Globalizing Gender: Who Gets It? Who Doesn’t


Whitworth, Sandra. 2005. “Globalizing Gender: Who Gets It? Who Doesn’t.” In The Ethics of Building Peace in International Relations: Selected Proceedings of the Twelfth Annual Conference of the Centre for International and Security Studies, edited by Christie Ryerson and Elizabeth Dauphinee, 119–30. Toronto: York University.

Author: Sandra Whitworth


This paper will elaborate upon elements of what is called here gender and globalized violence. The consensus amongst most observers of global politics is that armed conflict has escalated throughout the post-Cold War period, and has been predominantly internal in nature. One of the defining features of these 'new' conflicts are the gendered nature of mass displacements, gender-based and sexual violence, ethnic cleansing and genocide. Though the causes of conflict are varied, a primary emphasis in UN and other official documents focuses on the political dimensions of conflict. Whether or not the historical legacies of colonialism, competition over scarce resources, political or economic inequities, or ethnic, ideological, or religious difference erupts into outbreaks of violent conflict depend very much on whether appropriate and effective coping mechanisms exist, including well functioning governance and rule of law institutions.Far less common in UN or other accounts of conflict is any acknowledgment of, as Anne Orford writes, the relationship between insecurity and economic liberalization, or the ways in which the international division of labour is itself a violent process. Rather, armed conflict is identified as the moment in which fighting broke out. It is understood to have root causes which preceded the actual outbreak of violence but which - even if they are multidimensional causes - can be addressed by supporting the development of national and regional capacities for early warning, conflict prevention and long-term peacebuilding. Armed conflict, in short, is a problem but it is a problem that can be solved and the UN and other formal organizations have available to them the instruments for doing so: preventive diplomacy, early warning, fact-finding, peacemaking, peacekeeping, confidence building and institution-building. These understandings take place parallel to a number of contemporary intersecting discussions about gender and violence that appear to make gender more visible amongst mainstream observers of global politics. For example, the formal acknowledgment of the specificities of gender in situations of armed conflict (and conflict resolution) that was made in the form of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security. There have also been a series of discussions about expanding notions of security more generally, which inevitably raise questions of gender. In the UN, and in some national contexts (such as Canada) this has taken the form of theoretical work and policy priorities organized around the idea of 'human security'. In Europe it tends to be organized more around discussions of 'security sector reform'. This paper will outline this context for understanding contemporary armed conflict and the limits of existing conceptualizations and policy efforts. It will also outline an alternative understanding of armed conflict drawn from the work of writers such as Mark Duffield which suggest that contemporary armed conflict is not a departure from normalcy, as such, but rather a complex configuration of processes of social transformation inextricably connected to the inclusions and exclusions associated with contemporary forms of capitalism. Such an understanding would not be one that celebrated the violences of that social transformation, but it would understand them differently, and in particular, would be far less optimistic about the application in discrete moments in time of particular instruments to achieve their resolution.

Topics: Armed Conflict, Gender, Gender-Based Violence, Gendered Power Relations, International Organizations, Peace Processes, Security, UN Security Council Resolutions on WPS, UNSCR 1325, Sexual Violence

Year: 2005

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