of children as soldiers.
Gender norms and roles have significantly shaped how the conflict has been experienced by people in CAR. WILPF CAR is therefore working to understand how masculinities have become militarised, and to generate further discussion on this topic in their local context.
WILPF CAR held events in June and July of 2021 to spark discussions on how masculinities are militarised within the current context in the Central African Republic.
To do this work, the Section has partnered with academics and other NGOs to collectively define, understand, and analyse what “militarised masculinities” actually means. Part of this analysis included looking at how norms about manhood are present within the workplace and in different economic and social sectors. In addition to developing shared analysis on how gender norms interact with militarisation, this project also helped WILPF CAR build alliances and recommendations on how to address this topic.
WILPF Zimbabwe is looking at how militarised masculinities and men’s violence affect women in the artisanal mining sector in Kwekwe, a key hub for gold mining.
The Section has been analysing the relationship between artisanal mining, the presence of armed security forces, small arms and light weapons, and women’s ability to access their right to economic participation. Their research has revealed the extent to which patriarchal norms and men’s violence create grave safety risks for women who face threats of violence and the theft of their small scale mines.
Based on this research, the members are now engaging organisations in Zimbabwe that work with men and on masculinities to develop strategies aimed at mobilising men in artisanal mining to support women’s rights and challenge men’s violence.
In Lebanon, the thawra “revolution” of 2019 brought more than a million people into the streets to call for social, economic, and political change, including demands for the government to step down. This occurred amidst a historic economic crisis that was exacerbated by a devastating season of wildfires. Groups of women were active during the revolution in advocating for justice and rights.
To think through the gendered dimensions of the thawra more extensively, WILPF Lebanon is conducting research to understand the impact that contemporary masculinities had on men’s participation in – or resistance to – the uprising and women’s roles within it. Based on the findings of their research, the Section plans to produce a performance piece to reflect upon and expose the role of masculinities within the revolution’s dynamics.
The work of WILPF Sections in Cameroon, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, and Lebanon is already resulting in increased awareness about masculinities in their local communities, and about the positive role that men and boys can play in the feminist peace movement.
In the coming months, WILPF Sections across the globe will continue to hold solidarity dialogues and build alliances with other organisations to deepen this work. In addition, WILPF will be publishing extensive research on masculinities and peace, which aims to deepen the conversation at the global and national levels on these critical topics.
Visit our initiative page on WILPF’s website to read more about our work on militarised masculinities.