Gender and sex, amid violence and post-conflict dynamics

UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, adopted by the Security Council in 2000, has highlighted the role of women in contemporary conflicts and their crucial contribution to peace processes. More than twenty years have passed since then, but many grey areas and critical issues remain. As argued in the first article of this issue of Human Security, by Evelyn Pauls – Impact Manager at the LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security – much of the (growing) interest of academics, practitioners and policymakers in women and conflict is often still filtered through a highly gendered lens, encouraging a view of women as passive victims or inherently peaceful. The motivations and experiences of female combatants are often neglected; all too often, this legitimizes the post-conflict return of traditional gendered structures and leaves unheard the needs of women who took up arms and thus challenged the stereotypes of prevailing narratives.

Following on, Leena Vastapuu – Planning and Reporting Officer at the European Union Advisory Mission in the Central African Republic, and one of the authors of the Routledge Handbook of Feminist Peace Research – reflects on why female ex-combatants are still so under-represented in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) processes. In providing an overview of the main explanations offered by feminist scholars, Vastapuu emphasizes how ideological factors often doom female ex-combatants to a limbo of oblivion in which they are ‘not soldier enough’ to access the formal DDR process, yet ‘not civilian enough’ to join women’s organizations and movements that are more aligned with the imagery of ‘peace-loving mothers’.

In line with Pauls’ and Vastapuu’s remarks, Anna Toniolo – a graduate in International Relations from the University of Turin – looks at policies and practices to counter violent extremism in Kosovo to understand if and to what extent the deradicalization plan implemented by the government takes into account the diverse and multilayered experiences of those women who, voluntarily or not, have joined the Islamic State.

The next article, written by Gioachino Panzieri – Junior Research Fellow at the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) – sheds light on the patterns of sexual violence perpetrated in the context of detention in Syria. Panzieri then analyses the causes and effects of the militarization of sex and reflects on how hierarchical gender relations inform the rules of war and respond to political agendas, thereby becoming instruments of power through the exploitation, abuse and control of subaltern bodies.

And it is precisely the exploitation, abuse and control of bodies that turn the movements of Ethiopian domestic workers to the Middle East into ‘paths of violence’, as Silvia Cirillo – a PhD candidate in Global Studies at the University of Urbino Carlo Bo – recounts in her contribution to Human Security. Shifting the focus to Latin America, Marta Michelini – Junior Project Manager for COOPI – addresses the issue of gender discrimination and violence in the context of Colombia, where the COVID-19 pandemic has interlaced with a post-conflict situation already marked by widespread human insecurity.

In the last article of this issue of Human Security, Elisa Armando – a graduate in Anthropology of Politics, Violence and Crime from the University College London (UCL) – gives voice to the representatives of twelve non-governmental organizations in North Uganda, who, since the end of the Acholi conflict, have been committed to women’s economic empowerment so that economic independence is followed by individual and social emancipation from the dominant patriarchal system.


The complete issue of Human Security n. 15 is available at this link (in Italian).


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